There are a lot of great, fashion-adjacent pantsuits on the market right now; at press time, one search of "suits" on Net-a-Porter yielded 189 results. Brands that have never made suits before are making them now. But there's nothing particularly "new" about them, as a wardrobe concept, despite all the fresh iterations sweeping every street-style gallery.
In Pakistan, where Sahroo Founder and Creative Director Sarah Abbasi's family is from, a matching set is the bread and butter of a woman's wardrobe. "In [South Asia], and in lots of parts of the world, people dress in outfits, right? Your top matches your pants and your handbag matches your shoes," Abbasi tells me in her New York City showroom. It's a hot August afternoon, and we're drinking her homemade juice while nestled on a half-moon couch. "There's such an ease, an elegance, of dressing that way."
Abbasi — who debuted her luxury, artisanal clothing line, Sahroo, with a Spring 2018 collection titled "Lady Botanic" — grew up between the Chicago suburbs and Pakistan. While residing in the latter, she was exposed to clothing from an early age through her uncle, a fashion designer; his workshop started in Abbasi's maternal grandmother's house, where she also went to design the entirety Sahroo's first collection.
"In Pakistan, every woman designs her own clothes; you have a tailor, and you go through that process with your mothers and your sisters and your grandmothers," she says. "I grew up seeing my uncle doing this and the process really fascinated me, because each garment is so much more than what it is when it's on a woman — how it was crafted, who was it crafted by."
Abbasi went to school for economics, and after graduation, she spent four-plus years working as a process improvement consultant. But Sahroo, or the idea of Sahroo, was always there, so two years ago, and with no formal design training, she quit her job and married her interests of business and fashion to begin working on Sahroo full-time. But she was one step ahead of the game: She already had a vast network of technicians, and they're ones her family has trusted for generations.
"The people I work with, my great-grandmother has been going to for years," says Abbasi. "I knew that this would be the best way for me to tell the story of creating these magical, feminine pieces that empower women to do what we're all trying to do: to be the very best versions of whomever we are."
Abbasi was able to get much of that early technical training from those craftspeople on the ground in Pakistan, and as she was readying for Sahroo's launch, she found herself traveling back and forth from New York to Pakistan to immerse herself in every element of the production process. For a label like Sahroo, in which absolutely everything is handmade by artisans who hand-dye, hand-embellish and hand-stitch, that production process is absolutely crucial. No two garments are exactly alike.
"The people I work with are so talented — almost all of the artisans who hand-embellish the clothes are at least the third generation of what they do," she says. "They take what they do incredibly seriously. They're craftspeople, and that's definitely to be respected."
Even now that Sahroo is up and running, Abbasi still travels to Pakistan quite frequently. Abbasi trusts her production team implicitly, but yet, Sahroo comes from an innately emotional place that's rooted in Abbasi's own family history with clothing and design. She explains that if anything has been challenging, it was learning how to communicate Sahroo's vision in a way that maintained the integrity of the garments, even if she herself wasn't present.
"I do want to create something that's beautiful, but then how do we do it while being conscious to our environment, or conscious to our customers, or conscious to the women around us? With our generation, you have a responsibility in everything you do," she says. "I hope we can also fulfill that.”
Abbasi is, admittedly, meticulous about her vision and how it extends into her product. She does the majority of sourcing herself, including all of the embellishments — silk flowers and diamantes — that are hand-placed and stitched on each item. She incorporates genuine stones, too, including aquamarine, rose quartz and peridots, much of which she locates in Pakistan where there are large reserves of mineral ores and gemstones. Every single bead that's on anything, she adds, was initially set by her. "What a privilege, to be able to do that!"
Fit, too, is a priority: Every garment goes through multiple iterations to be as flattering as possible. She describes the fit of the blazer and tapered trouser, for instance: There's a reason the pants hit precisely at the mid-shin and blazer below your waist, and it's to elongate your legs.
"Everything is really deliberate, so hopefully when you're wearing the matching set, not only is it very easy, but you look like the best version of yourself," she says. "That's a very lofty aspiration, but hopefully you do feel that you look that way." She also tells me that women of "every body type" — sizing is currently available from a XS-XL — are buying the collection. "A lot of girls who aren't a size double-zero are wearing our pantsuits to their weddings or their rehearsal dinners, and they look so lovely," she says. "That makes me so happy."
Sahroo's showroom also serves as Abbasi's apartment, but when I mention that I, personally, would feel intimidated having strangers come through my home, she's not fazed. In fact, she's honored by it. And in a way, Sahroo's Instagram page acts as a store in its own right. Abbasi says that she'll track the pieces on which people are commenting — and in what are people tagging all their friends.
"We're able to really think through what new lines can look like," she says. "Now we know that our pantsuits have been so popular, so let's do more. Let's introduce them in different colors!" Sahroo's customer feedback gets compiled into an Excel spreadsheet, a sort of tribute to Abbasi's consulting days.
Her past experience comes into play in ways beyond data storage: She was a Six Sigma consultant, meaning that her work specialized in making a product, or an organization, as efficient, and with the least amount of waste, as possible.
The brand's production yields zero deadstock. ("If a garment takes three yards to make, we don't waste any fabric," she says. "It's not like we use four yards, then we end up dropping that one yard.") Any necessary paper associated with the ordering process — packaging, notes, envelopes — is recyclable. For its Spring 2018 collection, Sahroo partnered with Vermont-based non-profit One Tree Planted, in which Sahroo plants five trees for each order placed. Just like clothing design, nature conservancy is in Abbasi's blood.
"My mother volunteers all the time at the [Chicago Botanic Garden]. It's a big, integral part of who she is, and it's something I was raised with," she says. "If you drink out of a straw, it's not the worst thing in the world, but how can you always think about being conscientious?"
Sahroo launched earlier this year exclusively direct-to-consumer, and that was intentional — Abbasi says it was important for her to meet the consumer first herself to really understand what she wants or needs — but there are plans to move into retail with future, biannual collections.
Abbasi's one-on-one commitment to her customer, which began with the matching sets created in her grandmother's home in Pakistan, is her own embodiment of luxury. For some, she says, luxury may simply come down to how expensive something is — Sahroo's pricing begins at $275 per piece — but in Sahroo's case, luxury represents care. That's already resonating with consumers, whether they want a street-style-friendly pantsuit or not.
"I think what a lot of our customers appreciate is that there's a lot of value when something has been created and crafted by someone who is an expert at what they do," she says. "That's why doing something hand-crafted was really important to me because that to me, to us, means luxury, when something is hand-crafted by people who really treasure their craft. And I think people are increasingly appreciating that."