Interview with Zaq Qureshi from Playa London
Zaq Qureshi is the master mind behind the emerging British brand Playa London that aims to bring some much needed Spanish sunshine and warmth to streets of London in a sustainable and ethical way. The ultra-comfortable shirts made with high quality Turkish cotton are produced by local families who have been doing it for generations. The fabric is known for its high quality and absorbency thus making it perfect whether you are sipping Sangria on a Spanish beach or rushing to the tube station on the cold London streets. We had the pleasure to talk to Zaq about his fashion adventures. Check out what he has to say.
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Born and raised in a small town near Cambridge, England called Peterborough, best known for where people change trains or get their passport renewed. It’s not ever a place people want to travel to, only out of necessity. But honestly, it’s not that bad. I studied at the University of Nottingham but now live in North West London. I have a passion for art, fashion and film.
How did you get into fashion? Was it something you were interested in from an early age or developed the interest later?
The interest has always been there but coming from very humble beginnings, I didn’t really have the means to start until I was around 26 years old. Also coming from a South Asian background, at first I had to pursue a conventional career otherwise I would be disowned.
Playa London, the name really brings the warmth of Spanish beach to the cold streets of London. Tell us about the inspiration behind the name?
It’s exactly that, it’s supposed to be a juxtaposition as London isn’t known for beaches, yet the British travel abroad more than any other nation in Europe.
Tell us a bit about Playa London’s inception and its journey so far.
Growing up, summer held a special place in my heart. It was a time of unforgettable moments that stuck with me long after the sun had set. I wanted to capture the spirit of these memories in something tangible, and thus, the idea of PLAYA London was born. I wanted to purchase material but didn’t know where to go. Didn’t want to buy something made from polyester because they get sticky and uncomfortable in the sun.
Fast forward one year I was in an Istanbul market and came across peshtemal towels which are long fibred cotton towels, thin, lightweight, absorbent, and I wondered why there wasn’t clothing made from this type of weave. Started purchasing various peshtemal towels and began designing some shirts
I set out to design shirts that stood out but weren’t ostentatious. Wanted my designs to be catalysts for memory-making, each one unique and telling its own story. My shirts were designed with one idea – every shirt tells a story, and the person wearing it, the author. I saw my shirts as blank canvases, waiting to be filled with stories of summer adventures and memorable moments.
This is more than just fashion for me. It’s about giving people a chance to make their own stories, to live exciting moments. Each shirt is an opportunity for a new summer memory, a new story waiting to be written.
What has been the most difficult part of this journey and what lessons did you learn?
Honestly the most difficult part is finding reliable ateliers and overcoming the language barrier. Also I launched the brand two months before the pandemic started, so the uncertainty of what was coming threw a lot of self doubt my way. So, I would say self-doubt and reliable suppliers have been the most difficult part. I learned to trust my instincts more than anything.
Your love for oceans and sea is loyal to the point that you donate decent amount of every purchase to charity. Could you tell us a bit about it and how did you get involved into it?
I was scuba diving in Bali in 2017 and after an incredible 1st ever dive, we went to a second location that was polluted with plastics and other rubbish. This immediate contrast I experienced was a wake-up call. Prior to this I’d only really seen the viral video of the turtle with a straw in its nose. We’ve all seen that right? It was after my scuba dive I decided to take it more seriously.
We donate £3 from each purchase to The Ocean Cleanup. This charity was started by a young engineer named Boyan Slatt, who designed a machine that physically removes plastic from rivers and seas. It’s quite spectacular how it works, look them up when you get a chance. It’s also one of those charities that doesn’t even want you mentioning them too much, so I knew it was a perfect choice. I’ve had experiences in the past with charities that don’t do a lot except pay their senior staff a hefty wage.
You seem to use a specific kind of cotton for most of your shirts. Can you tell us a bit about it? What makes it superior to the rest?
We only wanted to make shirts that were comfortable to wear in the sun and on the beach. That immediately ruled out polyester, polyester blends, modal, and even most silk variations. The peshtemal cotton we found is a long-fibered flat weave that is much more absorbent than other cotton weaves. It’s towelling and it gets softer after each wash as the weave loosens.
You also use bamboo based fabric in your production. Where do you source that from and it is as durable and pleasant to use as its cotton counterpart?
That was our most popular shirt and sold out very quickly. All our shirts are currently produced in Turkey and this was a long fibred bamboo weave which was extremely soft and comfortable to wear. Though I think the cotton shirts are still a little more comfortable
We have come across brands that use fabrics made from plastic bottles thus giving second life to the plastic otherwise destined for the oceans and landfills. Have you considered using such fabrics as they might go along very well with Playa London’s commitment to the oceans?
Perhaps for some merch like sunglasses but for clothing we’d prefer to stay with organic natural fibres. But who knows, I change my mind a lot.
What lies ahead for Playa London?
Later this year the Miami collection drops. We’re also designing some very exclusive Cuban collar cotton shirts at the moment, as well as other merch like beach towels and pillow cases. Lots of exciting things, hopefully.
Sustainability has quickly become a must-do practice for brands both big and small. What do you see as the future of our lands and oceans?
I think donation should be standard practice for all brands that manufacture. It’s quite an intensive process with many steps to get these shirts produced to high quality, so giving back is a no-brainer. For the consumer, It’s a trade off between comfort and convenience, and as long as polyester and other single use plastics are more convenient there will be demand for them. I think as materials technology improves, we will see affordable natural alternatives to plastic and polyester.