By Dana Asady : I was born and raised in Basra, Iraq and spent my early life in the city of love and poetry. During the hardship of the 8 years during the Iraqi/Iranian war, just like any Iraqi child raised at that time, I have my fair share of memories where friendships were cut too short, smoke and sirens were my everyday backdrop, sadly a typical Iraqi childhood if you ask me. Despite all of that I was, and still am, an eternal optimist who can mute the noise at once, focusing on the beauty of the imperfections around us, a dreamy and glass half full kind of gal.
Dana’s parents in the 1970’s
I always find myself wondering who and what inspired me to be who I am today? What influenced my journey? Was it the shanashel of my old city, my love for Al-Sayab and Ahmad Shouqi’s children books, or was it the endless hours of watching my mother dress up every morning getting ready for work? Fitted with her high knee genuine leather boots, her chiffon pussy-bow blouse under a form-fitting belted jacket. My mother was my vision board.
Just like any Iraqi girl, I had to learn how to knit, sew, clean and maybe cook while maintaining excellent grades at school. Culturally that’s what’s expected from you, perfection! I was always a B student, the type that does the least to get by. My main loves were drawing, creating, designing day in and day out. I will never forget the day when my mother sent some of my drawings to a children’s drawing show on Kuwaiti TV back in the 80s.
Yelling my name to get my attention while playing outside with my friends,
“Dana hurry, your drawings are on TV! “yelled my mom.
Having my lines critiqued and brush strokes analysed on TV was probably the highlight of my childhood, it felt good to be appreciated for something i really truly loved and had nothing to do with how I looked, how well I cooked or cleaned or how high my grades were, it was purely because at that moment my vision mattered.
It’s not a surprise that Iraq is a culture of rich traditions, traditions that are not necessarily tied to your social status but instead tied to your appreciation of the craft, to see young women flooding the fabric market, measuring, touching, inspecting and haggling to buy the perfect yard for that perfect occasion was then, and still is today, a common scene.
My mother and my aunt “Suad” were probably the most influential women in my life, strong, unapologetic, independent and creative. They both taught me how to look for the perfect fabric, how to cut and adjust patterns, how to be patient with my vision, “always iron your seams before sewing them with the machine” they said.
Years went by and my sketch book of designs was and still is my most prized possession, aided by the daydreaming whilst waiting patiently for my high school graduation day, the day I would be part of the creative minds in the university of fine arts, Sadly, that was not to be my reality. I graduated from Dijlah high school for girls in 1995 with grades good enough to be accepted into an engineering school (remember, B student) again, just like many of the girls in my generation, I was faced by society expectations. Good girls, cook, clean, sew, knit, maintain good grades and become a doctor or an engineer, all while looking pretty, this is the perfection!
My Iraq was broken, people were hurting financially. A lack of food and opportunities were the norms after the Desert Storm War, my family was no different than a lot of people who went overnight from being ok to extremely not ok. Leaving Iraq at the end of 1995 was one of my most painful memories, leaving friends, dreams and the familiar places all behind to a embark on a new chapter of unknowns was terrifying.
Libya became my new reality, in the back of my mind I tucked my dreams neatly away and went about life. Five years later, I graduated from the university of Garyounis in Libya with a degree in physics, moved later to Amman, Jordan to continue my education and earn a master’s degree in Nuclear physics,
In 2003, I met the love of my life and my other half, we got married and I moved to the United States of America. The USA, the new uncharted territory with many unknowns but never ending possibilities . With little to no love for teaching, I started exploring the rapid growth of technology in the new millennium in the midwest and with a supportive partner and two kids under my belt, I started pursuing my training in project management, software development, automation tools as well as Agile coaching. Technology was my saving grace, it put me back on my toes and it gave me a sense of belonging to a creative community, a community that fosters ideas and sees them through to become valuable products. I stayed on the sidelines, learning, absorbing and asking stupid and smart questions along the way, no pride and no holding back. Using all that harvested knowledge, I was lucky to be one of the founding members of a small SAS company in Chicago that grew within three years to go from 3 employees to 200 with a very heavy client list and after 8 years in the startup community, the company was acquired by another competitor and I decided to join the upcoming startup within the corporate community in Chicago. With continued coaching and mind-shifting, I was unconsciously becoming an expert in team accelerations and a product delivery strategist!
That’s when the perfect storm hit me , I was a middle aged woman with three kids and a high paying job yet no sense of fulfillment. Society expected me to be content until retirement but my mind couldn’t be at peace with it, I wanted more!
Forty was my turning point, it was my now or never moment, dusting off those old dreams of mine, and putting my product development expertise to the test. I stopped saying “one day Iwill be a fashion designer” because 2017 was my year and i was going to own it, the worst that can happen is failing, at least i will be able to say “ I tried and I failed “ remember the full half of the glass type of gal.
I created my own fashion brand company, aSady, starting with samples to test the market with friends and family, women sought my designs because they stood out, they looked strong yet feminine. I created aSady for the everyday woman who is ready to grab life by its’ horns and to look great whilst doing so! I used bold cuts coupled with intricate embroidery, embodying every memory of my beloved Sayab , the last standing shanasheel of my beautiful city of Basra, Soummer where goddesses ruled both love and war simultaneously, or was it my simply because of my mother? Whatever the reason, I know that i found Me for the first time at 41 years old.
Mastering the courage to be vulnerable I shared me creations with the world for the first time on Instagram. Soon, my designs caught the attention of the most renowned celebrity stylists and the fashion scene in New York where I made my debut in New York Fashion week and Paris fashion Week. Within one year, my designs graced the pages of high-end fashion magazines such Vogue UK, Vogue Italia, GQ, Elle Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and so many more. I didn’t know I had it in me until I tried.
I can stand today and look back at the endless moments I pitied myself and my lost dreams, blaming the world and life on so many missed opportunities to realize I never actually missed anything. Life, god and the universe was fostering me, teaching me along the way to prepare me for the runway.