Creative director and designer Najla Burt of New York-based RTW apparel brand Dur Doux spared some time for Q&A with Fafafoom. Discover her background, vision, her future plan, and tips in building a fashion business.
Najla Burt’s passion for fashion design was planted since she was a young child growing up in Florida. Watching her mother create clothes for her and her three siblings, she gradually became more passionate about creating her own unique designs. With her experience working with brands such as Alexander Wang, Pierre Balmain, MM6, Maison Martin Margiela, and Viktor & Rolf during her study at Parsons in New York, she started her own line upon her graduation in 2012.
With Dur Doux (translates as Hard/Soft), Najla wants to help changing the face of luxury fashion. For years, she read high fashion publications and followed the designers’ careers, but felt that there was something missing in the industry: young, black, female designers. Living her dream as the Creative Director and Designer for Dur Doux, she experiments and creates her own spin on trends has led to the success of her business. She is featured in major fashion publications, such as British Vogue and ELLE, and she graciously carved some time to do a little Q&A with us!
Read more to know her background, vision as a designer, lessons learned to grow a successful fashion business, her future plans, and more! Also featured in this article are photos from Dur Doux Spring/Summer 2015 collection titled “Urban Biota.”
Photos courtesy of Dur Doux via The Pontes Group.
Fafafoom: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and Dur Doux.
Najla Burt: The Dur Doux story is anchored in the daughter-mother design team of myself as President and Creative Director, and my mother Cynthia Burt, as Vice President and Co-Designer. As a young child, my mother and I shared many special times of creating and sewing outfits for myself and my two sisters. I emerged in the teen years as the Burt family fashion prodigy. My adolescent years were full of experimentation with every conceivable hair color and style; constantly pushing the envelope as far as I could with fashion forward styling.
In 1998, fashion design did not seem to be a practical long-term career for a high academic achiever like myself. After receiving scholarships from numerous universities, I moved forward to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising. Working for nearly five years in that industry, in 2008 my company closed. This was the catalyst for me to take the leap of faith and commit to my true life’s work of fashion design.
The long hard journey of completing a degree at Parsons and setting up a business was akin to climbing Mt. Everest. My mother Cynthia gave up her management consulting business and committed to the initial start up funding and joined hands with myself in creating Dur Doux. I believe that my creativity, fashion design training, and technical experience combined with the 25+ years of administration/business acumen of my mother Cynthia formed the foundation to position the Dur Doux label within the market niche of “affordable luxury fashion”.
Fafafoom: As you’re growing up, was there a definite moment when you decided that you wanted to pursue fashion design as your career of choice?
Najla: Growing up, I did not have a definite moment when I decided that I wanted to pursue fashion as a career. I did not make that decision until I was a fashion design student studying at Parsons. The a-ha moment came when I started working for MM6, a brand carried by Staff International USA. Learning the business side of fashion and how you take a creative concept from paper to buyers and eventually the sales floor was a critically defining moment for me. At that moment, I was able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Fafafoom: Who are your favorite fashion designers and/or style inspirations?
Najla: My favorite fashion designers are Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler, Balmain and Chanel. My favorite style inspirations are Corine Roitfeld and Miroslave Duma.
Fafafoom: What is your vision and voice for fashion? What makes you unique?
Najla: My vision/voice for fashion is that fashion should be an outlet of expression. It should allow you to be anything you want at any given moment, whether that is audacious, or jaw-dropping. Overall fashion should allow you to always remain true to yourself.
My education at Parsons coupled with my sales and merchandising experience has allowed me to have well-rounded knowledge in the fashion industry and has pushed me to create innovative and contemporary designs that are wearable and commercially viable. I feel this makes me unique as a designer.
Fafafoom: What’s the overarching theme for Dur Doux? What does the label represent?
Najla: The overarching theme for Dur Doux is its signature comprises of unexpected shapes, details and fabrications. The essence is strong, sensual and feminine and gives a powerful edge to sophistication.
Fafafoom: Please share your inspirations for your latest Spring/Summer 2015 collection Urban Biota. Moreover, what is your favorite piece from the collection (and why)?
Najla: Urban Biota is inspired by the emergence of new patterns of color and texture resulting from the blending of birds and plants in an urban environment. The collection fuses the colors of floral and fauna. Rich pastels and sorbet colored garments are designed to entice the fashion senses of the modern woman.
My favorite piece from this collection is long wrap peacock skirt. The skirt makes me want to pack my bags and fly straight to St. Barts. The skirt has the most beautiful print I have ever seen and it s a skirt that can be worn in some many different ways and during different seasons. It’s the ultimate transitional skirt.
Fafafoom: Now that you have three collections under your belt, what is your signature style for Dur Doux?
Najla: Dur Doux’s signature style is Dur Doux offers clothing that looks and feels like luxury with a touch of Avant-Garde sensibility. The most unique thing about our products is the fabrications. We select fabrications that are rich in texture and color.
Fafafoom: Have you begun the process of producing the next collection after Urban Biota? Any valuable lessons you can share with us about producing fashion collections periodically and building your own business?
Najla: Yes, I have begun the process of producing the next collection after Urban Biota. The collection is titled Dark Dawning and it will launch in February 2015. I would say one valuable lesson I learned is that I needed to create more garments that can be worn during multiple seasons. With so many women, traveling and living in different parts of the world, it’s great to have pieces that can transition your wardrobe through different seasons.
Another important lesson that I have learned in terms of building a business is that financial capital is not the determining factor of whether your business will be successful or not. You need PR, Marketing and Sales. They all work in tandem. You can’t have one without the other.
Fafafoom: What is your mission for Dur Doux three years from now?
Najla: My missions for Dur Doux three years from now are to get into at least 10 retail locations (in the US and abroad) and to have broad based sales online and retail internationally.
Furthermore, I would like to increase Dur Doux’s brand equity by having placements in high profile fashion magazines, garnering celebrity endorsements and creating distinctive and unique marketing campaigns that are targeted to my ideal customer base. My ultimate goal is to build a lifestyle brand while balancing the creative and commercial side of my business; this is my biggest inspiration to push myself.
Fafafoom: Anything else you’d like to share with Fafafoom readers?
Najla: Dur Doux will be formally introducing accessories such as handbags, gloves and hats to our future collections.
Thank you very much, Najla! And we wish you all the best for the continued success of Dur Doux. I guess when fashion design is in your blood, it’s hard to ignore. Therefore it’s wonderful that you are living your dream as a fashion designer and becoming an inspiration for would-be fashion designers.
Also, special thanks to Kerri from The Pontes Group for letting me know about Dur Doux. Check out Dur Doux (Urban Biota pre-sale is starting on March 1, 2015), with all items retailing from $75 – $500.
Thank you for reading; until next time,
Photos courtesy of Dur Doux via The Pontes Group.