I ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘aah-ed’ when Eliza Karaza unfolded one of her signature hand-painted denim jackets that she’d brought to the office for this interview. In fact, I think I spent the first five minutes inspecting every personalised detail on the jacket, my fingers running over the miniature Mughal-style art on the shoulders, the word ‘Badtameez’ in gold letters on the back and, the roses that run down its sides. Almost a year into the inception of Harakaat, 21-year-old Eliza told me that while she gets orders for 9-12 jackets every week, she’s gearing up for the next phase of her brand–one that will see the launch of signature Harakaat bomber jackets in resham kapda, more badtameez designs and hopefully, a profound impact on South Asian street style.
On the origins of Harakaat, Eliza tells me that she wasn’t prepared for the response she got when she uploaded a picture of a hand-painted hoodie she owned. “I liked its colour but I thought it was too blank. So I just added some eyes to it so that it looked like a woman in a niqāb, and people started sending in requests (for something similar),” shares the Chicago-based artist. So, Eliza picked up her paintbrush and got to work customising t-shirts, while working part-time at a daycare. Today, Harakaat stocks denim jackets exclusively, but when she originally started hand-painting this street-style staple, her buyers weren’t impressed. “Just make more t-shirts!” they said and it was only after Eliza’s brand was featured in Cosmopolitan did her Instagram dukaan, currently stocked exclusively with denim jackets, take off.
On why she chose the name ‘Harakaat’, the artist of a mixed-Arab background explains, “Harakaat means ‘movement’, but in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi calligraphy, it also refers to the accents–a small element that changes the sound of the word altogether.” She thought this would be perfect given that Eliza doesn’t make the jackets herself; instead, she adds the accents and embellishments that give it a wonderful, distinct identity.
An identity that also reverberates with Eliza’s, as a Muslim woman who was born and raised in the States. “Growing up we were taught to assimilate, be as ‘American’ as possible and keep a low profile, while still adhering to our parents’ cultural expectations. Similarly, caught in the middle, these jackets are ‘not exactly parent-approved or white person-approved’. It’s a western silhouette with more traditional embellishments, which is basically like us.” Given the current political climate in Eliza’s home, I ask her if Harakaat’s jackets draw a lot of attention on the streets of Chicago. Luckily, all the reactions to her work have been largely positive, except the one Instagram follower that chided her for appropriation, but never committed to the conversation that Eliza feels is an extremely important one to have. “I’m open to people talking to me about a problem they have with my art,” she clarifies and believes that there’s a fine line between appropriation and inspiration–one she toes carefully.
A year ago, she was only painting niqabi women and floral patterns on these jackets because she was catering to a largely Muslim clientele and “In Islam, figure art is forbidden; some sects believe that it’s haram to make figures, and so most of our art is either floral or calligraphy,” she explains. Now, as her client base has expanded, her work is heavily influenced by South Asian elements as well –Pakistan’s vibrant truck art, miniature Mughal art and even the bright, colourful world of Bollywood, because that’s the style her audience requests and she’s happy to bring it to life on a textured blue canvas. She also takes requests for customised jackets that, in the past, have included the figure of Islamic revolutionary Leila Khaled, Raj-Simran from a still in the iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and even self-portraits.
Piercing eyes of a woman in a niqab, red roses (inspired by the functional, efficient, factory-line style of truck art), the call for a revolution, phulkari work against a bright teal border, tassels and countless other tiny details that lend Harakaat its signature style–each piece that Eliza hand-paints stays true to one beautiful sentiment. “I’m not visibly Muslim but I feel like my faith is such a big part of my life. [These jackets are] a way of embracing my identity and telling you that I’m sorry I’m not sorry. This is a part of my culture and a part of who I am. All my life, we’ve been trained to assimilate and not stick out, to portray that I’m Muslim but not THAT kind of Muslim.” And Eliza has no time for this unnecessary duality.
Scroll on for a look at some of her most beautiful pieces; the jackets are priced at $70 and upwards (starting at approx. Rs. 4,500). You can place your orders by sliding into Harakaat Apparel’s DMs on Instagram or leaving a comment on a piece you love.
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