A few years ago, Meg and Komie Vora, together known as the Vora sisters, noticed that luxury fashion often comes at a cost that has got nothing to do with its price tag. That cost is the drastic impact it has on the environment. Fashion, in fact, is the second most polluting industry in the world, and despite luxury fashion’s exclusivity and durability, sustainability is still not its strong suit with raw material production a huge concern. It’s exactly what led the Vora sisters to start their fashion label, Delikate Rayne — a cruelty-free, vegan brand aimed at changing the prevalent narrative around luxury fashion.
Brown Girl Magazine recently got an opportunity to interview Meg and Komie about what motivated them to start Delikate Rayne. We delved deep into what the brand represents, the Vora Sisters’ experience as South Asian entrepreneurs and their hopes for the future of fashion. Below are excerpts from our conversation:
How about we start with an introduction to Delikate Rayne. What is the idea behind the brand and what are some of the core values that drive it?
Delikate Rayne is an award-winning, environmentally progressive, vegan fashion and lifestyle company that is taking animals, humans and the planet out of the fashion equation. We produce in made-to-order/limited quantities to keep in line with zero-waste practices and our commitment towards not overproducing and contributing to waste in landfills. Part of our manifesto is to “abandon convention” which means breaking the rules, unlearning what you may have been taught about luxury and challenging the norms. We like to design pieces that are timeless yet make a statement, focusing strongly on impeccable craftsmanship while adhering to our vegan and eco principles. Our company’s DNA is acutely entrenched in consciousness, kindness and mindfulness towards the planet, never having used any animal derived elements in our pieces and being 100 percent committed to a cruelty-free future.
What motivated you to start a brand around veganism?
We wanted to embark on a new kind of luxury — something that was peaceful and didn’t have to sacrifice a life to gain a product. We started out of a love for fashion, animals, activism and the desire to contribute something meaningful to the world. Even if it was just through knowledge sharing and making consumers more aware of the social and environmental impacts of their buying habits. It was important to us to at least get the conversation started. Being born and raised as vegetarians also played a role in the way we started to view many things around us. Fashion ended up being a constant that we continually would re-visit. We couldn’t find sufficient answers to our questions about ethics and cruelty-free products, especially those which embodied the aesthetic we desired or the style we gravitated towards. Therefore, we started out by trying to build a completely animal-friendly wardrobe and so our label was something that just came organically and made obvious sense.
Tell us a bit about how your journey of setting up a vegan luxury fashion brand. How has Delikate Rayne evolved from the time of conception to now?
It really began as an impossible wish. Our parents weren’t too keen on the idea of “fashion” being our career of choice like most traditional Indian parents. We don’t come from a background in fashion and had no prior contacts in this industry when we started. While continuing to build this company from the ground up, it felt like we were going to college all over again. Not only learning everything from scratch but having to prove to our parents and the community around us that a creative path is feasible. It has taken a lot of trial and error, long sleepless nights (we often still have them!) and tons and tons of research to get here. We literally walked the streets of downtown LA when we were first starting out—physically going door-to-door to find the right factory. We enrolled in sewing classes, visited every pattern and sample maker we learned about to find someone we could connect with and could properly execute our vision.
We are still learning to navigate as the fashion industry is truly a chameleon — constantly changing and adapting. We never set out to make Delikate Rayne a “for vegan made by vegans” company.Our philosophy has always been to lead with compassion and follow our motto, the Triple E factor: edgy, ethical and everlasting. Today, Delikate Rayne serves as a platform through which we get to share our story with women in the hope that it will encourage and empower them to go after what they desire, no matter how daunting it may seem. It has evolved into a brand focused on creating awareness about the many overlooked issues in fashion including sustainability, cruelty and ethics combined with the desire to make compassion “cool” by changing the preconceived notions of what luxury is.
What are some of the challenges you faced in the industry and how did you overcome them?
It is an ongoing battle — changing the preconceived notions of what luxury is and how animal-friendly clothing is just as good in quality, style, look and feel as its non-vegan counterparts. It is still a constant challenge for most consumers to clearly identify the same connection they attribute to harming an animal and consuming it for food versus how it correlates to fashion. Since animal-friendly fashion in general is still a new concept, many find it to be a struggle to walk that fine line between fashion and compassion. In addition, the idea of cruelty-free dressing and what that means in relation to their wardrobe is still a pretty foreign concept to many. In the end though we believe it all comes down to awareness. By sharing knowledge through conversations about how it is all interconnected will ultimately help people see the bigger picture.
