Walking the Journey Through Time with The Saree Room

The following post is brought to you by The Saree Room, a modern experience to shopping South Asian clothing and jewelry online. Browse their newest collection — The Era Edit — of six sarees in partnership with Ankita and inspired by her family. 

How many of you have shopped for your desi outfit at a random aunty’s basement, stock piled with hoards of kurtas and lehengas, probably brought in a bunch of suitcases, across from India? For many of us desis living in Canada, this is normal practice, but for Adam Meghji it offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Back in 2015, Adam’s life partner, and now business partner, Sofi Kassam, had a similar shopping experience that costed her a significant $500 to go through and that, to her, was reason to celebrate because she had “cracked a good deal.” When in reality, the outfit would’ve costed her far less in India. Adam couldn’t help but notice this gap in how the South Asian diaspora was shopping for cultural outfits miles away from their native land and set out to launch The Saree Room.

“As the society moves towards fast and efficient yet sustainable fashion, the South Asian industry, in particular, hasn’t moved in that same direction and there is a big opportunity, which is part the reason of our success, in that women would like to have a more modern shopping experience,” Meghji points out to what triggered his entrepreneurial instinct in an exclusive chat with Brown Girl Magazine.

“Most Indian or South Asian fashion is all final sale, and that has been the tradition forever. But it’s not  the sort of business model that is typical now. You don’t see women purchasing jeans that way, you don’t see women shopping at Aritzia that way. You also don’t see women waiting three to eight weeks for an outfit that may or may not come in the same colour or the same size they had thought it to be. [With The Saree Room] we are trying to bring that modern shopping experience, that you would find at any other Western brand, to South Asian fashion and that has been the basis of our business and is our philosophy moving forward.”

In it’s efforts to accelerate the South Asian fashion experience with changing times, The Saree Room not only offers it’s customers the opportunity of free exchange but also has a 15-day return policy. It designs all of it’s pieces in-house, with manufacturing set-ups back in India and is fairly more easy on the pocket compared to other diaspora-catering brands.

“We control our entire supply chain, from design all the way to delivery to the customer. We design every single one of our pieces in house and we have dedicated factories in India that exclusively work for us and produce all of our pieces and these factories are more modern in their approach compared to what is typical in India,” Meghji adds. “I travelled all the way to India and I helped set up those factories in a way that they would become more efficient, produce less fabric waste and have higher turnover on the number of pieces per hour which helps us cut costs from the production side. Also our goal make less money per unit but sell more and make the money up in volume.” 

However, pitching a digital and Westernised shopping platform to customers who were fairly accustomed to paying a premium for a rather mediocre buying experience has been no walk in the park for the duo. Selling fashion was not the challenge, selling the idea was the real battle.

“The biggest challenge has been being different and not being your typical South Asian brand. When I say we design in house, we are affordable, we have a 15-day return policy, it doesn’t sound revolutionary because it’s the standard across the world but in the South Asian industry it is different,” Meghji states. “So to show and demonstrate people the differentiating factors that we have to offer has definitely been a challenge.”

Now in it’s fifth year, The Saree Room crossed a million dollars in sales – a considerable feat for a start-up that is still early on in it’s journey. And while the pandemic has in no way been kind to small businesses, it worked for a business like The Saree Room.

“When we started our business five years ago, I remember my parents said why would anyone buy this stuff online? It’s not how you do it. You go in person, you negotiate,” Meghji reminisces. “But ever since Covid, even the older generation is now realising that you can buy food online, you can buy goods online. It’s not as weird for them as they thought it to be before the pandemic. We are seeing 338% growth in our sales and it’s partly because the pandemic has made buying online less stigmatised, more so in the industry we work in.”

Exponential growth is not the only milestone The Saree Room is currently excited over as a company. In one of its many firsts, the team is collaborating with Toronto-based social media influencer and style icon, Ankita for a brand new collection dubbed “The Era Edit.”

 

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A collection of six unique, timeless sarees, Ankita’s vision for The Saree Room promises to take you through South Asian fashion’s glorious evolution through the decades with it’s vintage appeal, much like Ankita’s personal sense of style.

