From calculus to couture: engineering student starts fashion business

Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi has found a way to link her engineering education to her passion for fashion.

To many, earning a degree in industrial engineering may not be the obvious way to become a fashion designer.

However, this is not the case for Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi. The 26 year-old Iranian-Canadian is in her last semester of engineering at Dalhousie University, and has just launched an online fashion startup Peonies & Snow.

While an engineering degree may seem like it would provide very little background to creating a fashion business, Cherom Kheirabadi has found the two to be linked.

“When I started liking fashion I was obsessed with shapes and angles and edges and that started when I was doing calculus. So all my clothing is very related to that because I put a lot of engineering and mathematical things that I learned into designing them,” she said.

Featuring her own handmade designs, Peonies & Snow has been Cherom Kheirabadi’s own creation, from sketching the first designs two years ago through to this month’s launch.

These initial sketches have now become reality: form-fitting, pastel-hued businesses dresses, silky pink robes and skirts with intricate bow detailing are now all for sale on the Peonies & Snow website.

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The link between industrial engineering and design has proved to be a convenient one for Cherom Kheirabadi, yet there are many challenges that come with juggling a degree and a new business.

“To be honest, at first it was really, really stressful because you get demotivated in both things. You can get demotivated in school because you feel like you’re not concentrating on school and concentrating instead on the thing you love. The best way that I learned to organize them is to just set deadlines and caps, ‘If I complete these three I’ll work on my fashion for two hours,’” she said.

Cherom Kheirabadi’s love of fashion and design is not a new trend in her family. While she was encouraged to pursue her degree in engineering, she also comes from a long line of tailors.

“My mom’s a tailor, her mom was a tailor, all my aunts and her aunts were tailors so it goes way back and runs in the family, everyone’s a tailor but none of them had a business because it was just harder back in the day as a woman.”

Cherom Kheirabadi’s mother taught her the skills involved in creating clothes by hand, but also ensured that her daughter would know how to do each step herself, instead of simply showing her what to do.

After two years of developing her sewing skills and honing the specifics of the art, Cherom Kheirabadi now creates each item of clothing to her own measurements and then adapts the models to fit the proportions of each client.

With graduation looming Cherom Kheirabadi plans to devote herself to developing Peonies & Snow full-time.

“I know my parents definitely want me to do engineering, but personally I think I am putting everything that I learned in engineering into this, I want to really concentrate on it because I think it would be more successful if I give 100 per cent,” she said.