By Nabeeha Baig
For Hani Pathan, a third year student in Ryerson’s English program, using art as a tool for customization has always been a second nature. As a child, Pathan doodled on her binders as a way to showcase her individuality and mark her territory. Now, Pathan chooses to express herself through her clothing and shoe customization company, Honey Kicks.
Colour blocks, free-verse poetry and abstract design are just a few of the personal touches she adds to her products. What began as an experiment turned into a full-blown business with the help of her customized products including tote bags, button-up shirts, canvas pieces and shoes.
“I’m still learning—I feel like I’m currently hitting a glass ceiling,” Pathan said. “I need to take a step back and learn more from my environment and the people that I study.”
After seeing Bryant Giles, a Chicago-based artist and designer, customize a pair of Nike Air Force 1s, she was inspired to create a similar piece with her own twist. She was drawn to Giles’ use of Air Force 1s as a canvas, something she’d never seen before.
After sharing her work on Instagram, Pathan instantly received positive feedback from her peers. “After a while orders started to come in, and I think [the shoes] turned into the main piece,” said Pathan. “That really gained the most attraction.”
Her influences range from classical painters like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, to contemporary fashion designers like Virgil Abloh, CEO of Off-White and Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons.
Pathan has been vocal on social media about the hardships that creatives of colour often endure in their careers. “I think we’re at a time where diversity and social justice is a trend. Oftentimes, brands only work with people of colour to put on a front that they’re inclusive,” she said. Pathan doesn’t want to be recognized solely for being a South Asian woman artist or ‘that brown artist.’ For Pathan, her ethnicity is only part of her identity and work—but it doesn’t define her.
Pathan says she’s had her share of roadblocks in her career thus far, particularly battling self-doubt and seeking validation. It can be easy for artists in the digital age to get caught up in their peers’ success, a feeling Pathan is very familiar with. “When I compare myself to other artists or entrepreneurs, I often forget that there’s so much work going behind it and what I see is only surface level.”
Pathan said she likes to think of herself as an ongoing student in the art world. Her idea of success is defined by financial stability, having her work published in galleries and helping other young creatives in the same position.
Her ethnicity is only part of her identity and work—but it doesn’t define her
Although Instagram is where she gets most of her opportunities, Pathan likes to take a step back every once in a while to make sure she feels validated on her own terms.
The designer prides herself most on remaining true to her ability and vision. When she first started taking commissions, one client asked her to exclude her signature colour blocks from a pair of Honey Kicks. Since she was only an emerging artist at the time, Pathan felt compelled to go through with the project, although she felt disconnected from the work. After she completed the piece, Pathan realized there are projects she can say no to if she doesn’t truly enjoy creating it.
Pathan’s philosophy around charging for her work depends on skill level, knowledge and experience at that particular time. She only raises her rates if she genuinely believes she has learned something new, and that it’s reflected in the quality of her work.
“For anyone who is considering monetizing, all power to you. You deserve to be compensated for your time, knowledge and skills,” Pathan said. “But before you go hiking up those rates or even start charging, make sure you are bringing something unique to the table.”