“Designing a collection is something that I always wanted to do and I wanted it to be sentimental and inspired from the looks I created using my grandma’s sarees. For a lot of the looks that I create on my page, the sarees actually belong to my Nani and have been passed down to me. So I just knew, the collection had to be inspired from her,” says Ankita of what the collection means to her during our virtual conversation.

“If you go through my feed, [you’ll see] I absolutely love things that are vintage, regal or royal and my style is heavily influenced by my role models, who are my nani and my mom. This collection kind of brings that aspect out,” she adds. “And each saree holds a different memory, whether it’s me just seeing a photo of my grandma and my mom in their sarees and wanting to recreate that or the memory of how I felt seeing them wear sarees at an event. It’s just a very special and personal collection and represents who I am.”

 

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Ironically, Ankita was also the first ever social media influencer that The Saree Room collaborated with at the start of their journey. At the time, Ankita, too, was just taking her first steps towards social media stardom. Over years of constant collaborative work, it almost became the natural, most obvious choice for The Saree Room to reach out to Ankita for such a project. But then Covid hit and what was meant to be a seamless process was marked by delays, setbacks and uncertainties.

“It’s been quite interesting planning this collection during a pandemic,” Ankita recalls with a laugh, more a sound of happy relief. “We’ve had a lot of delays especially with the Covid situation in India. We were planning to launch before the summer so as to get ahead of the wedding season but we had to push it forward. On top of that we were planning everything virtually. We only recently got together and looked at the pieces again in person and coordinated the shoot. It was definitely different and special at the same time because I don’t think many companies have designed an entire collection virtually and it has turned out beautifully.”

Unlike The Saree Room’s earlier collections where the outfits are designed in a similar vein around a concept, each piece in The Era Edit is different from the other and unique as a standalone whilst still following a single theme. Meghji explains how the collection, though a reflection of Ankita’s love for her grandmother treasure trove of sarees, quickly evolved into a “journey through time.”

“I think on the first call the idea was set that we wanted to do a collection inspired by Ankita’s Nani but as that idea evolved, we started thinking of different eras, different decades part of her journey. We are launching six sarees and each one represents a different era, a different moment in time – back from the 50s all the way up to the 2000s,” says Meghji. “It’s very easy to tell how that journey went when you keep the sarees side by side. It’s really a timeline.”

This particular aspect of the edit speaks directly to the ethos of the brand – that of versatility. Typically, outfits from The Saree Room are wearable, versatile, re-usable and can be worn as separates. For instance, their simple white Zara blouse can be paired with a lehenga, a skirt and a saree. Similarly, each piece in this collection can be multi-purposed and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. It’s perhaps why both Meghji and Ankita feel that the collection isn’t meant for just one certain personality.

“This collection is so versatile, there is a bit of everything for everyone. We have flowy, light, delicate, printed sarees that can be worn for any sort of event and then we also have a saree that’s full of sequins, so there is something for everyone and every single event regardless of their style. I don’t think we made this collection for just one type of a woman. We wanted to make sure that we filled in every box and that it’s not just something that I would wear,” Ankita adds.

If you’re looking to spruce up your desi wardrobe, the collection is already up for grabs on The Saree Room’s website. And if you are wondering how to ace the styling game in one of these coveted pieces, Ankita will be serving up plenty of inspiration on her feed.

Post the launch of The Era Edit, The Saree Room is in for an era of some super exciting changes themselves. The team is planning to launch two physical showrooms in Canada and if all falls into place, then hopefully two showrooms in the U.S. And Meghji assures they’ll be nothing like you’ve ever seen before, including a fair share of up and coming technology as part of its overall experience.

Also, The Saree Room is hoping to branch out and expand it’s fashion scope to include collections for the bride herself, by the end of this year. These will be different from what’s up on the roster at the moment in that they will be significantly heavier and embellished but still affordable like all other pieces The Saree Room sells.

The Saree Room
A pristine white organza saree from the brand’s latest collection titled, ‘The Era Edit’.