Also, a lot of people are jumping on the sustainable bandwagon so green-washing is at an all-time high. Being able to stand out from that noise is a newer challenge but one that is going to continue to push us to keep reinventing ourselves and stay relevant.
What do you think are some common misconceptions about vegan fashion brands, in your experience? And how does Delikate Rayne help break these stereotypes?
Vegan fashion is consistently looked at as a style of clothing reserved for a specific type of person and lifestyle. That’s definitely not true. Vegan or not, style, quality and sharp aesthetics are universally desired. Some of the most stylish tastemakers and recognisable names embrace vegan fashion and actively seek it out. An even more categorical, false assumption is that vegan fashion is just not as luxurious, coveted or can uphold the standards of items found in well-known luxury houses. Delikate Rayne is breaking this mould by providing green luxury – bringing definitive and progressive designs with a purpose into existence. We have gone against the grain by defying our traditional, cultural and gender expectations to create a lux cruelty-free contemporary label. Made by us, women who love the planet and animals. Our pieces are ethically and consciously made in LA and are 100% animal friendly. Behind the scenes, there is also care given to everyone’s well-being across the supply chain. We also do not have seasons — we release pieces here and there, which stems away from the traditional fashion industry. We focus on making investment pieces that will be timeless in your wardrobe. This in turn helps you lower your fashion carbon footprint.
How has your heritage played a role in setting up the brand?
Our company’s name is what our two full names mean put together in Hindi. We were raised on the foundations of Hinduism which has strong ties to compassion and Jainism which adheres to principles of Ahimsa (respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards any other living being) so cruelty-free living was instilled into us at a very young age. Raised as strict vegetarians who are now vegan — we have never tasted meat before nor had the desire to do so. Our grandmother wouldn’t even eat any vegetables that had to have their roots cut to be eaten because by cutting off the root you are participating in violence against the plants. Our upbringing really opened up our eyes to how a much more serene way of living can be obtained overall, through the choices you make in different areas of your life and paying special attention to consumption and the direct correlation it has to peace. We were taught to respect and love animals and mother nature just as we would each other. As we got older we started making the connection of how animals were equally as harmed and tortured for a plethora of fashion products and it didn’t sit well with us. We wanted to change that, we wanted to create and contribute something meaningful and tangible. Which is what led us here.
It isn’t easy to sell the concept of conscious consumption in the age of fast fashion. Can you tell us how an average consumer can incorporate more mindfulness in everyday fashion practices?
It is all about baby steps. Approach it the same way you would approach changing your diet except you’re dealing with clothes. We like to refer to it as the ‘wardrobe diet.’ Just like starting a food diet, you start off by removing certain things and reading labels. To avoid feeling discouraged, start with one area first such as removing fur for instance. Then go in your closet and remove all fur products from your wardrobe. Once you have eliminated one fabric, move on to another such as leather and so on. It’s important to find alternatives too before eliminating things from your closet so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Instead of tossing these items away, try to donate or gift them to your friends.
When shopping, look for top-notch eco-friendly fabrics — a mix of natural fibres like recycled cotton, and innovative ones like tencel and plant-based leather substitutes. It’s always good to choose a variety of textures in the same colour, structured silhouettes that fit well, a neutral colour palette and lots of jackets. Jackets go with everything and anything — they have the ability to pull together an outfit instantly. Also, a good mix of vintage and designer/luxury pieces make up a much better closet. It feels more personal and not as forced. Vintage helps lend an element of exclusivity since no one will be wearing what you have got on. In addition, it’s a great way to incorporate and score on your favourite older designer pieces while participating in the art of reusing clothing. Like mama always says in regards to finding a significant other; “you should focus on investing in something that will stick around long term not just serve you for a night.”
Entrepreneurship often goes hand in hand with self-discovery. Can you girls tell us something that you have learnt about yourself through Delikate Rayne?
Discipline will take you places, motivation can’t, don’t ever get too comfortable. Believing in yourself is a full-time job, just like running your own business, there are no days off!
