Fashion with a difference
Usha Silai, the handcrafted ensemble of thirty-six exquisite pieces blending the old stitching skills with modern design sensibilities, was a powerful narrative of empowerment and inclusivity in fashion on the Sustainable Fashion Day on February 1, 2018, at the Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2018 in Mumbai. The debut of Usha Silai on the ramp marked the launch of the sustainable fashion label showcasing the work of rural women from Rajasthan, Bengal, Gujarat and Puducherry, trained through Usha International Limited’s community-based programme, Usha Silai School, and mentored by four renowned designers – Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, Sayantan Sarkar, Soham Dave and Sreejith Jeevan. The initiative, #ReimagineFashion, held in collaboration with IMG Reliance aims to empower women in rural areas with skills and resources to create clothes and accessories that can be retailed in the urban fashion market.
Delighted with the debut of Usha Silai label, Dr Priya Somaiya, Executive Director, Usha Social Services, says, “The brand has created a platform that has the power to impact and change the lives of many. Making use of local stitching skills and modern techniques, we will create an umbrella that caters to sustainable fashion in a modern language.” The collection had each cluster showcasing nine outfits, embracing grass root design intervention and highlighting the essence of the region. The designers who were on board for the project were thrilled at their association, admiring women for their strength and how a little push from them could help them soar high above in the sky. “In today’s context when #Whomademyclothes is more relevant than ever, the Usha Silai Project is a gem of an example that uses the power of design and fashion to make a difference. It illustrates so beautifully how fashion can be a tool to empower, co-create and coexist in spite of the maker and wearer being in two different contexts. Just like the villages feed the cities, the villages can also dress the cities,” says Jeevan. The designers used different elements and inspirations expressing their individualism in the ensemble, from architecture to attire, from women to machine, but all bearing the credits of the 30 rural women workers from different states who were a part of this project.
Dave, who worked with rural women in Dholka, Gujarat, named his collection The Black Machine. Drawing inspiration from Usha’s black sewing machine, from the basic colour, story to minute details, the collection was basic and functional as the machine itself, and the focus was on creating detailed surfaces on the black lock stitch machine. “The black paddled machine works on eternal human energy and not electricity. That’s the most sustainable way to make a garment. Like the paddled machine, I have also tried to incorporate sustainable design and fabrics to the collection,” he says about his collection, adding that it was a delightful and humbling experience to work with women from the Silai School.
On the other hand, Sarkar’s collection The Girl from the Pages of the Diary with rural women of 24 Parganas, West Bengal, was an experimental amalgamation of the contradiction of the Indian and Western silhouettes. Accentuating the basic Indian silhouettes and teaming it with western influences saw the designer use sarees over pants or skirts with summer trenches and shirts or kurtas with skirts and jackets. Sarkar used floral motif prints, embroidery and texture created on the fabric base of khadi, jamdani and motif weave, and for the colour palette, he stuck to dull pastels in shades of ice blue, pale brown, peach, lemon, orange and light olive. Sarkar held women whom he mentored in high regards. “Usha Silai label will be one of the greatest achievements in my life; it gave me the chance to be a part of a program that has given these talented women the respect which they always deserved, in a society where they are the least respected. From being regular housewives to creating a line of collection for the runway, they have done it all and will always do it because women are the strongest being,” says Sarkar.
The rural women from Usha’s Silai School in Kaladhera in Rajasthan were mentored by Vijaya and Pandav whose collection Rani’sthan was an ode to the queen in every woman through the study and deconstruction of the royal Rajasthani woman’s costume – The Poshak. Calling it a small contribution towards sustainable fashion, the duo says, “We drew inspiration from the traditional Poshak and deconstructed the look to present a collection of chic separates – shirts and tunics that evolve from the kurti, blousons and tops that spring from the kanchli, skirts and dresses that evolve from the lehenga, scarves, etc. Playing with the nature of contrasts, we offer fluidity with rigidity, rawness with refinement, constriction with the flow. The shape draws reference from the traditional look but has been updated to make it relevant for the queens of today.”
Jeevan, who mentored women in Puducherry that was once a window to the world, called his collection, Window to the World. “Every window has a story to tell about an old French colony, about the people who lived in them, about their favourite tree that enveloped it and about the way they saw me through them. There were so many stories that one simple window had to say and that inspired me to say the story of this collection made by ten different women, each one a window bringing in light to their lives. And I’m looking to find out their story through the window that is their work – Silai. And they are also, like the people inside the houses, looking at me to see what I can add,” quips Jeevan. Using this narrative, he connected the technique to the idea, the place and sewing techniques, and used various aspects of windows in Pondicherry to create garments for the collection.
And the label has created a fashion brand with a difference as Jaspreet Chandok, Head of Fashion, IMG Reliance, stated in the parting, “#ReimagineFashion establishes the principle that for Indian fashion to be forward, it needs to think local and leverage human potential at the grass root level for the development of a sustainable livelihood.”
The collections created by these four designers for ‘Usha Silai’ label will be launched in April 2018 with their exclusive retail partner Ogaan at their flagship store in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi.