Fists and Fabrics

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Similar to many South Asia nations, Bangladesh – with its rich history and culture – has long celebrated its sports heroes, yet the narrative has predominantly been male. But beneath the shadow of these giants, a new chapter is being written by women who dare to don gloves and step into the ring, challenging not just their opponents but the very fabric of societal expectations – we are talking about our brave-hearted female boxers  

Anika Chowdhury

Nishat Khan’s journey through the worlds of professional boxing and fashion design is one such remarkable story of passion, resilience, and defiance against stereotypes. Both a professional boxer and a talented designer, she has navigated two worlds that are poles apart, yet she finds that one complements the other in the most unexpected ways.

From the tender age of 7 or 8, Khan was drawn to fashion designing, sketching her future self as a designer with a deep-rooted passion. Reflecting on her early influences, Khan shares: “Fashion designing was something I was passionate about from an early age, perhaps when I was 7-8 years old. I would always draw myself being a designer.” This early passion laid the foundation for her future in design. 

However, boxing entered her life somewhat unexpectedly during the transition from her 20s to 30s, a period marked by a personal and mental evolution sparked by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Seeking to immerse herself in fitness, what started as a casual engagement with boxing soon became an integral part of her life.

Khan’s journey into boxing was unconventional. A solo trip to Phuket marked a turning point. Khan recalls: “It was not all about shopping and vacation, instead a journey to discover something about me that I did not expect.” Despite being told it was too late for her to consider fighting, she persisted. “I would often be told by others that it was too late for me to even think about fighting. It was for the best if I considered being a mother and sticking to my work,” she says, detailing the stereotypical roles imposed on her.

I would often be told by others that it was too late for me to even think about fighting

But she was resolute to defy the norms and break the stereotype with her jab and hook. 

Growing up, Khan found inspiration in her family and the media she consumed. “Being the youngest in the family, I was blessed with siblings who had a great influence on my life,” she recalls. Her brother played a significant role in her self-development, and she was captivated by strong, independent women characters in video games like Resident Evil, Urban Chaos, and Tomb Raider

“These girls had style and the ability to take anyone down, and I was OBSESSED with it,” Khan states.

Khan’s foray into boxing was sparked by attending a match. “The first boxing match that I went to see inspired me the most,” she says. Despite the obstacles of entering a male-dominated sport, Khan was undeterred. “Obstacles? When I decided to fight, I knew managing everything wouldn’t be possible. So, I had to pause whatever was not related to boxing.” The physical and societal challenges were significant. “From constant training, I started noticing how my face and body were changing … People would often ask why I was doing this to myself!”

Obstacles? When I decided to fight, I knew managing everything wouldn’t be possible. So, I had to pause whatever was not related to boxing

A typical day for Khan is a balancing act between the rigorous training of a boxer and the creativity required in fashion design. “Designing is my work and boxing is my fitness. They are two poles apart but one complements the other very well,” she explains.

The challenges of balancing the physical demands of boxing with her creative endeavours in fashion have taught Khan to adapt and manage both aspects of her life effectively. Boxing has significantly influenced her mental resilience and work ethic, offering life lessons on calmness, strategy, and self-effacement that she applies in her daily life and creative work.

Khan recalls her most memorable fight as a profound learning experience, teaching her humility, gratitude, and the value of support from family and friends. It was a reminder of the struggles faced by local boxers and a reflection on her own blessings.

Looking ahead, Khan has clear goals for both her boxing and fashion design careers. “My journey in boxing was not to be the best boxer but to do something I was passionate about, the freedom to be able to say: why not?!” In terms of design, she hopes “to embrace our culture and heritage into a form of appeal that no one had seen before.”

My journey in boxing was not to be the best boxer but to do something I was passionate about

Nishat Khan’s story is not just about her individual achievements in boxing and fashion design – it’s about challenging norms, embracing passions, and inspiring others. Through her experiences, Khan demonstrates that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams, no matter how unconventional they may seem. Her journey encourages us to find strength within ourselves, to break free from societal expectations, and to pave our own path with determination and grace.

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