What is the one piece of advice you’d like to give budding entrepreneurs in the sustainable space?
When you have a company with a purpose, especially a fashion brand it isn’t just about sales anymore, you have so much more to prove and deal with — you will constantly be tested on that. You have to be hyper-aware and extra knowledgeable about all of the latest textiles that are being released — can they work for what you are doing, are they environmentally conscious, is it apparel-grade ready, does it fit your company’s aesthetic? Also, since this is such a new wave to ride you have to remember, you are helping to create a movement, something that is going to contribute to radical change down the road. This reformation can and will continue to exist because your work is providing fuel for the metamorphosis of changing an industry that has operated in the same way for decades.
Together, the Vora sisters’ abilities to unify ethics, consciousness and humanity with a fresh perspective make Delikate Rayne a force to reckon with in its space. In addition, their honesty, compassion and passion in everything they do make their products a definite value-add to any wardrobe. Check out Delikate Rayne here and we promise you, that you will come out with elegant and guilt-free wardrobe options!
When she was young, Preeti Gore, the founder of the clothing brand Tilted Lotus, always looked up to her dad’s “natural sketching” talent. His motivation led her to explore her creative side, whether it was experimenting with art or taking up sitar lessons. Regardless of that fact, she pursued a career in science and became a Physical therapist, following her gut instinct.
Stepping into the world of fashion, alongside being a PT, Gore talks to Brown Girl Magazine about her brand Tilted Lotus in depth.
Why “Tilted Lotus?” What is the significance of the name?
‘Lotus’ symbolizes the national flower of India, my birthplace and the land that has shaped me into the person I am today. It represents the roots from which I originate. On the other hand, ‘Tilted’ signifies the distinctive identity I developed while living in Western countries. With my experiences spanning four different nations — India, the UK, Canada, and the US — I’ve had the privilege of embracing the unique qualities of each culture. This odyssey has enriched my life tremendously, and Tilted Lotus is how I offer this special part of me to a diverse American market.
How did the transition to the world of textiles and design occur?
Despite never being pressured by my parents, I convinced myself that pursuing a career in science was the ‘right’ path, and thus became a physical therapist. My first job in the US was at Houston Methodist Hospital, located in the prestigious Texas Medical Center. Driven by my passion to help others, I am dedicated to this profession and have no intention of quitting. Relocating to the UK, and Canada, and eventually settling in the US presented numerous challenges, and every time I felt shattered, defeated, or alone, I somehow found the strength to push forward. My parents, despite limited resources, supported my dreams wholeheartedly, encouraging independence and the pursuit of my passions. My husband — who I affectionately call my “Sheldon” (a nod to The Big Bang Theory) — played a pivotal role in persuading me to embrace my creative instincts. I am grateful to have him as both a strong supporter and a staunch feminist.
Two years ago, I took the first step toward launching Tilted Lotus. I enrolled in the entrepreneurship program at The Wharton School and pursued a course on starting a fashion line. I was focused on finding the right supply chain and developing a solid business strategy, but the real test came when I had to work tirelessly in the ICU during the COVID wave, back-to-back nights and days, all at the same time. Through ups and downs, failures, and victories, I finally launched Tilted Lotus in December 2022.
India to the UK…then now to the US! Did the need to stay rooted in your culture strengthen? If so, how did that help you envision Tilted Lotus?
From my childhood days, I’ve held onto my personal values like a compass guiding my way. During my experiences living in different countries, I noticed [I was] slowly losing myself, losing what truly makes me, me. But my love for my culture grew stronger, and I found ways to preserve it. As I wore clothing that reflected my identity and initiated conversations about culture and heritage, I discovered that these markers not only distinguish us but also bring us closer together. People are often eager to learn and experience different cultures, which inspired me to create Tilted Lotus, offering a glimpse of me to others.
How do you aim to combine South Asian elements with contemporary designs?
The design process for creating an outfit involves a multitude of elements. Our primary objective is to take a traditional Indian art form, put a Tilted Lotus twist on it, and incorporate it into contemporary, everyday silhouettes that are both adaptable and effortless to wear. Our latest collection, Jungle Glam, embodies this unique concept flawlessly.
Who is your target audience? And, how do your pieces help express themselves?
