How This Calgary Engineer Started Dressing Royalty

Nina Kharey on how she made it happen

(Photo: Jason Eng)
(Photo: Jason Eng)

Name: Nina Kharey

Job title: Founder and designer, Nonie

Age: 36

From: Calgary

Currently lives in: Calgary

Education: BSc in engineering, University of Calgary

First job out of school: Project engineer

When Meghan Markle wears one of your designs, your brand is instantly catapulted into the stratosphere of sales and recognition. Known as the Meghan Effect, it happened to Nina Kharey’s line, Nonie, when the Duchess stepped out in her sleeveless trench last year. “I woke up to my phone buzzing at 5 o’clock in the morning. We were all still asleep!” she says, explaining that her profile instantly went from local darling to international sensation. “It was very fast.”

But what seems like overnight success did not come without a lot of time and effort. “It took years gaining that network and gaining that credibility and getting production up to that level and building that relationship with my manufacturers,”says Kharey. “When that moment comes, you’re able to handle it.”

When Kharey started her label in 2008, it was a major shift from her studies in engineering. Her parents, who emigrated from India in the 1970s, both had backgrounds in fashion (her mother worked as a seamstress while her father managed a garment factory) but had hopes that their daughter would follow more academic pursuits. In 2005, a tragedy set Kharey’s life on a new path. Her brother lost his life to gun violence, and the devastation led Kharey to clothing design. “This was the thing that I did to bring me some peace,” she says. Kharey continues to honour her brother’s life and volunteers with the Calgary Police Service once a week to speak with children about his experience. “I feel like I keep his voice alive.”

Amplifying the voices of others has since become a tenet of Nonie. For her third and most recent show at New York Fashion Week, she decided to skip the catwalk and host an intimate lunch instead. Her guest of honour was Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, and the two spoke about the issues faced by today’s youth, such as cyber bullying, while celebrating Indian women in entertainment, fashion and lifestyle. “I do want to step away from runways—it’s not me, it’s not the way that I want to communicate my process,” she says. “This is more of an intimate presentation, talking about the things that really matter to me and were on my mind while I was designing the collection.”

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