After big celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and Time magazine respectively, it was time for Tehelka to look for an Indian name. That is how Naaz Joshi, the strong headed woman, became India’s first transgender cover girl. She is a leading fashion designer, stylist, model, model manager, model trainer and a fashion columnist, who has worked with renowned names like the ex-cabinet minister Shelja Kumari, late model Viveka Babajee, Riya Sen and Neha Dhupia.
With a name that means pride, 35-year-old Naaz was born in Mexico City into a middle class, family. She was born a transgender with a twin brother—the late fashion designer Chirag Joshi. Soon after they realized she was a transgender, and considering the conservative family she was a part of, her father sent her to a distant relative in order to avoid wagging tongues. While living with relatives, she studied till class 8 and was unable to complete her education, as her brother passed away after losing his battle with cancer at a very young age. It was then that Naaz came back to Delhi and took control over her brother’s business.
It’s not that Naaz was new to the fashion world. She has had a flair for fashion from a very young age and also used to take lessons in marketing strategy and public relations from her brother as and when possible. Ask Naaz how fashion designing happened to her and she says, “I was merely 12 when I started my career by designing beautiful diyas for Diwali meals. As soon as I turned 14, because I looked older than my age, I started working backstage for the Sunder Verma, Rohit Bal, Ravi Bajaj, Payal Jain and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla shows. I was mesmerized by Madhu Sapre’s style when she was crowned Miss India in 1992, and soon I started following fashion institutes and event companies so that I could give wings to my dreams.”
That determination brought her to Pearl Academy in 1998 where she did her first student fashion design show with top models like Mehar Bhasin, Dipannita Sharma and Sonalika Sahay. Thereafter, Naaz got into NIFT and even won the most creative designer of the year award for her designer lehengas and got to work closely with super models like Noyonika Chatterjee, Bhawna Sharma and Lakshmi Rana. Continuing the story, she adds, “After that, I polished my Indian wear designing skills by working with brands like Ritu Kumar, Ritu Beri, Adarsh Gill and Divya Bindra. I have also done certificate courses in fashion from the Singapore School of Fashion. In 2007, I launched my own label and started retailing from a number of big stores.”
In India, despite the fact that the third gender has been given a green signal, it is still looked down upon and that is the reason Naaz had to face the gender tussle. She went through breast augmentation surgery in 2013, sex re-assignment in 2014 and eventually a breast removal surgery because of cancer in 2015. Ask Naaz how difficult it was to face society and she says, “When I decided to undergo a change, my own so-called friends left me. I also worked as a cabaret dancer at night in order to feed myself. People used to hate us during the day but the same people were ready to pay a price for our glamour at night. I landed up in prostitution so that by working as an escort, I could save funds for the surgery. My clients stopped coming to me and I went through so much emotional distress that I tried committing suicide thrice but failed.”
Naaz was not just answerable to the society for who she was but remains unacceptable to her own family members even today. “I was never accepted by my family. Even today, there are many restrictions on me—no male friends, no socializing, no late nights, always wear covered clothes, sometimes I feel I am living like Cinderella,” states Naaz.
But, all this doesn’t stop the fashion designer from aiming high. It was in 2014 when Supreme Court gave recognition to the third gender. After that, Naaz left prostitution and started her own company. This time, she was a one woman army, unapologetic, strong headed and one who wanted to rise in her career.
As the owner of Naaz Joshi Designs, the designer offers Indo-western fusion clothing to women. She seeks inspiration from Donatella Versace, who, like her, took over as the chief designer of Versace after her brother’s death. She has been a part of several fashion weeks and events. Apart from the wide acceptance Naaz has been receiving from her participation in social media, she is also a recipient of many awards like Miss Queen Mauritius, Wamba Diva of the Fortnight, besides achievement awards from NGOs and news magazines. As a grooming expert, she has trained more than 500 aspirants, including home makers, students, models, corporate clients and singers.
Naaz lets her work do all the talking and is constantly on a mission to find out ways to help the community so that they are not deprived of their basic rights. What has been her learning in life, we ask, and she says, “My life has been a roller coaster ride full of emotions. I love it simply because unlike others who are ashamed to accept who they are publically, I came out in the open and took a stand for myself. I love teaching, training students and children—it makes me feel like a mother because biologically I can’t have kids.”
Naaz requests everyone to look at people of the transgender community as human beings. “I beg all of you to understand the fact that we too have a heart full of emotions. At least, listen to us, as we also value relationships. To all the parents, I just want to say that may be your children have changed their body, but their soul is the same. Don’t be ashamed of them and don’t leave them in darkness as they love you,” pleads Naaz.
Having emerged as an inspirational woman the society can look up to, Naaz has her future plans in place. She shares, “Things haven’t changed and even today people laugh, make fun and mockery of our gender. It is a long journey and will definitely take about 15 years to bring some change. From my side, I will try and come up with concepts where each and every member of the society gets to live a life of a model for at least one day, possibly in a reality show like Big Boss.” Wish her dreams come true.