We cater to a diverse and inclusive audience, embracing individuals of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. While our current selection includes unisex options, our plans involve expanding more into the realm of unisex clothing. Our aim is for our garments to transcend traditional gender norms, welcoming everyone into our fashion community, regardless of their background.
Our target demographic consists of individuals who revel in dressing eclectically, and fearlessly expressing their unique selves. Our garments become a canvas for personal stories, silently representing who they are. They complement individual styles and can be effortlessly combined with other pieces, adding a touch of boldness and confidence.
One adjective to describe your clothing line:
How do you want people to feel when wearing your clothes?
Our ultimate goal is for them to exude confidence, radiate happiness, and proudly embrace their true selves when they don our clothing. We want them to feel empowered, ready to conquer the world, and unapologetically display their unique style and individuality.
You mention one of your brand values is compassion. Can you tell us a little about your vision to help your non-profit partner: Three Little Pitties Rescue?
We take great pride in being a strong corporate sponsor for the Three Little Pitties Rescue, an extraordinary non-profit 501c3 organization that goes above and beyond to rescue dogs and cats in dire situations, primarily in the Houston, Texas area. Their unwavering dedication has resulted in the rescue and salvation of over 11,000 animals in recent years, and we are honored to contribute to their cause.
As avid animal lovers, our affiliation with Three Little Pitties Rescue began long before the inception of Tilted Lotus. We have closely collaborated with them, witnessing firsthand their remarkable achievements and tremendous growth over the past few years. Their progress has been fuelled by sheer honesty, selflessness, and unrelenting hard work.
One thing that sets Three Little Pitties Rescue apart is their absolute commitment to ensuring that every donation they receive is put to its intended purpose. They maintain the highest standards of transparency and accountability, ensuring that funds are used solely for the betterment of the rescued animals. There is no room for misuse or misappropriation.
Through our partnership with Three Little Pitties Rescue, we have witnessed the profound impact they have on the lives of animals in need. We are privileged to be part of their journey and contribute to their noble mission. Together, we strive to make a lasting difference and create a better world for our furry friends.
We are set to rock the Runway show at New York Fashion Week this fall with Runway 7 productions at Sony Hall, New York. We will be unveiling an all new collection.
Stylish, sustainable silhouettes with love. Tilted Lotus is synonymous with wearing your culture with pride. With prints that bring you back to traditional Indian art, the collections have pieces that you can wear to your next big event or even pair with your everyday jeans and a tee.
And, after an incredible showcase at Austin Fashion Week, the Slow Fashion Festival, and two successful pop-up events at Renegade Craft and Austin Fashion Week, the team is thrilled about what lies ahead this year! Their calendars are full, and they couldn’t be more grateful to everyone that showered them with love and welcomed them with open arms.
Here are some exciting upcoming events Titled Lotus has planned, and they’d be delighted to have you join them in person!
New York Fashion Week: Runway 7, Sony Hall, September 9, New York
In Todo Pop-up Shop: November 4-5, Los Angeles, California
You can continue to be part of their journey by following them on their official Instagram account, here.
Dolly Singh is a content creator who is from South Delhi. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from Delhi University. Singh then attended The National Institute of Fashion and Technology. She even had her own blog called “Spill the Sass.” Fashion is a true passion for Singh as she made her outfit of the day debut on Netflix’s Bhaag Beanie Bhaagon. She has even appeared on Modern Love Mumbai Edition! Singh was awarded Cosmopolitan Blogger Award in 2021 and IWM Social Media Star in 2022. Continue to learn more about Dolly Singh’s journey!
What parts of your childhood pushed you into the world of content creation?
I have always been an introverted-extrovert kind of person. During my early teens I wouldn’t speak much at home but in school I was quite the talkative showgirl. When I look back it seems so paradoxical, almost as if I suffer from a split personality. Somehow my earliest childhood memories are of my loving to be on stage. I remember when I was in the 12th grade, I cajoled my teacher to include me in a singing competition since I had never ever sung live on stage and I was persistent in my effort for over 4-5 years and eventually she gave up and she said ‘okay its your last year why don’t you go do it ‘and of course in the process I realized what a bad singer I was. But just the sheer joy of being on stage, performing to a live audience and entertaining people is what stirred me at a deeper level. I think on the other hand my reserved side allows me to study people and their nuances and store all those observations in my memory data bank which helps me create great content. I wouldn’t speak much at home, but you know when I did, it was just 2 punch lines and everybody would either laugh or get awkward. I think I always knew that I was born to entertain, and it was my destiny’s calling. I would always get jealous seeing child actors on newspapers and television and I was like ‘oh my God, I am a child, and I could be an actor, living my dream life but I’m still stuck here’.
