Vaishali S on fostering a disappearing craft & community

Vaishali S on fostering a disappearing craft & community

Vaishali-S

Slow fashion is gaining momentum at a fast pace. Courtesy: Familiarity and awareness led by sustainable design practitioners. One such high-end fashion label that concerns craft and community on par with style quotient is Vaishali S. Transforming Indian handloom into wearable work of art, Vaishali S is one of the few connoisseurs who understand the true virtue of sustainable fashion. Dedicating an almost two-decade-long career to the revival of disappearing weaves, the label showcases their brilliance in a globally appealing way. A significant aim of Vaishali S is to bring forgotten handwoven textiles to the fashion forefront through novelty designs that nurture both, the craft as well as modern sensibility.

The designer hosted a special pop-up of her eponymous label at Pernia’s Pop-Up Studio on the 10th of April. Prominent personalities and her elite clients, Sona Mohapatra and Vidya Malavade came in to support the designer flaunting her special creations. Vaishali got reminiscing of her journey from a small town girl who was clueless but curious about learning to a celebrated designer who has successfully presented 19 collections on the prestigious runways of New York Fashion Week, FDCI (Amazon/Wills) Fashion Week, and Lakme Fashion Week till date.

Take us through your journey so far.

It has been a long journey, almost eighteen years now that I’m working with weavers and handlooms. I’m basically from Vidisha, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. I left my house when I was just eighteen years old to do something, completely unaware of what was designing or fashion. I had done my graduation in science. After that, I had to do odd jobs for my survival ’cause I moved out of my home without any money. I couldn’t settle for living the life of a small town girl where even study wasn’t allowed. Sometime later, I met my friend who suggested me to take up fashion designing and I asked her, “what is that?”. She explained and offered to help me with the course, but I had no money to afford it as I was already struggling with my self-survival. We went to a fashion institute and I learnt to make fashion croquis in the initial three days. When they asked me for fees I had to say I don’t have the money for it. But at the time, I realized that I’m enjoying designing and this is the direction I need to follow. I started suggesting people on what to wear and styling them. Simultaneously, my friend took out the fashion syllabus from S.N.D.T university and I started learning to design at home.

My first job in fashion was as an illustrator in the faculty. That’s when it picked up and I came to Mumbai in 2001 and opened a small boutique with the help of a small loan from the bank. My creations received a great response. That time too I was working with handwoven fabrics. I feel there are deep emotions and affection attached to your mother’s saree. I started with a very small boutique in Malad and the label had branched into three stores within three years. After that, I did my postgraduate in Delhi and went to Milan to try for masters. But it became difficult to juggle with my business and family and everything else. So I returned back within four months.

By 2011, I debuted on the runway with my collection at Lakme Fashion Week. I’ve completed nineteen collections till date including four seasons at New York Fashion Week. And yeah, it’s going pretty good now. For inspiration, I work with these skilled weavers and it’s the biggest motivation and push for my work. We have so much in India itself to inspire ourselves.

What are the key elements that your label works with?

Mainly handwoven fabrics. My creations are all about the weaves, fabrics and crafts.

What is your inspiration behind the collection?

The collection is created with KHUN weaves orginally done in Guledgudda- a small village in Bagalkot district in Karnataka. I’ve worked with the weavers before as well. That time I’d seen about 400-500 looms in the village and when I visited the village this time, I saw only around 40 looms that were operational. I felt the decline was seriously concerning and we were about to lose the craft totally as the craft is only known in this village. So, I decided to adopt those 40 looms so that we can together revive and survive in the market.

I’m just trying to have their younger generations trained which not many of them were open to as they aren’t getting fair prices or support from the government. So I’m just trying to work with these looms as efficiently as possible and using them as much as I can; from art to interiors to accessories along with clothing.

Any tip you’d give to style your collection?

I think the KHUN weave is so beautiful on its own, you wouldn’t need any detailed styling. The silhouettes too are very different and unconventional, styled with drapes and surface ornamentation. So we don’t need any accessories to style them.

Which occasions are perfect to style this collection?

I’d recommend it for every occasion from casual daytime to formal evenings. The silhouettes range from fuss-free to dramatic. So, you can practically style it for a summer wedding too.

Tell us about a milestone moment in your life as a designer or any prominent experience that you vividly remember

Lots of them actually. I believe I’ve lived three lives in this lifetime. When I left my house, I wasn’t even confident to talk because I came from a small town-village setting where girls don’t talk a lot. So, as I learnt everything in the new world, it felt like a milestone. Even if it was just talking or forming a sentence. When you come from such a background, you have so many inferiority complexes. So every step feels like a way forward and an achievement.

And then, when I opened my first store with a fifty-thousand rupees loan from the bank. It was a very difficult phase for me ’cause I had no support whatsoever. I always think that when you decide to do something, you open two doors for yourself and if you decide to pass it you close those doors. So yes, starting the boutique on my own as a milestone for me. Other than that, when I decided to study fashion. I actually learnt the process and polished my creativity. Until then I was simply following my instincts and logic. So, after nine years into fashion and running three stores, I took up professional training in fashion. I had forty workers working for me and a very young daughter so it was very difficult to balance hustling between Delhi & Mumbai. I later went to showcase my collection at New York Fashion Week; it was a huge milestone for me. People say getting through international runways isn’t easy. I simply sent my work as an entry but they really liked it and found it original and fresh. So that was like a big platform for me.

What changes have you noticed in the course of time when it comes to sustainable preferences of customers.

I think in India, we have always lived a sustainable life. The tag ‘sustainability’ has surfaced only now. I think it’s always been there, whether it is clothing or lifestyle. We’ve learnt to reuse things since childhood. I would say it was our subconscious or routine that we need to make optimum use of things, be it just water or clothes. We’ve been using fabrics creatively for ages. Now you see these quilted rugs in fashion but if you see most of the houses were already using them way before they become luxury.

So even in fashion, we’ve adopted the word ‘sustainability’ only recently; I think it was already there. Our lifestyle in the earlier times was very enriching and ahead of time. So, sustainability isn’t just ‘fashion’, it is a way of lifestyle that had lost its value. Being from a small town, I’ve already lived that life. We were taught the concept of ‘zero-waste’ way back in our childhood. Even the word handwoven is being used as a marketing tool now. Having said that, India is sustainable since ages. We should adopt sustainability as a way of life and not just fashion.

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By in designer's interview | fashion interview | Indian craftsmanship | Khun weave | pernia's pop-up shop | sustainable fashion | sustainable pop-up | traditional Indian weaves | Vaishali S

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