The following post is brought to you by our sponsor, IndiaBoulevard.com— a marketplace for Indian fashion. These photo series are a part of our ‘East Meets West’ photo shoot, curated in efforts to showcase how we merge our eastern and western flairs to shape our identities.
I’ve never considered myself ‘stylish’— we have tons of women like Sonam Kapoor and Masaba Gupta for that. But when I’m getting ready, I’m always mindful of what works and what doesn’t. For me, ‘style’ has always been what makes someone stand out from the crowd. When you look at someone and think, “Only ____ could pull that off,” that’s style; equating someone’s own unique look with their personality, that’s style.
I’ve always maintained that style is less about making a statement and more about being true to yourself. Being a TV anchor, I’ve learned to be a bit more self-aware when it comes to my fashion choices. But I’ve also understood that it’s even more important to not lose yourself in that process.
I’m Indian but I identify myself, more specifically, as a South Indian (Malayali). I’ve always believed that Indian fashion is the most beautiful in the world but it’s more than just bangles and saris. For me, every part of India reminds me of something special.
When I think of Bengalis I think large red bindis. Tamil Nadu is definitely synonymous to the nose rings; Gujarat simply turns my attention to its mirrored sequins and intricate patterns. And, of course, when I think of Kerala (and a South Indian), only one thing comes to mind, jasmines!
[Jessica is sporting this classic dhoti, staple to every South Indian, courtesy of IndiaBoulevard.]
India is known for its jasmines but I think we, as South Indians, incorporate them much more into our day-to-day lives. That’s what compelled me to want to use them in this look for IndiaBoulevard. Jasmines are not only known for their amazingly refreshing smell but are used in weddings, decor, fashion etc.—they’re so versatile. I’ve seen brides adorned in jasmines on their wedding day and school kids wearing them in their hair. So whenever I think of these flowers, it never fails to remind me of home.
This look was an attempt to fuse what I love most about the east and west. Dhotis (mundu) are a huge staple of South Indian attire. For a long time, dhotis were predominately worn by men but it has finally become a part of female fashion as well. I love how elegant a woman looks in a properly draped dhoti because it can turn even the most boring outfit into something really classy.
The twist in this look is definitely the leather jacket. The jacket adds a lot of dimension to an otherwise completely desi look. Many might find it a strange pair, but I felt the black was a nice contrast to the soft pink dhoti pants. And of course, the jewelry was just the icing on top. South Indians love BIG jewelry with lots of bling. The completed look may not be the most stylish, but it has my name written all over it!
IndiaBoulevard is a curated marketplace for designer fashion. We connect customers from all over the world with a variety of designers, to make custom-made outfits. We believe that every person is unique and has a personal style. Our team combines your style inspirations with your spending preferences to customize the perfect design for you. Our mission is to make designer wear accessible to everyone everywhere.
Jessica Thomas is a field reporter, and the head of online content, at AVS Television Network. Born and raised in New Jersey, Jessica grew up with a love for cinema. In her downtime, she enjoys writing, reading a good book, and emceeing events. Her love of the arts and passion for the media have both turned into her profession. Post graduating from Rutgers University with a B.A. in journalism, she has worked in various radio, television, and print mediums. Her friends have deemed her ‘Miss Bollywood’ because of her extensive knowledge of Indian cinema. You’re almost certain to find her at the opening night of any Bollywood flick.
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.
While growing up, the only complaint I had when wearing desi clothes was that the embroidery on the fabric would always end up scratching my skin. As beautiful and intricate the details were, putting on an embellished blouse meant wearing an inner or a comfortable t-shirt underneath. Fortunately now, many South Asian brands are changing the game; focusing not only on the quality and intricacy of the embroidery, but also on comfort and wearability of the blouse itself. One such small business is Khushey.
Khushey is a one-stop shop for “buttery soft” performance blouses that don’t compromise on comfort for fashion and pair just as well with any of your mom’s saris as they do with your newest lehenga. In an interview withBrown Girl Magazine, founder Neha Seelam talks more about what inspired her to launch Khushey and what the brand has to offer.
Why did you want to start a brand that specializes in South Asian/Indo-Western blouses specifically?
I wanted to specialize in blouses because blouses are really the only part of Indo-Western clothing that I found a specific ‘problem’ with — one I thought I could solve. I absolutely love everything else about our clothing — with the variety of patterns/styles/cuts available, I feel that you can easily find the perfect piece out there.
But the part of South Asian clothing that my friends and I found to be a perpetual challenge was the blouse. They’re usually gorgeous, but by the end of the day you can’t wait to take them off. Also, it’s so hard to find a fit that looks seamless and beautiful — usually the chest, underarm or sleeve just wouldn’t fit the way you want it to with the heavy material and traditional tailoring.
I wanted to start off with basic colors but in shiny/formal-looking material that I could mix and match with all the different colors and styles of South Asian clothes that I already have in my wardrobe. The goal is that the blouses can be used multiple times with different outfits, are ideal for long nights of partying, and feel great against the skin.
What’s the story behind the brand’s name, Khushey?
The English word “cushy,” which means comfortable, actually originates from the Hindi word ‘khushi’ (happiness). I thought that the origin story was very sweet and resonated with the idea of comfort and happiness I had for my label. That’s how I chose the word Khushey — slightly adjusting the spelling so I could snag the right URL!
What is your number one priority when it comes to your blouses?
Formal wear that’s actually comfortable! I would love for women to be in the moment at their celebrations, and not feel constrained, itchy, or uncomfortable in their blouse.
South Asian women! Customers, from recent graduates all the way to stylish moms, have loved the product — especially moms since they typically value comfort and movability if they have to chase down kids at events!
How do you think Khushey allows South Asian women to embrace their love for South Asian fashion?
Over the last decade, I’ve seen women repurposing crop tops from Zara and H&M as sari blouses, and while I think that’s awesome and creative, I wanted to create an option for South Asian women where every detail was oriented around recreating the perfect sari/lehenga blouse. The shine is intended to be appropriate for formal wear, the cuts were inspired by some of my favorite blouses from when I was younger that wouldn’t have bra straps showing from underneath and were versatile for saris or lehengas, and the embroidery is intended to add a desi flair.
You’ve mentioned sustainability on your website. How are your blouses sustainable?
I plan to donate five percent of profits every year to a sustainable organization. Once I get enough interest from the public, I would like to fund new product lines that use eco-friendly materials that were prohibitively expensive for me to launch with. But I am eager to incorporate recycled spandex/nylon and metal into my pieces once I can afford to!
What sort of designs do you plan on incorporating into your label in the future?
I’ve thought of so many designs that I can build on. Starting with colors; I’d like to have all of the major colors available in my basic sleeveless blouse and then create a more modest version of that blouse with a variety of basic colors as well.
I’d also love to expand the patterns and embroidery options on the blouses. I hope to create seasonal collections that enable me to tap into the vast array of style/color inspirations that South Asian wear includes.
Khushey promises to offer comfort and style, all packaged into one performance blouse that you can reuse with a variety of desi outfits. Like Neha said, ditch your Zara crop top for a design that actually complements your desi look. Make sure to keep your eyes out for her latest designs!