“I just feel it’s not right for companies to charge a significantly higher amount for an outfit than it originally costs just because it has the word ‘bridal’ attached in front of it,” Meghji points out as we end our conversation, admitting that it could be controversial for him to say this as part of the business community.

“A South Asian wedding has so many events and personally I don’t agree that a bride should have to spend upwards of $10,000 for all her outfits. What we want to provide is something that is embellished and beautiful but still simple and affordable. Our business model is not that we want to make the most affordable things but we definitely want the experience to be better and more comfortable. It’s not fair that as a man I can just go in and buy reasonable suit that fits me perfectly well, but women still struggle to do the same with South Asian fashion.”

It’s safe to say, we’re all here for affordable bridal wear and as far as a digital, hassle-free shopping experience is concerned, with the way the pandemic has changed the functioning of the world, the road that The Saree Room is likely headed in the right direction.

Check out their new collection here!

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

Meet Fashion Blogger and Media Star Dolly Singh

Dolly Singh
Dolly Singh

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!

[Read Related: Fashion Influencer Ritvi Shah on how to Nail Content Creation]

 

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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.

[Read Related: Malvika Sitlani on Content Creation, Entrepreneurship and Womanhood]

 

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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.

[Read Related: Filmi Nights: A Love Letter to Vintage Bollywood]

How do you feel about the term content creator?

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!

Photo Courtesy of Dolly Singh

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By Brown Girl Magazine

Born out of the lack of minority representation in mainstream media, Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South … Read more ›

Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna: “We Want to Work With the Youth”

From humble beginnings, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna joined forces to create the worldwide fashion design brand Rohit + Rahul. Based in one of India’s fashion capitals, Delhi, the two take an eccentric approach to designing by utilizing geometry and modern art to build their design lines. This is commonly seen in some of their more recent design lines such as the ‘Fibonacci’ line. Also, the founding members of the brand Fashion Design Council of India, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna insert new meaning into fashion by telling a story to the younger generation. With their bold pieces, Rohit and Rahul want consumers to feel empowered and individualized.

[Read Related: 3 Tips on how to Rock Viva Magenta, the Pantone Color for 2023]

Tell us about your journey and where it all started.

We began our design journey in 1997. We saw a significant gap in the global market between Western and Indian couture segments and [so] amalgamated our personal style statements to merge it with our conviction to cater to this deficit, and launched our brand. The brand stands for contemporary designs and embodies an aesthetic of understated red carpet creations. As designers, we believe in curating garments that are timeless and decorous. Also, we have entered our 25th year of creative partnership as an established designer brand.

Where do you see this company ten years from now?

Ten years from now we see our company with corporate backing, more evolved with exponential growth.

Which client are you most looking forward to working with?

The client we most look forward to working with is the youth of today. The younger audience is experimental and bold; they don’t shy away from trying new trends. We look forward to dressing clients who are ahead of their time, love to explore the world and understand our structure and silhouettes.

What was one of your favorite showcases? What was different about this showcase compared to the others you have had?

We embroidered our surface textures and did a presentation with masks which was quite unusual. Another interesting project we did was inspired by art which is the ethos of the brand. It’s our sublime passion for art that reflects in the thoughtful craftsmanship of our brand.

What was it like having a partner?

Two is a team and it is great fun working together. We take various aspects from each other’s lives and put those thoughts into our design process. We both are different personalities and critics of each other which helps us understand things better. The journey so far has been exhilarating and challenging too; we were a two-man army. Back then from managing designing to marketing, merchandising, and sales, all of it was managed by the two of us. Now, we have a team working alongside us which makes us feel we have come a long way.

What interests do you have outside of fashion?

Outside of fashion design, our interest lies in art. Our design inspiration is derived from art and architecture. The heritage and the vintage lineage of the city of New Delhi where we are based are what instill our passion for finesse and immaculate grandeur in the minutest of details. We have been successfully running our art gallery, Palette, which houses modern contemporary artworks of young and established minds alike.

Where did the idea for the Fibonacci show come from? What’s one of your favorite looks?

