Calgary fashion designer talks inspiration and loss while pursuing her dreams

It did not take long for Nina Rahal-Kharey to develop a passion for fashion; her parents were both in the clothing-manufacturing business.

Rahal-Kharey, who graduated several years ago from the University of Calgary’s engineering program, sits in the basement of her Calgary home.

She recalls a time when her parents would bring home boxes of clothes. Rahal-Kharey would not play dress-up; she had something else in mind.

“I would always go through them and imagine myself as a designer, the creative head of it all,” Rahal-Kharey said. “That’s just something that I knew when I was very young. I knew when I was a kid that I had a passion for [designing clothes] and [it was] something that I thought I would be good at.”

It was something she decided to seriously pursue in late 2009. However, Rahal-Kharey did at first have fears of venturing into the world of fashion, because she believed she would have to move to one of the clothing capitals of the world like New York or Toronto.

Produced by: Asha Siad

That fear subsided after the death of Rahal-Kharey’s brother in 2005, who was gunned down outside a gym. The Calgary Police Service called it gang-related. The impact of his murder still affects her family today.

“With the incident of my brother passing away, it was just something that triggered me to follow my dreams and do what I want to do without any worries or doubt,” Rahal-Kharey said. “It was probably the best decision I made because it was such a great outlet for me.”

House of Nonie was born that year, with the name Nonie inspired by a love-name that was given to Rahal-Kharey at birth by her family.

“The line is for women that are professional, that are strong. It’s just a very clean line. I don’t do too much patterns. I like to keep it as simple and [use] bold colours, a lot of jerseys and silks,” Rahal-Kharey said, adding that a little bit of her own Indian heritage can be sensed in some of her collections.

While she comes off as very ambitious, confident and humble, Rahal-Kharey credits her late brother for inspiring and pushing her towards chasing her dreams.

Rahal-Kharey said. “I’m full of fear and doubt whereas he was just more get-out-and-do-it, and that really pushed me to do what I do now. [It] really inspired me,” Rahal-Kharey said.

Though she acknowledges that the loss of her brother is something that her family will have to live with, Rahal-Kharey has found ways to heal: not only through her work as a designer, but also through advocacy against gang-related violence.

“I work with the [CPS] gang unit and I’ll meet with kids and go to their schools, and film videos for them actually, telling them my story,” Rahal-Kharey said.

“It’s helped a lot of kids just understand the gang lifestyle, how our choices can impact your life and how it’s just not worth it.”

Rahal-Kharey said she wants to speak out against the sensitive issue of gang violence because she believes there was a negative image placed on her brother after his death. She added that speaking out felt like she was giving him a voice.

“It wasn’t me doing all the talking there, I felt like he was there and he was telling people it was not worth it because that was exactly what he told me before he passed away, so it helped me spread his name in a positive way and take the negativity away from it.”

In 2010, Rahal-Kharey dedicated her holiday collection, shown in both Toronto and Calgary, to her late brother. It was called JR, named after his initials.

“I felt like I hit a milestone and I accomplished one of my goals, because when I started the line I knew that one day I would do a collection dedicated to him,” Rahal-Kharey said. “It wouldn’t be the only one, but the first one that would mean a lot. I felt like he was happy. I’m happy, it was just a good healing process for me.”

These past few years have been a blur for Rahal-Kharey, juggling her engineering career, fashion line and community involvement. She’s also been working on a book about her life with her brother and the effect his murder had on her life.

“I don’t consider myself a professional in this but people are interested to know what I went through and what my parents went through before and after [the death],” Rahal-Kharey said.

While she did take a break after releasing the JR collection to re-evaluate areas of uncertainty in her life, one thing is clear for this young designer – there is much more to do and she is definitely not satisfied yet.

“I want to do more with my line, create more clothes and collections and hopefully even take it out to Toronto again and just keep growing,” Rahal-Kharey said.

Past collections featuring items that vary from chic dresses to elegant blouses have been sold at Calgary’s Coco & Violet. Rahal-Kharey hopes to get another collection in again soon. For now, clients can order directly through the House of Nonie website [www.houseofnonie.com], with prices that range from $250 to $550.