A love letter to a Pakistani clothing shop

As I've grown older, my tastes have changed; instead of buying “basic” clothes that erase the parts of me that are different, I seek out things that hint at my origins.

A love letter to a Pakistani clothing shop

Photograph courtesy of Sophia Qureshi

Seconds off Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross, a small shopping complex is filled with the usual strip mall staples: Kroger, Pizza Hut, GNC, a hair salon. But unless you were part of the Pakistani and Kashmiri immigrant scene, you would never know, or guess, that sandwiched between the GNC and the hair salon is J. Junaid Jamshed (or just J.), a Pakistani fashion retail store stocked with light, soft, warm weather–friendly clothes that are almost impossible to find elsewhere without paying a hefty price.

In the ’90s, if my mom wanted to buy shalwar kameezes—loose-fitting tunics with baggy pants and long scarves—we’d have to go to an auntie (a woman in the community) who had recently brought back a stockpile from Pakistan and was now selling them out of her basement. Or a relative would open her suitcase and pull out sequined, brightly colored suits gifted from another relative in Pakistan. Whether they would fit (or whether we liked them) would just be luck.

Finding shalwar kameezes wasn’t a straightforward process, but aunties were savvy, and they had a system. As a preteen, though, I hated the whole thing. The clothes themselves, the search for them, the differentness of it all. I wanted to be like my classmates who wore ribbed T-shirts and jean shorts from the Limited Too and American Eagle. So easy. So cool.
Things have changed since then. I’ve come to realize that clothes from the Limited Too and American Eagle were mostly polyester blends, and the outfits were not body-inclusive­—not everyone wants to wear or feels comfortable in skin-hugging spaghetti-strap tank tops). They were monotonous, with a limited selection of colors and styles. I’ve changed, too: Instead of buying “basic” clothes that erase the parts of me that are different, I seek out things that hint at my origins—Kashmiri shawls, flowy kurtas, gold jewelry—and mix it all up with striped T-shirts, simple cardigans, and jeans.

Shortly after the J. shop in Norcross opened in 2017, my mom took me there. I was surprised, to say the least. This was almost exactly like their location in Lahore, Pakistan, where I had been with one of my aunts several years earlier. Pakistani-style wood carvings framed parts of the wall and the ceilings, people spoke in Urdu, and the mannequins were carefully displayed throughout the shop. I was delighted to see a range of kurtas and shalwar kameezes made of lawn fabric—a lightweight cotton that Pakistanis wear throughout the hottest months to stay cool. The clothes had funky patterns and dramatic color pairings (teal and orange, yellow and hot pink, gray and pale yellow). These were clothes that I had seen in expensive boutiques elsewhere, for three times the price. I piled as many as I could in my arms and headed to the dressing room, happy that the days when we would hunt down shalwar kameezes all around town were in the past. I left J. with several kurtas folded neatly in a bag and have since returned many times to buy more.

I have a gold-orange colored kurta with hot pink flowers on it that sometimes I wear with jeans, and sometimes, I pair it with a traditional shalwar or churidar pajama. It’s flowy and doesn’t cling to my skin in any way, and the pattern and colors are striking. I almost always get compliments. When I’m inevitably asked where I got it, I casually say, “Jamshed.”

This article appears in our December 2022 issue.