6 North-East Indian fashion designers the world is talking about.... And why you should too!
Atsu Sekhose, Nagaland
Fashion focus: Interpretation of Naga textiles in designs
His story: Atsu’s label by his name has often seen influences of Naga textiles and graphic elements. Atsu, 39, who is counted among the most successful and popular designers from the region today, says he makes a conscious effort that gives the label a very global aesthetic in terms of cuts and silhouettes.
“When I launched my label in 2007, I was one of the few Indian designers doing hardcore Western women’s wear. The domestic market was ruled by Indian wear designers and it was a challenge to be in a big pond of established designers who always advised me that the only way I can succeed is by making bridal clothes,” he says.
However, Atsu found his place with international magazines and brands that were entering the market. “When I look back, I feel proud that I continued to do what I felt was my strength,” he says.
He continues, “I think the biggest challenge for a designer is the struggle to manage your own brand without any investor or financial back-up. I feel good about coming this far and being a role model to many talented designers from the north-east. Talent has no boundaries and today some of the most talented designers are from the north-east.”
Motto: Don’t expect too much, just go with the flow.
Sonam Dubal, Assam
His signature is: Indo-Asian silhouettes with a base of Eri silk
His story: Bringing his Buddhist heritage into design, Sonam Dubal started his label in 1990 and made his fashion week debut in 2003, where his collection combining Eri (Ahimsa) silk from Assam and Khadi cotton handloom weaves, caught the eye of L’Eclaireur, Paris. “For the first time, there was a full body of Indo-Asian silhouettes being brought to light and I had to make sure my clothes reflect my identity as people don’t understand the part of the world I come from,” says 50- year-old Sonam.
Sonam faced a challenge when he tried bringing his originality into a market that already had a set idea of fashion. “Everywhere I went, people suggested, ‘Why don’t you make a lehenga instead’, and other outfits that were trending. The challenge was to create my own identity and make my work express the world that I came from.”
“I persisted and didn’t let go of my signature,” he says.
Motto: Believe in what you do, and remember, simplicity has a wider global reach.
Jenjum Gadi, Arunachal Pradesh
Speciality: Menswear using embroidery and handloom
His story: From a small town in Tirbin, 35-year-old Jenjum grew up without the influence of newspapers or any kind of media, and for the longest time had no idea what fashion even means. “I just knew I kept toying with what I could, like my school uniform would look different from everyone else’s. That never went down very well with the teachers as my school was a boarding school. But I was a rebel,” he says.
It was only after two years into graduation in Delhi that he realised fashion is actually his calling. He quit college, and joined a fashion school.
“I couldn’t tell my parents what I needed so much money for, fashion school fees were high. I used my pocket money to get material and other things,” he says.
However, it all worked out for the best after he graduated, and worked with designer Rohit Bal before launching his own label. “My dad still thinks what I do is useless,” he laughs.
Jenjum has experienced this sense of isolation from vendors and buyers when he first started out. “The industry wasn’t so difficult, but dealing with vendors and sourcing etc. was tough because people thought they can take me for a ride as I’m not from Delhi. They didn’t take me seriously and I did face discrimination. In fact, that still happens sometimes but I’ve learnt to deal with it,” he smiles.
Motto: Don’t expect too much, just go with the flow.
Easternlight Zimik, Manipur
Specialises in: Indigenous textiles and bright, loud colours
His story: He grew up in a town called Ukhrul, where most kids went in for civil service exams and government jobs, but for Easternlight, 26, that wasn’t the case. One among eight siblings, his parents couldn’t afford to send him to National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), so he took a loan, which he recently paid off, and kickstarted the career of his dreams.
His work is primarily inspired by music, poetry and holistic Japanese fashion. “I love playing with colours and different cuts with layers. I prefer the brightest splash of colours and maybe too many prints, which I’m totally unapologetic about. It reflects my personality and where I come from,” he says.
He adds, “Music is my saviour. I’m also inspired by traditional clothes and textiles but with my experience, I understood and realised that using a traditional textile or technique is not that simple and without careful consideration, it can turn out to be very cliché.”
Working on several projects, Easternlight hopes to create a bigger identity for his work!
Motto: “… But I don’t always need good things to write beautiful stories.” It’s a quote I wrote myself.
Utsav Prasdhan and Teresa Laisom, Sikkim and Manipur
Best known for: Dresses and jackets made with pure cotton focused on tailoring
Their story: Munkee.See.Munkee.Doo is the child of Sikkim boy Utsav Pradhan who brings craft and quirk to the clothes, and Manipur girl
Teresa, who brings attention to detail. An impulsive decision to start a line of their own brought these 31-year-old graduates together and before they knew it, it was a full-fledged business.
“We started out on our own within four years of graduating. When you’re working with someone else, the mistakes or blunders you make are still at other people’s cost. When your starting point is your own brand, it’s challenging to make those grave mistakes and pay for them,” says Utsav.
They didn’t believe in fashion weeks. “We just thought if our work is good, people will approach us. But it’s not easy,” says Teresa.
She adds, “Given the background we come from, this mingling is tough, it’s uncomfortable for us to attend parties and mix with the fashion crowd as such.”
“Manipur has rich heritage, but we are here to expose the state to more globally acceptable, contemporary versions of its textile,” he says.
Motto: Stick to your aesthetics and always be persistent.
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