‘Fibonacci’ at its heart, is a nod to craft — both structural and artistic — where every piece is a study in precision. The collection brings together this iconic designer duo’s dedication to the study of structure in art and architecture, transferring these learnings to design. The idea of the Fibonacci show was inspired by the artist named Zaha Hadid, who is known for her liberated architectural geometry. Our favorite look is a mosaic sherwani which was recently worn by Indian megastar Ranveer Singh.

And, what inspired the Astral Gala line?

The Astral Gala line is inspired by stars and galaxies. It is a reflection of our love for the cosmic universe which is surreal. The line is inspired by the old-age divas from the retro era fused with new modern techniques of boning and construction.

What is your favorite type of clothing piece to design? Which clothing pieces do you find most challenging to design?

Constructed jackets are our favorite piece of clothing; we pay a lot of attention to our finishing and construction. Constructed pieces are the most challenging to design but it also gives us more room for experimentation. Also, heavy ornamentation/surface textures make the garments difficult to mold and sculpt hence, we face challenges with those garments.

Who is the one celebrity you would love to dress?

It would be Billy Porter for his unique fashion sense.

What do you hope to take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

It is inspiring to connect with a global community-building publication like Brown Girl Magazine which reaches out to a huge audience. One of the key takeaways from this conversation would definitely be the power of storytelling and narration as an individual from the creative industry and its influence on the upcoming generation of designers.

How has the power of storytelling influenced your past shows and how do you plan to utilize it in your future shows?

Storytelling is a key aspect and we utilize our runway sets to showcase our brand ethos and the inspiration behind the collection. We showcased the Fibonacci collection at Couture Week last season. The collection was inspired by the movement that marries precision with an architectural penchant for precision, guided by nature’s invisible rule — the Fibonacci wave. The intricate set for the show was built by artist Akon Mitra by combining thousands of origami pieces that arched over a ramp to depict a wave in perfect mathematical proportion. The set design reflected the beauty of patterns defined by Fibonacci’s irrational number, where every pattern is uniform and built with clear lines and divisions.

What do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?

Brides and grooms should be comfortable and feel true to themselves when they choose to wear us. We want our designs to empower their true personalities and shine through on their big day!

Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna have taken a unique approach to fashion design not only utilizing storytelling to define the identity of their goal consumer, but also modern art to shape their clothing lines. The brand has been featured in GQ, multiple fashion shows such as Amazon India Fashion Week, and dressed famous clients such as Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, and many more. Rohit and Rahul aren’t just two fashion designers that came together; Rohit + Rahul is a team that gives you an identity with their design work.

Featured image courtesy of Elevate Promotions. 

By Hrishika Muthukrishnan

Raised in North Carolina, Hrishika Muthukrishnan spent 18 years thinking there wasn’t much to the suburbs before she discovered how … Read more ›

Hand Embroidery: South Asia’s Not-so-Famous Contribution to Global Fashion

hand embroidery

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.

Did you know that Jennifer Lopez’s famous green, jungle-print Versace dress from the 2000 Grammy Awards was hand-embroidered in India? Or that top luxury brands, including Gucci, Dior, and Saint Laurent, have quietly outsourced much of their embroidery to South Asia for over three decades now? As brands cross borders to connect and innovate through fashion, South Asia has come to the forefront of global fashion as the go-to region for hand embroidery. In 2019, India’s embroidery exports exceeded $230 million, which was a 500 percent increase from the 1990s. This isn’t simply because of the affordable labor and extra cushion for the bottom line — it’s a testament to the unmatched skill of South Asian artisans.

[Read Related: Honouring Tradition and Embracing my Heritage Through Ethnic Wear]

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

[Read Related: Celebrity Designer Sanjay Garg Gives Us the Inside Scoop on Everything Handlooms and the Sari]

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.

 

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For more information on Chaa Latte, please visit our website and follow our journey on Instagram.

Feature Image: Hannah Schweiss Photography

By Promiti Prosun

Promiti Prosun is the Bengali Canadian designer and founder of fashion brand, Chaa Latte. Though most of her career was … Read more ›