#03: Meeting Nesrine Khem, WESH's founder

by Lamia Baladi

Meet the founder of WESH Nesrine Khem who also design the sunglasses brand sunglasses, Nessy Khem. We sat down to talk about her background, her inspirations, what led her to create WESH and what's her vision for the store. 

Tell me a bit about yourself. What's your background and how does it influence your creative vision?

Growing up in the French Alps and coming from a Tunisian background, I was heavily influenced by the multiculturalism around me. I grew up in a family that loved music from different eras and genres. My father was listening to Arabic music, while my brothers were listening to RnB, hip-hop and rap, which were the nineties sound. Inspired by the lyrics of these rap songs, often stating to never give up on your dreams, even if no one believes in you, I grew up a dreamer, believing that the day will come where my talent will be seen.

The eldest of five siblings, I learnt early on how to be the leader of the pack. I believe that’s one of the characteristics that’s most evident about me. It’s something that really shaped the way I think and act. 

Mixing the streetwear scene with high fashion is very influential in my creative vision. Today this seems pretty common, with high-end luxury fashion brands collaborating with streetwear brands – or streetwear brands reaching the status of high-fashion. But back in the days, both were not so easily interwoven. I’m inspired by the fact that no matter where you come from, what your upbringing is, you still have a chance for your talent to be seen.  

Why did you decide to start WESH? 

Wesh is an Arabic slang, often used in the french suburbs as well as the french rap scene, meaning what’s up; a way of greeting each other. Both my upbringing and my professional background were catalysts in my vision for WESH. 

Pursuing a career in the fashion industry and starting my own brand as an eyewear designer was simultaneously exciting and challenging. I learnt how to wear different hats, from a designer’s perspective to the business aspect of it, selling to both customers but also to businesses and store owners. 

I witnessed first-hand the unfairness of the game for emerging designers. This led me to wanting to support and help other emerging independent designers pursue their passion by giving them a platform to share their ideas, promote their talent and tell their story. My first pop-up was in Summer 2021, where I successfully curated 25 brands from all over the world. From there came the idea to turn this into a permanent concept store, WESH. 

What does New York City mean to you? 

Moving to New York in my early twenties and having lived here for the past fifteen years highly shaped the woman I am today. The city opened my eyes to the opportunity of being whoever I wanted to be. I learnt how to stand up for myself; to prove to myself first and foremost that I was capable of anything. I didn’t let my falls bring me down but rather I’d get back on my feet and not let anything or anyone deter me from my purpose. 

I feel very lucky to call the city my home, to have grown up as a woman in such a cosmopolitan and multicultural place where freedom comes first. It taught me to always speak my truth and to build relationships with people that I am now proud to call my chosen family.   

Tell me a bit about your process in selecting emerging designers to showcase. What do you look for the most? 

As a designer myself, I am part of a community filled with creatives, artists, and fellow designers. I’m constantly surrounded with people who are not afraid to take risks in their style choices, and this is what inspires me to keep digging for new brands & trends. 

Whether in my community or in the streets of New York, whenever an outfit or clothing item catches my eye, I ask where it comes from. Social media is also a great way to seek emerging designers. So I would say that the main criteria I look for are non-conformity and passion. 

Describe WESH in a few words. How do you want people to feel when leaving the store?  

My vision for WESH comes from how I want to make customers feel when they purchase something from the store. I’d like to make them feel unique, confident, shining and not afraid to be extravagant. Also classic & chic with a piece that stands out. 

I really try to connect with brands I represent by understanding their inspiration and communicating their stories to my customers in order to create connections between both. 

Describe your personal style in 3 words.

It’s a hard question as my mood dictates my style and no two days look the same. But I will say moody, eclectic & vibrant

What’s something or someone that has greatly inspired you? 

The first person who comes to mind is my mother, my earliest source of inspiration. I was in awe of the way she would get ready for events and embody a feeling of joy and elegance to celebrate any occasion. Growing up between France and Tunisia, we would make a selection of clothing from French designers to bring over to Tunisia when I was only eleven years old.

Understanding what people want to wear, or how they want to be seen or feel while wearing a dress is something I had a feel for very early on. It is extremely important to have both intuition and compassion. 

What are your three favourite items in WESH’s collection right now? 

My vintage collection from Albright fashion library, with unique luxury pieces from Saint Laurent or Gucci. 

The Amora fanny pack, a unique handmade piece all the way from Mexico – perfect from a day out to the rave. 

Rafael Indiana’s one of a kind jewelry inspired by Greek mythology. His style as a film producer is really reflected through his pieces. 

What’s one advice you would give to your younger self, or any young creative out there trying to make it?  

It is okay not to have all the answers all the time and to start small. What is the most important is to believe in your idea, your vision, your art form and communicate it properly to create bonds with people and make them feel like they can relate and share the same feeling.  

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