Designer Payal Khandwala Talks Fashion, art and the Global Pandemic

[Photo Source: Payal Khandwala]

A philosophy every woman gravitates toward is how one can put Payal Khandwala and her fashion sensibilities into words. Minimalistic yet exuding a touch of drama, her clothing line consists of solid raw silk separates, brocade skirts, palatable color combinations, and classic reversible saris. The designs are quite unique and a perfect fit for girls who love to stay true to their roots, while experimenting with modern styles.

Read ahead to learn more about Payal Khandwala, as the designer sits down for a chat with Brown Girl Magazine.

Let’s start off by discussing the meaning of fashion. Fashion looks and feels different for everyone. What is fashion for Payal Khandwala?

“Fashion to me is fleeting, fickle, frenzied…I’ve always been more interested in style. Style is forever and it’s certainly more memorable.”

When asked to define style, she does so in one word,


Payal Khandwala
Khandwala’s pieces are known to attract women who look to combine their heritage with a love for art and modern fashion sense.

While fashion is a form of art, there is more to your pieces than just that. You have completed your Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Illustration from the Parsons School of Design. What made you lean towards a career in the arts?

“It was in my genes. My mother painted and sewed as well. I’m an only child and my earliest memories were always spending time alone with my paints and making little clothes for my dolls, surrounded by my mother’s sewing machine, her oil paints and easels. I just did what I loved, the career just followed.”

Her inspiration, thus, comes from all forms of art.

“I love looking at architecture, fine art, tribal textiles, jewellery, geometry, origami, different cultures around the world.”

[Read More: Designer’s Den: Ridhi Mehra Chats About Her Exclusive Label and Contemporary Fashion]

When it comes to culture, Khandwala’s designs effortlessly allow women to embrace their heritage while staying relevant to their modern surroundings. For example, her ‘little sari,’ that she introduced a few years back, makes it easy to dress up or down; pair it with jeans and go for a night out without worrying about looking a little too extra. Her latest collection shows us just how one can pair a bright, yet modern, sari with essentially Eastern clothing.

How do you make sure to incorporate culture into your designs?

“It’s inherent, I don’t do it as a strategy. I’m proud of the country I live in and it inspires me every day. Our rich heritage in crafts, our unapologetic use of color, our comfort with drape; these are influences that I grew up with and therefore the clothing I make is rooted in my culture. It’s subliminal.”

One thing is for sure, the unique color patterns make your pieces ever so attractive! What is your favorite color combo?

“That’s like trying to pick a favourite child! I’m partial to a jewel-toned palette, but some of my most loved combinations are sapphire blue and emerald green, magenta and crimson, citrine and ivory, cerulean and chartreuse.”

You also have a very distinct taste for bridal clothing. Where do you get your bridal inspiration from? What do you hope to deliver to the brides?

“I started our limited edition brocade line because this is what I wore when I was getting married in 2007 and it wasn’t available anywhere. So I bought a vintage brocade lehenga, designed my own silhouettes and a wedding wardrobe from heirloom brocade textiles that I had collected. It was truly ‘India Modern;’ simple, fuss free and elegant. It was luxurious but comfortable and was easy on the wallet. I made pockets in all of them, wore flats and enjoyed every minute of all my ceremonies. This is what I want to offer brides that are slightly left of centre. And those who would like some money left over, after their wedding shopping is done, to spend on travel and to make memories outside of their trousseau.”

And so, if you were to pick a favorite: sari or brocade skirts?

“Sari trumps everything. Nothing else makes me feel like I do, when in a sari.”

If you were to give advice to a novice fashion designer, what will it be?

“It is integral that you have something to say, have a point of view that is personal and a story that is sincere. Prepare to work long hours and have integrity. Do not make clothes just because you have a degree. Don’t be ‘inspired’ by other designers; inspiration is all around you. Don’t be lazy. Don’t add to the clutter.”

Who is your favorite contemporary designer and why?

“Pierpaolo Piccioli. His clothes are always both elegant and artistic.”

You have dressed so many Bollywood stars. Who is your favorite muse and why?

“I’m afraid I don’t have a muse in Bollywood! I’m more inspired by women that have a keen sense of personal style and make my clothes their own.”

Payal Khandwala
An outfit from the designer’s Spring Summer 2020 collection titled ‘Wildflower.’

With the onset of the global pandemic, businesses, including fashion and retail, have had to significantly change their approach. And so we shifted gears and spoke to Khandwala about how has she adapted to the demands of the current global situation.

