There’s a long tradition of men’s shirtmakers: For 200 years, Jermyn Street in London has been home to shops devoted to crafting the perfect tailored shirt. Originally, they were bespoke, but these days, you can pick up an off-the-rack descendent from such storied Jermyn Street brands as Thomas Pink, T.M.Lewin, or Turnbull and Asser.
For women, the perfect dress shirt is more elusive, even though they are a crucial part of a contemporary wardrobe, particularly for customers who need polished outfits for work. Menswear brands like Brooks Brothers or Ralph Lauren have given it a go, producing collared shirts for women that look remarkably like those in the men’s collection, only tailored to women’s bodies.
Ammara Yaqub is trying to offer women more options. Last month, the New York-based designer launched Ammara, a company that’s laser-focused on creating the perfect shirts for female customers. Yaqub has spent nearly a decade in the fashion industry, working at Zac Posen, Louis Vuitton, and Saks Fifth Avenue. During her time in the field, she became ever more aware of the lack of quality shirts for women. “It’s something that I am always looking for and I can never find,” she says. Ammara offers 12 pieces for a wide range of occasions, made from top-of-the-line fabrics (silk, leather, and premium cotton) that are ideal for each garment’s particular cut and style.
Yaqub built Ammara as a direct-to-consumer business, following the model of such brands as Oliver Cabell, Cuyana, and Everlane, which sell luxury products at lower prices because there is no middle man. Ammara shirts are made in a New York Garment District factory famous for its high level of craftsmanship. The garments do not come cheap, running between $275 for a cotton poplin billowy halter top and $595 for a T-shirt-style top made of lambskin and pony leather. Yaqub makes the case that products of comparable quality would sell for many times her price point in department stores. “When you are buying something for $300 in retail, it typically has only $40 worth of product in it,” she says. “When we sell shirts for $300, it has $150 worth of product in it. Direct-to-consumer brands like us are interested in educating our consumers about what they are really paying for.”
Unlike many other fashion labels, Yaqub is not planning on creating entirely new collections every season. Instead, she will offer a staple line of shirts and periodically introduce new models based on customer response and seasonal trends. Given that the garments are made locally, it only takes a few weeks to go from a design sketched on paper to a finished product ready to be shipped. This means that Ammara can work on the “fast fashion” schedule, without having to resort to low-quality materials or deal with excess inventory. Churning out a new collection every four months just because that’s been the industry norm doesn’t make sense for Yaqub’s business. “Following the [traditional] fashion calendar seems very antiquated at this point,” she says.
Before launching her company, Yaqub researched the lifestyle of her typical consumer; i.e., a well-to-do professional woman—to design shirts that adapt to her lifestyle. She discovered that today’s woman prefers versatile clothing that can be dressed up or down, and can take her from dropping off her children at daycare to attending an investor meeting to dining out after work. “We want these shirt to fulfill a purpose in her life,” Yaqub says. “We deliberately wanted to edit down our collection to shirts that really matter and that women will really use.”