Do you feel what you do can inspire and impact the world? Please elaborate.
Of course, I think anybody with a decent following on social media has the potential to positively impact the community. Content creators enjoy a certain reach and it’s so important to handle that responsibility meticulously and the kind of message that you’re putting out needs to be respectful of certain socially expected parameters and mindful of the basic laws of the universe. It’s better to say nothing, then to say something stupid something that is going to just bring out the worst in people or send out misleading signals. I feel like the amount of content that audiences are consuming these days can trigger positive change if it’s done in the right manner. I feel strongly about a lot of topics, and I make sure that my platform is a reflection of that in some way. With content creators as opposed to film stars and celebrities, there is a direct engagement with audiences and a more one-on-one connection and hence content creators stand at a more leveraged position to influence audiences positively. I love body positivity as a topic.
Who were your fashion icons growing up?
Any fashion events that you envisage yourself at in the future to represent the brown renaissance? I think a lot of my inspiration came from the indie pop movement of the 1900s and the 2000’s. I started watching Hollywood movies and a lot of my inspiration started coming from the Bollywood Hollywood section in glossies and I made cutouts of the media, the models, the people. Then came Disney Channel and FTV and I used to watch those when my mom was away at work. I would love to represent India at the Paris, New York and London runways and walk for Indian designers who are using sustainable fabrics and indigenous designs and helping skilled artisans make a living in India. I love Madhu Sapre, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Cindy Crawford.
As you started a style blog in college, what were some of your favorite pieces of clothing in your early years?
Yeah, it was called Spill The Sass. I love blogging on T-shirts because there are so many ways that you could style a basic white T-shirt. Another blog I enjoyed back in the day was 5 ways to style maxi skirts. If I had to choose two pieces of clothing it would be a T-shirt and jeans!
How has your style evolved over the years?
It’s evolved from minimalistic and pocket friendly to being experimental and qualitative. The more I visited fashion weeks and events, the greater I experimented with outfit ideas that I curated personally. Over the years, I’ve started leaning more towards keeping it classy, chic and comfortable.
Tell us about your favorite online character since you make a bunch of them?
My favorite online character of mine would be Raju Ki Mummy because it’s based on my own mother.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
I would love to collaborate with Jenna Marbles. I love her to death. I discovered her few years ago and I would love to meet her in person. I mean she’s just a person who if I meet, I will just start sobbing like a child.
Have you faced adversity in your field? How have you risen from it?
Adversities are just an everyday fact of life but I like to believe my dreams and goals are bigger than my fears and setbacks. I know at the end of the day I want to be something; I want to give back and quitting isn’t the solution. Every time I face a creative block, I just tell myself this ‘get up and get to work, there are many who look up to you, you can’t disappoint them’. Also, the support from family, friends is nothing less than therapeutic especially when you’re having that typical bad day. I run towards therapy when I hit rock bottom, which happens quite often. We often feel burnt out, exhausted, tired, and just sad. I’ve been taking therapy for the last two years. It’s been beneficial. I’m not saying all my problems have vanished; that’s not how it works. It’s a continuous journey and a continuous process, but I think therapy is my mantra.
You recently turned into an entrepreneur with your own line of candles. Tell us more on what drove this decision and are there any other lifestyle products you will be launching?
