Victoria Road brings the fashion globe full circle, by traveling the world each season to curate conscious collections rich in tradition and design.
As an international project and energy lawyer focused on emerging economies, Co-Founder and CEO Shannon Grewer comes to the ethical fashion movement uniquely qualified to assist businesses in new markets.
“I am really lucky to have had some amazing experiences as a lawyer. As a young associate, I was staffed on a project in Morocco. We were upgrading an oil refinery in a small town not far from Casablanca. It was a complicated deal and we were working on a first of its kind debt structure for project finance in Morocco. Of course, that was exciting — and exhausting — but what I really loved about the transaction was the experiences I had while traveling,” Shannon said.
She added that at one point, she was sent with a suitcase full of documents and instructions not to return until she had managed to get them all signed. Her itinerary took her from London, through Paris, Milan, Istanbul and finally via Marrakesh to Casablanca.
“I remember exploring the stalls of the souk in between my meetings and thinking I had the best job in the world. I was doing interesting work, making a decent amount of money — and I got to travel. I also loved the fact that I was part of a team that was creating things,” she said.
Shannon explained that they were bringing billions of dollars to emerging markets to develop projects that would improve the lives of the local people. These infrastructure projects were the drivers for long-term sustainable growth — offering skilled training for local workers, stable jobs and a source of income to build up the economies of these struggling nations.
A number of years later, Shannon had an opportunity to join a small team that was advising the Government of Pakistan through the Embassy in Washington DC.
“During this time, I traveled to Pakistan frequently and worked closely with the US and Pakistan governments on a number of development initiatives being implemented in Pakistan. The idea was to empower women through economic independence,” said Shannon.
There was a misguided belief that this could be done by simply providing them with a few basic business skills and an opportunity to market their products in the US, she said, adding that there were trade missions, exhibitions, fashion shows, mentor programs, workshops and seminars.
“The women developed business plans, pitched their ideas and were introduced by senior government officials to buyers from Walmart, Macy’s and designers like Diane Von Furstenburg. I can’t recall a single example of any of these programs resulting in anything other than well-arranged photo ops, fond memories and unmet expectations,” she said.
The concept of Victoria Road grew out of this experience. It was developed as a platform to support the types of entrepreneurs Shannon met in Pakistan, to make an impact much more powerful than a photo.
Both Shannon and Co-Founder and CFO Megan Brosterman have backgrounds in law, which ties-in beautifully with their current roles.
Megan said she was drawn to project finance as a legal field due to her interest in international development, and Shannon was the senior associate in the project finance group where she worked in her first position after graduating law school.
“As CFO and de-facto COO, I’ve leaned heavily on my experience as an associate managing large international deals to pull together the myriad pieces a start-up needs to be put in place to get up and running. I’ve also pulled from my experience as an investment banking analyst well over a decade ago to run our financials.” Megan said.
In addition to being sustainable and ethical, Victoria Road, as a woman-owned and operated business, uses their experience to guide and empower women business owners.
They give preference to women-owned businesses and support their efforts to achieve financial independence, expand their skills and those of their employees and also provide a healthy, safe and structured work environment.
Creative Director Sara Malik explained that Victoria Road gives these businesses the world as a platform for their work and said it is incredibly important to showcase their design on an international stage, which in turn gives them the confidence and opportunity to learn and experiment.
The company vision is to be a platform from which they can promote sustainable development through entrepreneurship, while also showcasing the innovative design and high quality merchandise that emerging economies have to offer.
To carry out this mission, their team offers support to partners in every aspect of their businesses. Not only do they provide market access through their chic website, trunk show and pop-up sales, but they also assist with demand-generation elements such as design and styling, as well as with every level of the supply chain, ranging from consulting on sizing and patterns to logistics.
Their full-service support for small businesses in otherwise overlooked markets promotes a healthy global economy from the ground up.
The Victoria Road team travels to unexpected destinations to find their collections, and Megan developed a love for travel and learning about new languages and cultures at a young age. She said she was lucky to have parents who loved to travel and experience new places “like the locals.”
After leaving home, she studied abroad in both college and law school and traveled extensively to Turkey, South America, Bhutan, Thailand, Japan and all over Europe.
“I have always loved learning about cultures and customs that are different from my own — I think that difference is what makes the world a beautiful place,” Megan said.
These days, her biggest inspiration is her two young daughters (ages 3.5 and 1.5).
“I want every opportunity for them as young women growing up in the 21st century. But I also want them to grow up with a wide-open worldview and a desire to use their talents for good. My dreams for my own girls heighten my awareness that not all children are blessed with the same advantages,” she added.
Sara filled us in on the fashion scene in Pakistan, describing it as one that is filled with deep-rooted tradition and exquisite craftsmanship.
