Inspirational Woman: Deeya Khemlani | Co-Founder & Managing Director, Izaak Azanei

Deeya Khemlani

Deeya Khemlani is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of British based womenswear brand, Izaak Azanei and is a member of the London chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organisation.

After completing her BA in Law & Anthropology at the London School of Economics and spending 4 years in investment banking, Deeya pursued a career in fashion. Izaak Azanei is now 8 years old and is stocked in some key retailers around the world including Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdales. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

If I had told my younger self that I would own a fashion brand, I never would have believed it! At 21 years old, I graduated from The London School of Economics. 2 things happened after that: 1) my sisters and I started a fashion brand and, 2) I began a career in HR in an investment bank. You’re probably wondering why, if I started a fashion brand, did I join the corporate world? Honestly, I strongly believed that I was ever going to work for myself, I first needed to learn how to work for someone else. After 4 years of my double life working in the bank during the day and working on my brand by night, I made the switch to full time fashionista (most definitely NOT as glamorous as it sounds!) – aka: Co-Founder & Managing Director of Izaak Azanei, a contemporary British womenswear brand.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Throughout my 3 years as a student at LSE pursuing my BA degree in Law and Anthropology, I was neither a Lawyer nor an Anthropologist and this did not change as a graduate. I spent a lot of time throughout my student life trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to be, and quite honestly, it got me nowhere. So, once I graduated, I changed the question to: what do I enjoy doing? For me, the answer was the development of people, so I explored the world of Human Resources and I spent the next 4 years in the HR Team at Exane BNP Paribas before I switched entirely to join the fashion world. My passion remains the same, the execution has just pivoted within this fashion sphere. I currently lead our marketing and sales strategy – developing ways to engage with our customers in new and exciting ways.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Too many to count! The fashion world is not for the faint hearted. It is every bit as cut throat as they make out in The Devil Wears Prada and navigating the industry with absolutely no experience has brought about more challenges than anyone would deem even possible!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Right now, I’d say my biggest achievement has been surviving this pandemic. In May 2020, we saw that our business was coming to a standstill and despite the uncertain future, we were not under any circumstance going to cut back on our team or their salaries whatsoever. It just was not something that was even given a second thought. We’ve had an incredibly tough 2 years, but we’re still standing. We’re back to designing Collections and we can see retail sales starting to pick up again and, for me, this is my biggest achievement because we had some horribly dark days during the height of the pandemic, so, to have survived this, is really something.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I firmly believe that you’re only as good as the team that you hire, and I feel so grateful to have a strong team of people around me. We have slowly built an incredible team over the last 8 years, a team that just so happens to be 100% female – which, for me, is the best coincidence! We’re a team of 6 strong women, 3 of whom are mothers and it really is a case of real women designing for real women. With Izaak Azanei, the aim has not just been to make nice clothes for people to wear, but to encourage women to invest in a brand with a heart and with good working practices – a brand with meaning beyond just what you see.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Back in my banking days, I was a mentor for the graduates which we hired. As a recent graduate myself when I joined, it seemed appropriate for me to take on the role to oversee them at the start of their career. Working in HR, I was able to implement practices aligned to the feedback I received from the regular catch ups that I scheduled with each grad. I think that having a mentor is incredibly beneficial when trying to navigate a new environment, be it a new job or an entirely new sector. Funnily enough, I never had a mentor when I joined the fashion world, but I am very grateful for the kindest individuals with a vast amount of industry expertise who have helped me along the way over the last 8 years.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

State funded childcare I think would massively accelerate the page of change for Gender Equality. I see a lot of strong female talent unable to continue working after giving birth due to the high costs of childcare. As an Aunt of 5, I myself can see the struggles that come with 2 fulltime jobs: motherhood and a vocation. I strongly believe that the state should adequately fund childcare, to take away the financial burden from women to re-enter the working world after having children. With all the other anxieties that come with going back to a job after maternity leave, paying for your child to be taken care of whilst you earn a living should not be one of them.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I would definitely tell my younger self to have more confidence. There have been so many instances where I just did not feel confident enough to speak up or to ask a question and, looking back, I realise that I would have learnt the age old saying much faster: if you don’t ask you don’t get!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to get this business back to where it was pre-COVID. As I’ve mentioned earlier, we’ve been hit really hard by this pandemic and I hope that the strength and resilience we’ve acquired to get us through the last 2 years will be what drives us to succeed and grow this brand.

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