As a creator I think it’s just natural to want to extend your brand trajectory to newer realms and not be stagnant in your growth path. It’s hard to gauge the shelf life of any creator considering there is stiff competition and there will be a sense of redundancy that seeps into the algorithm at some point. It’s always beneficial to expand your forte and explore multiple revenue streams is what I’ve gathered from so many interactions I’ve had with my industry peers over the past few years. There were many opportunities where people wanted to create merchandise of mine or partner on a fashion and accessory line but I wasn’t very mentally ready given my hectic schedules. I was a customer of Rad Living and after the pandemic I went into this zone of binge buying so much self-care stuff and you know candles was one of them. So when this came about I think I was ready to experiment and expand and was looking for an avenue to invest my energies on something enjoyable. I had already made a content piece on candles before this offer came my way so I had a list of quirky candle names, taglines for fragrances, matching the fragrance notes with the names. I think with this inning the whole ‘Creator’ part to me really came to use here as well and that’s what was exciting about this and it was funny because it was such ‘a life comes to a full circle’ moment for me. My mom was into candle making because Nainital at that point was known for its candles and she used to make such variety of candles, 100s of types of candles and all my life I mean the first 16-17 years of my life I’ve just seen my mom make candles at home and our house were full of wax and everything was just candles. My father used to sell candles and it was my family business. Let’s just say that I’m taking forward the family legacy and I’m very excited to go home and to my father’s shop in Nainital and put my candles there and sell them!
Will there be any lifestyle products you’ll be launching?
I was so nervous about this candle launch as I never wanted to mislead my audiences and have them indulge in something that’s mediocre. I really invested my heart and soul in this venture, and thankfully the response has been beyond phenomenal. Courtesy all the good word of mouth publicity, I’m thinking of maybe launching my own beauty and fashion line in about 2 years!
What have been your favorite content pieces that have you worked on this far?
I love most of my content pieces as I’m very particular about each one of them so it’s hard to pick a favorite. One of them is a mini film called Aunty Prem Hai and it’s about an orthodox lady finding out that her nephew is queer from his ex-boyfriend, and this is a first time reveal since the nephew has never come out of the closet. There’s also this series called How Aunties Talk About Sex, and I’ve given a twist to how old-timer desi Indians broach the topic of sex based on how I’ve seen my mother interact with her friends, post dinner conversations amongst relatives, and how it’s more like a taboo.
What are your favorite social media trends?
Anything that emits positivity and gratitude. It’s important that social media trends invoke a sense of intellectual enhancement. Anything that kind of teaches you something that enriches your existence or makes you want to live life more wholesomely. I also enjoy throwback trends, something to do with special memories and nostalgia, because I feel old school is always timeless.
Do you feel people are so trapped in social media that they forget about the world around them outside of their laptops, phones, and tablets?
Yes. Personally it’s been a task for me to get detached from technology and balance the real and the reel. In the last couple of years, I have consciously cut down on my screen time, even though it’s all work and no play for me. Social media is so omnipresent and it’s sometimes scary to see this crazy social media obsession where people forget there’s a real world out there with real people and you need to forge real connections that are deeply rooted in authentic exchanges. It’s scarier to see how social media trends have now become rules to live by for a more meaningful existence for many when on the contrary that shouldn’t be the case.
It’s a word that invokes a sense of pride in me because for me it’s all about being innovative, authentic and self-made. Influencer on the other hand is something that doesn’t resonate with me because there’s no real job description. I’ve always maintained my stand of not being an influencer as I create content and make a living out of being creative and curating an audience for myself over the years.
As you’ve worked with Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Aayushmann Khurrana, and others do you hope to be more involved in Bollywood? Tell us about your acting projects.
Of course, I would love to be more involved in the film industry not just in India but globally too. I think there is so much scope for the South Asian community to make a mark in world cinema and it’s time we pick up more Oscars and Grammy’s in the coming times. Anyone who is a creator is also a film star at heart. 90% of creators who make sketches and skits are facing the camera 24×7, making original content, improvising on scripts and all of that stems from that innate ability to be great performers who can keep an audience engaged. I would love to someday have my own podcast where I interview film personalities and get into their skin. I love the dance and song sequences in Bollywood films, and I think I’d be great doing that as well! I’d love to see how I can get out of my comfort zone and do something that doesn’t directly relate to my online alias in the future. I got a lot of offers during the lockdown and shot for a film in 2022 which sees me in a leading role and I’m excited for it to launch later this year. I’m working on some writing projects as I would love to script a documentary or a short film.
Lastly, what do you hope to take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
I think the questions have been great. The questions have been answered in a way that I feel so confident about myself right now, and I feel so proud about myself and that says a lot. I would like to thank Brown Girl Magazine for taking time out to interview me. I hope this inspires the brown community across the world!