“It meshes the stylized cuts and details of the western world with traditional design in a way that is both aesthetically tempting and emotional. The emotional part is what gets me. There is depth of passion in the fusion of modern and traditional, and to see it come out in each person’s unique viewpoint is consistently both inspirational and aspirational in that you want to keep exploring to see how the next person interprets a kaan phool (direct translation: ear flower, means ear cuff), or whatever it is you have your eye on,” Sara said.
She explained that the fashion weeks are similar to those in fashion capitals — structured, organized — but the design is drawn from the ground up, elevated and trickled down.
“The designers continue to relentlessly use techniques and styles passed down, developing a unique twist with each part they go through,” she explained. “The access to endless amounts of fabric, buttons and stones in any marketplace brings all types of Pakistanis together, and therein lies so much promise. The woman designing her own line for Fashion Week in Lahore will be buying her material from the same place a woman might be making her very first shalwar kameez (the traditional dress in Pakistan). There is a sense of unity in the process and it comes through in the design.”
Sara told us that shalwar kameez is still the predominant outfit of choice; however the freedom to play with the design and make it your own is to no end.
“Only in the past few decades have ready-to-wear shalwar kameezes been readily available, and many still choose to design their own due to the easy access to exceptional artisans and craftsmen for whatever design strikes your whimsy. This promotes creativity in a way that is ever-evolving,” said Sara.
She explained that the culture of the craftsperson is impossible to miss; from the specifics that go into their sewing technique, to the traditional - modern fusion that comes when marrying contemporary conveniences with hand crafted work, the traditional side will never be lost.
“The basic style and cut will be different in each region, and the unique qualities are apparent. When you look at a piece of handmade clothing or jewelry, you really take note of the minute details, and over time you learn to spot the differences and quality level. In a world of mass production, I am eternally grateful we can go back to Pakistan and find these special pieces, and I look forward to exploring new regions, cultures and crafts as Victoria Road expands to new markets,” Sara said.
Victoria Road marries East and West by finding pieces that reflect the design influence and handicraft techniques of the regions where they are made but are still very accessible to the Western woman.
“Our jewelry collection is a great example: the bold earcuffs and midi rings from REMA and the intricately hand-worked jeweled pieces of The Shalimar Collection are inspired by traditional jewelry in Pakistan and other parts of South Asia, but each piece we’ve chosen pairs effortlessly with clothes as Western as jeans and a t-shirt,” Megan said. “The Inaaya collection is another excellent example: Naushaba Brohi, the talented designer and a long-time friend of Victoria Road, uses South Asian techniques such as block-printing and rilli, a needle-turn applique craft, in beautiful dresses with Western silhouettes, such as our stunning Cascade Dress.”
This dress also happens to be one of Megan’s favorites.
“Ever since I first saw a photo of it when we were sourcing our 2014 collection, I was struck by the quality of design down to the hand block-printed border detail. When I learned more about how the designer works with women artisans in the Sindh province of Pakistan to create the hand-stitched applique panels that are the feature of the dress, I was hooked,” she said.
Sara, on the other hand, said she is an ear cuff lover for life and has been obsessed with their collection of them from the start.
She said she loves the gold jeweled ear cuff, the gold chained ear cuff and the pearl tale earcuff, by REMA.
“They are a dynamic blend of what I grew up with (in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) and what has become a staple in the international jewelry market,” she explained.
As far as muses go, Sara shared that her family as a whole has always inspired her.
“My father is a beautiful photographer by hobby, my mother is an incredibly talented potter and glasswork artist, and both my sisters have worked in a range of creative industries – from photography to beauty to creating in my mind, flawless works of art in a variety of mediums. The amalgamation of their talents fuses together in my mind as a person I constantly look to artistic stimulation,” she said, adding that she feels the same about chefs who make their food art through plating and flavor.
“It brings out aspirational ideas that spread through so many creative outlets,” Sara said.
In regards to her personal style, Sara described it as laidback, spirited and elaborate.
“I like to mix simple stylized cuts with whatever strikes my fancy that morning. In many ways, I styled our last photo shoot in a way not dissimilar to my own style, with basics in order to show the intricate jewelry.”
Megan’s day-to-day style is generally simple and comfortable.
“Whatever is closest to the top of the clean pile for this mom! But I love clean, simple looks accented with a twist in tailoring or a statement piece of jewelry,” she said.
Endurance and perseverance have been the most memorable lessons learned along Shannon’s journey.
“When I travel around Pakistan, it is humbling to watch so much forged out of so little. People work with what they have and the beauty that they create is both staggering and uplifting.”
Although these entrepreneurs started the company with a focus on Pakistan, due to Shannon’s experiences and connections there, they plan to expand to other regions, including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal soon.
-By Jordy Isenhour