[Read Related: 4 Things to Consider While Wedding Planning During COVID-19]

This year has been truly like no other. We would love to get your insight. How is your lockdown going?

“We adopted an Indie pup a friend rescued 2 days before the lockdown. I have a resident cat that wants to eat him and a daughter that is negotiating online school and started a baking business in her holidays. So my hands are full!”

What is your one key takeaway from this global pandemic?

“So little is in our control, even though we like to think otherwise.”

How did you adapt to the change?

“I’m still adapting, each day, trying to keep our head above water work-wise. But thankfully on the home front I’m happy to spend so much time with my family in a home where I feel safe and comfortable. I’m aware in the current scenario that this in itself is a privilege.”

How do you think the fashion industry, especially in India, should evolve after the pandemic?

“It would certainly help if we edited some of the excess in the industry. So many labels, so many collections, too much inventory, too many sales, too much of everything…we have to slow down, support talent because it deserves a platform versus what makes money now. Bet on young labels with a language that is their own… I know it sounds utopian but this will help sustain emerging brands. Without them we’ll be stuck with brands with deep pockets and a whole lot of lehenga cholis and a fashion landscape that is homogenous.”

Wrapping it up…

Your two cents to aspiring female designers who are battling to ‘showcase something different?’

“Forget about being different or cool. Showcase something because it is personal; because it means something to you, because it’s what drives you and because it has purpose. Try to find your voice, if your clothes are an extension of you, then that voice will be your differentiator.”

Vibrant, fluid, and feminine, each piece in the collection takes you day through the night looking chic.

And your advice to female entrepreneurs in this day and age?

“Dig your heels in for what you believe in. Starting and running a business takes time and patience. And it takes hard work. But if you love what you do, then the journey is what you should enjoy the most. Empower a team that will be your family and support because in the end you’re nothing without your team. Don’t forget to be both fierce and feminine.”

“Fierce and feminine,” that’s a life goal to live by. Check out the new collection by Payal Khandwala!

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By Shezda Afrin

Shezda Afrin is an aspiring physician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of four, it was quite normal of her … Read more ›

South Asian Creators Claim Their Space at the Cannes Film Festival

Ever since we can recall, the Cannes Film Festival has been a merger of movies and glamour. On one side, there are hand-picked films — ready to premiere and make their mark in the world of entertainment — and on the other, audiences and paparazzi alike are served epic moments in fashion.

The festival, aimed to preview upcoming films from all over the world, invites a wide variety of guests that span the film fraternity, of course, but more recently, has opened its doors to many digital content creators, including renowned South Asian creatives.

With a more vast guest list comes a more recent debate: Cannes is a film festival and not a fashion showcase. Kickstarting the debate this year was none other than ace Bollywood director, Nandita Das, who in an Instagram post shared:

Sometimes people seem to forget that it is a festival of films and not of clothes!

In short, Das wants Cannes’ narrative to continue to focus on films.

[Read Related: Cannes Film Festival 2022: Red Carpet Representation at its Finest]

But of course, there’s been a paradigm shift in the guest list over the last few years; this shift has allowed talents from various industries — including lifestyle content creators, entrepreneurs, etc., who showcase their work in fashion and beauty like fine masterstrokes — to walk the carpet and represent their craft, making space for others in their industry.

Influential names like Dolly Singh, Kaushal, Diipa Buller-Khosla, and Shivani Bafna — all of whom made a raging impact on the red carpet this year — weigh in on the significance of representing South Asian artists/influencers on the red carpet, and how they feel they’ve been part of this paradigm shift at Cannes Film Festival.

Diipa Buller-Khosla

I believe that each step we take at events like Cannes sends a powerful message of diversity, cultural richness, and artistic excellence. Representation matters, and the presence of South Asian creators on the red carpet at Cannes helps broaden the narrative of beauty, talent, and creativity. It allows us to showcase our unique perspectives, narratives, and contributions, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive industry. By actively participating and making our presence felt, we help create more opportunities and spaces for South Asian creators, encouraging others to share their stories with the world.


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Since 2015, the first time I walked the red carpet, till this year I have always been invited by L’Oreal Paris, one of the main sponsors of the event. It has always been such an honor to be invited to the festival through the makeup brand that I have been using for almost two decades, and, before my social media career began. Personally, I feel a sense of acknowledgment from such a prestigious brand, and its head office teams that sponsor Cannes Film Festival, and value the work I have done and continue to do as a South Asian content creator within the beauty space. Makeup, hair, and beauty will always play a big role within the film industry and it’s something I have always created my content around which is why I am proud to attend.


