Fashion was not at the forefront of Anu Raina’s upbringing. Born and raised in Kashmir, Pakistan, Raina’s family fled their home, having lost everything overnight to ethnic violence in the country.
When they emigrated to Delhi, India, a teenage girl Raina found solace in creating.
Now, after several degrees and accolades to her name, Raina has opened her own store in downtown Oakville, sharing insight into her past while touting a proudly Canadian-made brand.
Even as a young girl, Raina remembers drawing, painting and making outfits for her dolls, but her interest came in high school, when she helped a friend apply to a fashion school in Australia.
“I thought if I could do it for him, I could do it for me,” Raina says.
In Delhi, she realized her potential as a junior designer for a start-up. With some work experience on her resume, she was accepted into the London College of Fashion in London, England.
After graduating, Raina planned to move to New York, but when she returned home to Delhi and met her husband, plans quickly changed.
For the next six years, Raina and her husband started a family in Delhi, while Raina took on the role of stay-at-home mom.
In 2004, they moved to Canada after Raina’s husband decided to pursue an MBA at the University of Toronto.
After spending a few years in their North York condo, they decided it was time for a change.
“We had two kids then, so we drove around the neighborhoods and fell in love with Oakville,” Raina says. “It has the exact balance of a town and a village. I like this.”
When they moved into their Southeast Oakville home in 2007, Raina craved more.
“My husband was very busy with his work and I was bored, so I visited Sheridan College and fell in love with the textile program,” says Raina.
After graduating with honors, Raina landed an artist-in-residence position at Harbourfront Center in Toronto.
“I realized then that I was an artist. I combined art and clothing. I created my own prints inspired by my life journey and the people I met.
She began printing scarves during her time at Harbourfront Center in an effort to sell her wares. Shop Girls on Queen Street West was the first boutique to buy her pieces, which eventually led to her first full collection which debuted at Toronto Fashion Week in 2010.
The autobiographical collection was called “Chapter 2, Page 1”, inspired by Raina’s childhood in Kashmir with her mother, who died when Raina was 10 years old. Each piece has been hand dyed, printed and sewn by Raina.
She continued to sell her pieces at several locations in Toronto when she started thinking about taking the next step and opening her own boutique.
“My kids said something that really hit me. They said, ‘Mom, if you stop, you’re going to die prematurely,'” Raina says with a laugh. “It was sweet and innocent, but they know me so well . After they said that, I decided to open my own store.
It opened Anu Raina in June 2021 in Lakeshore and Kerr, but when the doors opened, customers recommended a downtown location with more foot traffic. In November 2021, she moved Anu Raina to 174 Lakeshore Road East.
“I was scared of the high rents downtown, but I figured if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” Raina says. “Everyone encouraged me to continue. The Oakville community is so amazing. People understand the value of the fact in Canada, that it is important to support the local.
Everything sold at Anu Raina is made in Canada, with the exception of a line of men’s scarves that she makes in partnership with a Peruvian manufacturer.
Raina designs all of her apparel and textile prints, alongside talented colleagues who help cut and sew pieces as well as stylists and photographers who shoot her lookbooks.
“This trade is a team effort. It gives work to so many people. I don’t think I should take all the credit,” Raina says. “It’s not just about me. It’s about a lot of people, the whole team involved, realizing this dream and this concept.
Despite opening a new business during the COVID-19 pandemic, Raina says the outpouring of community support has propelled her forward.
To honor the Oakville community, she named her latest collection after her neighborhood, Wedgewood.
“I am where I am today thanks to a lot of people,” Raina says. “I am very grateful to them and to my family.”