Once punished solely for wearing a miniskirt, fashion designer Tala Raassi now encourages women to embrace their femininity and beauty through her designs.
As a child growing up in Iran, Tala Raassi used to design clothes for her Barbie dolls; now she designs clothes for women all over the world. The Miss Universe pageant will be using her swimwear line exclusively when it is broadcast in almost 200 countries, and she already has her eye on what’s next. We recently caught up with Raassi to discuss her interest in fashion, her recently announced sponsorship of the Miss Universe Pageant, and why she’s surprised most women in D.C. aren’t more fashion-forward.
Washington Life: When did you first know that fashion would play an important role in your life?
Tala Raassi: I grew up thinking I would become a lawyer. Growing up in Iran there were only certain occupations that seemed suitable for a woman. I had never even dreamed that I could be a fashion designer, even though I had always loved and appreciated fashion. When I got persecuted in Iran for wearing a mini skirt, I started thinking of fashion as freedom. I was saddened by the thought that I was not free to wear clothes that made me feel feminine. It wasn’t until I moved to Dubai and saw women expressing themselves through fashion that I realized it was my purpose to design clothing that would make women feel free, empowered, and beautiful – something that I had longed for for so many years.
WL: Do you think that having to dress conservatively for many years piqued your interest in style or stalled it?
TR: It definitely made me more creative in order to show my sense of style. Style always interested me, and in my own ways I would bring the love of fashion into my life – even if it was just designing clothes for my Barbies!
WL: Moving from Iran to D.C. as a teenager, what were your first impressions?
TR: I was disappointed in the lack of style. I started to think that people in the United States took their freedom for granted. In Iran girls would love to have the freedom and choice to dress however they pleased. I felt as though women did not embrace that enough here.
WL: How do you feel now about the way women dress in D.C.?
TR: I feel as though women dress very conservatively, especially considering that this is such an international city. However, I think this has started to change in the last couple years. I am starting to see more of a sense of style in certain areas. Fashion is definitely growing and starting to be appreciated more in this city- people are putting in more of an effort. Being a designer from Washington D.C., this makes me very happy.
WL: You’re very hands-on with your line Dar Be Dar, from sketching designs to making garments. What is an average day like for you, if there is such a thing?
TR: My life is nonstop. I am constantly traveling to different cities and countries looking for the most beautiful and best quality fabrics and top manufacturers and distributers. Quality is most important to me when it comes to my designs. Every week there is a new adventure. There are always new contracts coming my way and new directions for my company to go. Trying to build a brand is tough when you are doing everything yourself, and I like to be involved in every aspect of my business. It’s a lot of hard work! But I am very dedicated to being the best designer I can be.
WL: You design all kinds of clothing, but focus mainly on swimsuits. Why is that?
TR: I went to São Paulo Fashion Week a couple years ago and was so inspired by the Brazilian swimsuits. I started designing swimsuits and got great reviews and sold out of my entire collection. I am now going to concentrate not just on swimwear, but on having an entire line. I have a new t-shirt line coming out soon called Lipstick Revolution, but soon I will have dresses, handbags, jeans, tops, shoes, everything!
WL: Last year you showcased your designs at Fashion Week in Miami, something many designers only dream of. What was that experience like for you?
TR: I was a start up designer and went two months after I started my line. It was such a great experience being featured in the event along with well known swimwear lines like VIX and MAYA. Seeing the whole process with the media and buyers was wonderful for me.
WL: We were very excited to hear that your line has recently been named the official sponsor for the Miss Universe Pageant. How did this partnership come about, and what are you looking forward to about it?
TR: I always shoot for the stars. I set goals and am determined to reach them! I started being in the press more frequently, and I noticed that people in the fashion industry were starting to be interested in me. I mentioned to my PR rep Erika Gutierrez that I wanted to be involved with the Miss Universe Pageant. When she contacted the Miss Universe Pageant regarding my swimwear we were so pleased to know that the VP of the Miss Universe Pageant had read the article in Marie Claire magazine and they felt my story and purpose of my designs fit the theme of the Miss Universe Pageant perfectly. Both the Miss Universe Pageant and myself want women to be empowered. This is going to be a wonderful partnership. I am very excited that my designs will be worn by all the beautiful contestants representing over 80 countries around the world and will be seen in over 190 countries!
WL: What’s next for you as a designer?
TR: I would love to showcase my new collection at Bryant Park in NY fashion week. I am working hard to take my company to the next level. I am also starting a non-profit organization named Lipstick Revolution that will help aspiring fashion designers. I want my brand to be internationally recognized and in stores all over the world.
Madeleine Frank is a rising sophomore at Harvard University. She plans to study English and pursue a career in magazine journalism.