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Dolly Singh

This is a proud moment not just for me but also [for] my peers and the entire content creator ecosystem given that we have reached such new global stages and presence. Of course, as you said, such film festivals, once considered as an exclusive hub for a congregation of the finest acting talents have, in the last few years, opened their arms to more people from the entertainment industry.

This is not just a sudden phenomenon with a burst of Indian creators at the festival this year but there is increased participation from non-film and non-South Asian celebrities across various spectrums from different sides of the world. Along with the many filmmakers, actors, producers, etc I also met some amazing influencers and entrepreneurs from other sides of the world. It’s amazing to represent India and celebrate and champion the advent of the digital ecosphere on such a prominent platform.

The confluence of actors and creators signified the amalgamation of traditional cinema and new-age digital influence, highlighting the transformative power of creative expression and how festivals like Cannes have become more forthcoming and progressive in their approach.

Cannes, like any other prominent festival, boasts of a red carpet that is synonymous with fashion and glitz, and I wanted to use this opportunity to represent all the amazing Indian fashion designers on the carpet besides, of course, attending the screenings. As someone who is just not an influencer but also an actress, I thoroughly enjoyed all the red-carpet screenings and meeting like-minded film talent from around the world at the event. At some point in the future, I would like to be attending Cannes for a film I’ve featured in.


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Shivani Bafna

Creators are often placed into boxes of where they belong and the rooms they can be a part of. Being on the red carpet dismantles the ideology that there’s a cap on how far we, as creators and as a South Asian community, can go and what we can achieve.

The Cannes Film Festival has always been viewed as the epitome of a glamorous event — everyone who attends looks like they’re living their best lives. I used the platform to share an authentic message of what the experience felt like for me. To represent all of us who doubt our potential, experience imposter syndrome, and are nervous to find their place, yet continue to push through to achieve their dreams!

As the first Indian American influencer to walk at Cannes, I hope I can inspire young women to confidently ask, ‘Why not me?’


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A post shared by Shivani Bafna (@shivani_bafna)

There’s no doubt that the Cannes Film Festival is centered around films, and continues to be a unique space for the global film fraternity to bring their art and showcase their aptitude. But, creators like Bafna, Singh, Buller-Khosla, and Kaushal — a special shoutout to Raja Kumari for being instrumental in paving the way as well — have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill upon their invitation to the prestigious event. Their will to represent their South Asian identities, celebrate their industries, and continue to hold space for their peers makes their presence at Cannes more than just clothes.

All images in the featured photo are from the influencers’ Instagram feeds.

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more › Celebrates International Women’s Day by Honoring 5 South Asian Women we Look up to — USA’s premier online destination for luxury Indian designer clothing and accessories — is a global platform for South Asian fashion. It curates inclusive, embracive, and conscious trends and styles from the heart of India to its global shoppers. Founded by Archana Yenna, the company honored South Asian women from various walks of life who are leading the path for future generations. The luxury retailer hosted a ‘Power Table’ dinner at Armani/Ristorante in New York City with South Asian women leading the change in fashion, entrepreneurship, media, entertainment, and journalism.

At, we empower and celebrate women through authentic South Asian fashion and community contributions. As we celebrate Women’s Day, we remain committed to sharing inspiring stories of South Asian women achievers and changemakers. Our recent ‘Power Table’ dinner in New York City celebrated remarkable women — trailblazers of South Asian heritage, inspiring the next generation of female leaders to dream big and chase their aspirations.

Archana Yenna, Founder and CEO of


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The company also honored five South Asian female role models that have been instrumental to the diaspora with their various works in nonprofit, societal causes and community building:

Nina Davuluri – acclaimed filmmaker, activist, actor and entrepreneur
Megha Desai – president of The Desai Foundation
Shoba Narayan – film, television, and theater actor
Hitha Palepu – entrepreneur and author
Cynthia Victor – beauty influencer

Yenna honored these women for breaking stereotypes and spreading positivity on body sizes, health, confidence, and skin tone. Through her work with, Yenna hopes to help women feel beautiful, confident, and feminine, and make progress toward positive change. In a series of photos shot in New York City’s Baccarat Hotel, dedicated to the quintessence of luxury and excellence, produced a high tea-themed photoshoot to celebrate its honorees.  The women wore avant-garde clothing donning some of India’s most prominent designers while sipping tea, dining on canapés, and enjoying one another’s company. Exemplifying Indian royalty, the women championed one another and the power of sisterhood, and shared what womanhood meant to each one of them.

