Made in India clothing is often seen as the product of sweatshop labour, but fashion designer Saloni Lodha, whose fans include film stars Naomi Watts and Emma Watson, wants to give it a luxury tag.
“I have great faith in the made-in-India idea, and wanted to see an Indian, made-in-India brand in the world's best stores,” she said when she visited Mumbai to source fabrics.
Britain-based Lodha launched her label, Saloni, in 2007 with just 10 designs on offer.
Today, her flirty, feminine dresses are stocked at some of the world’s leading boutiques and worn by socialites and stars alike.
The 30-year-old designer has expanded her business to include jewellery and handbags, all the while trumpeting her brand’s Indian origins as a selling point.
Everything in the collection is manufactured in India in collaboration with traditional weavers, tailors and embroiderers. Lodha maintains a studio in London, where she designs textiles and drapes her dresses, and says her work is built on a constant dialogue between India and London.
Her career rise has coincided with a growing interest in India among foreign fashion houses.
From Valentino, Hermes to Armani, several top designers have turned to India to commission elaborate embroideries for their lavishly-beaded gowns.
But few have discussed manufacturing clothing in India as extensively or as openly as Lodha, out of fear that consumers might refuse to pay top dollar for made in India items.
Lodha shrugs off such concerns. “India has incredible craftsmanship, there are skills here you just can’t replicate. Made-in-India is a luxury on so many levels,” she said.
She works with artisans across the country, from Kashmiri families, who weave Saloni’s wafer-thin cashmere and silk scarves to a women’s knitting cooperative nestled in the Himalayas along the Indo-Tibetan border.
After studying graphic design in Mumbai, she married and moved to Hong Kong at the age of 20.
Finally, in September 2007, she pooled her savings and launched the Saloni label during London fashion week. The line was immediately snapped up by top London department store Harvey Nichols and other buyers followed suit. And, she has designs on Bollywood.
“I love Frieda Pinto, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor ... I would love to see my clothes on them,” says Lodha, who plans to launch her own online store and eventually, a bricks and mortar retail outlet.