South Asian fashion is nearly always associated with color, glitz, and ornate designs. From embellished bridal wear, weighing as much as the bride herself, to brightly colored sarees, Indian craft and hand embroidery is hard to miss — except when it’s showing up in non-Indian clothing.
South Asian artisans, also known as ‘karigars,’ are the unnamed force behind a designer’s vision. They often reside in rural parts of the Subcontinent and have gathered skill, creativity, and knowledge over generations. During my travels this year, for the launch of my fashion brand Chaa Latte, I witnessed artisans train from as young as seven years old, mastering embroidery techniques by the time they’re in their teens. Crouched over a table in a dimly-lit room, these artisans work tirelessly to adorn yards of fabric with beautiful beads and sequins, or weave glistening gold yarn into silk and cotton with sometimes nothing more than their memory to guide the motif. Some of them have little to no education and have never stepped outside of their village. Yet, hand them thread and a needle and they are among the best embroiderers in the world.
Is Indian hand embroidery as prolific as French lace? I would argue yes, and maybe even more, but without the fame. Established brands and their collections have stood on the craft of these rural artisans for decades but have rarely given credit. Only few Western designers, such as Dries Van Noten and Isabel Marant, proudly celebrate their relationship with Indian craftspeople. Perhaps because of this nearly silent partnership, a label that says “Made in India” or “Made in Bangladesh” does not equate to beautiful, luxurious work — rather, the complete opposite. Fast fashion may be one output, but the true strength of South Asia lies in centuries of incredibly intricate, slow, and artisanal processes.
In a Times of India article, David Abraham of Abraham & Thakore — a well-regarded Indian label — eloquently says that we must recognize the fact that India is one of the very few countries left that can still produce small lot, labor intensive, highly-skilled craft and textiles.
He adds, “And that is the true luxury in a world of growing mass consumerism and an antidote to the very real threats of environmental pollution, global warming and a growing understanding that we need to buy less, pay more for fashion that is more timeless, classic and responsible.”
South Asia’s fashion identity is at a crossroads, and it’s up to designers, especially the younger generation, to build brands that showcase the luxury and painstaking craft of South Asian embroidery, weaving, and the various other hand techniques mastered over centuries. I launched my fashion brand, Chaa Latte, late last year because I believe the true beauty of South Asian fashion is in the subtle, intricate craft and this simply isn’t accessible to North Americans in a way that fits their lifestyle seamlessly. I was set on designing modern pieces for people of all backgrounds, who have a love for art in the form of fashion and have an eye for unique detail.
My first collection encompasses some of my favorite techniques and textiles from India and Bangladesh, including mirror work and silk handloom sarees. The detailing is balanced with simple silhouettes and a neutral color palette. I am now working on my second collection, which will be released in Spring/Summer of 2023.
Like me, many young designers are tapping into their unique heritage to draw inspiration and bring attention to the Western world. I had the pleasure of speaking to two fellow South Asian designers who are making a mark on the US fashion industry, while highlighting their love for South Asian craft. When asked about the role of traditional textiles and techniques in their work, Niharika of Tega Collective responds:
With each collection our designs are co-created with a specific indigenous community highlighting their traditional colors, patterns and natural symbols. Every region in the world has incredible biodiversity so we focus on championing native fibers in South Asia like Khadi (indigenous cotton) and Eri (peace) silk originating from Assam, India.
In a separate conversation with designer Sana Khan Patel, from Aara by Sana, she tells us how she was inspired to start her line:
When a family wedding took me back to my hometown of Lahore, Pakistan, after a long 18 years, I was blown away by the level of skill I saw in the gullys (streets) of Lahore. From fabric dyeing to intricate beading to the quality of tailoring, they did it all so effortlessly and with so much pride. I quickly realized that the artisans simply want to create art but unfortunately, in most cases they are overworked, underpaid and treated extremely poorly. I immediately knew that I wanted to work with and learn from these OG’s as much as I wanted to put them in a position of providing for their families.
It’s the hope that this recognition from up-and-coming brands, like Chaa Latte, will shed light into how much South Asia is truly lending to global luxury fashion and the rich history that makes these art forms unique to our countries.