During the two-day festivities, announced their partnership with Sakhi for South Asian Women, an NGO that represents the South Asian diaspora in a survivor-centered movement for gender justice. Sakhi applies a trauma-informed, culturally responsive lens with a long-term commitment to mobilizing a future free from violence. Yenna pledged to donate a portion of sales from the month of March to the organization.

Sakhi for South Asian Women is grateful to for uplifting and investing in our work with survivors of gender-based violence. Nationally, 48% of South Asian Americans experience gender based violence throughout their lifetime, and at Sakhi, we have seen a 65% increase in cases over one year. This support will help us address the overwhelming need in our community and continue our commitment toward a future of healing and justice.

— Kavita Mehra, Executive Director at Sakhi for South Asian Women

To learn more about visit their website.

Photo Credit: Saunak Shah / Video Credit: Swapnil Junjare

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Ace Designer Anita Dongre Goes Vegan

Making conscious decisions can, and should, go hand in hand with wearing fashionable pieces of clothing. Fortunately, South Asian fashion is making huge strides in the sustainable fashion department, and ace fashion designer Anita Dongre is at the forefront of this change; she’s so dedicated to making environmentally friendly choices in her collections.

Brown Girl Magazine has previously had the honor of featuring her Grassroots Collection; today, we sat down with Dongre to chat about her new vegan luxury line.


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Her love for animals is parallel to her love for fashion and she does not sacrifice one or the other. From handcrafted purses to belts, the new collection is made of recycled materials and leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

[Read Related: ‘A New York Minute’: Brown Girls Get Real About Their Roots with Anita Dongre Grassroot’s Collection]

What inspired you to “go vegan” both personally and product-wise?

I have always loved animals. When I was 13 my best friend talked me into being vegetarian and there was no looking back – Sangita and I continued to work together and since then we have both also turned vegan. When I started my business, I wanted the brand to be an extension of my personal philosophies so being a vegan brand was a forgone conclusion. My personal philosophy is to live a mindful life with kindness. This philosophy extends to respecting all life [so] we have chosen not to use leather for our line of accessories. For years I have wanted to create a vegan line of accessories that was high on quality, fashion, and kindness, and technology has only recently caught up with that desire.


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Why is now a good time to launch accessories?

Women have always expressed themselves through what they wear. In today’s time, carrying a bag that reflects their core personality is the default, and yet until recently, there hasn’t been a leather replacement that is cruelty-free and kind to the environment. With material sciences finally having the answer it was imperative to design an accessory line that women, like myself who care both about fashion and a world of kindness, could carry with pride.


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What material is used in this new line? Why did you choose it?

With MIRUM® we found a partner who creates this beautiful, plastic-free material that mimics the touch, feel, and age of leather without cruelty. The line also features bags made out of recycled glass beads. We’re careful about delivering high quality [products] and both these materials deliver to that benchmark while being plastic-free.


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How many pieces does this new line have and what is the importance of the animal symbols of each?

This collection is inspired by nature, my eternal muse. The Swan mini grab bag draws from a swan’s graceful silhouettes; the birds of a feather cross body bag borrow bird motifs that you see across my collections; the haathi belt uses my favorite — the Indian elephant, [which] is a symbol of strength and humility — every piece in this line of accessories is an elegant statement in conscious luxury living. The Anita Dongre brand has stood for elegance, timeless classics, and sustainability. We have always stood for handcrafted luxury while being mindful of the purpose it serves. These same principles extend into this collection of conscious, plastic-free, vegan accessories. While the shapes of these bags are distinctive, they are also functional – a design approach that extends across all Anita Dongre products.


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How to promote sustainability in India versus let’s say New York City:

India’s lived culture is based on the practice of sustainability. From clothes that would be passed down to siblings and then cousins to eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, our practices until recently have always defaulted to conscious consumption. It’s exciting to see the rest of the world adapt to that way of living and [it’s] a good reminder for us Indians to go back to the way we were raised.

Anita Dongre allows her consumers to choose ethically-sourced pieces while letting them embrace sustainability as a part of luxury fashion. Soon enough, such cruelty-free products will be synonymous with India’s (and the world’s) top fashion couture brands. This is definitely not a step, but a huge leap forward.

Photos in the featured image are courtesy of Anita Dongre.

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By Shezda Afrin

Shezda Afrin is an aspiring physician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of four, it was quite normal of her … Read more ›