Although Indian fashion designers draw inspiration from various eras, countries, cultures, arts and crafts, a seamless passion for textiles and embroideries from Rajasthan, Lucknow, Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal among others, cannot be refuted. However, a relatively new breed of designers are working overtime to shift their energies and concentrate towards the North East, the land that is home to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.
Elements of the North Eastern culture and influences have been mildly incorporated in collections earlier as well, but with young and enthusiastic minds from the region stepping into mainstream fashion, the focus on North East is definitely more than ever before.
Awareness on the ramp
Proof of this interest was felt at the recently concluded Wills India Fashion Week (WIFW) in Delhi where in an attempt to promote fashion from the North East, the Textiles Ministry joined hands with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) to organise a show dedicated to designs from the region.
Designer Atsu Sekhose, who was chosen for the show, gravitated towards the tribes of North East as the chief inspiration for the collection. With his roots in Nagaland, he presented a collection that was representative of the North Eastern culture. Every look was created using fabrics like cotton and silk, woven by 30 underprivileged women from a women’s weaving organisation — Vitole, and Assamese silk, exclusively woven by Assamese weavers. The event also saw works by 29-year-old designer Jenjum Gadi, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh.
“North East is unexplored territory when it comes to fashion. Most people only know about Naga shawls, but there’s so much more to explore. The region has seven states and every state has its own culture and textile. There are no print; it’s all about weaves,” explains Gadi. He adds that the most commonly used patterns are geometric, and each tribe uses them in their own way. So, it’s possible to identify patterns or textiles from a particular tribe or state. “I’m sure the North East is the next stop for fashion inspiration,” he believes.
Woman power and the weave
Women from the North East are creating a niche for themselves in this competitive field too. Fashion and textile designer Kos Zhasa, a 38-year-old NIFT graduate from Nagaland, runs her own label in Delhi called Personal Touch and draws inspirations from the ethnic diversities of the North East for her line of kurtis and dresses. “I couldn’t see myself in any other conventional job; designing for me is a medium of expression. It was a challenge for me to pursue this profession because I was the first in the family to take up such an eccentric career,” laughs Zhasa.
Not a cakewalk
Although, an increasing number of creative minds are opting for dream jobs in fashion, there is no denying that the path is filled with obstacles. “Difficulties in various forms are faced daily, but the key is to enjoy it and take it as it comes, says Zhasa. Mumbai Fashion Week’s Gen-next designer from Manipur, Asa Kazingmei, who showcased a collection that revolved around the mesmeric beauty of the North East and its hand woven textiles, echoes a similar stance. Here, he credits his friends as his support systems. “One does face obstacles, especially in a career like this, but I have some good friends around me, who are always there when I am in need,” he informs.
From the other side
While, the designers have managed to receive significant attention to their North East-inspired works, established names from the business feel that there is still a long way to go before fashion from the region gets the kind of attention it deserves. “This is fashion and it is a trend. For North East designs to hold on and become classics, designers will have to evolve the designs each season. If they do not, they run the risk of becoming a flash-in-the-pan trend,” reiterates ace designer Wendell Rodricks. The designer adds that India is a huge market, and there is space for everyone, but it’s early to say that fashion from the North East has arrived. “When a style endures beyond seven years, its success can be measured. By then designers burn out or win out,” he reminds us.
Fashion Week goes North East
To promote fashion from the North East, Meghalaya will host its first ever Fashion week on October 19 and 20 in Shillong. The event is being organised under the leadership of Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma. Some of the participating designers include Jenjum Gadi, Anand Bhushan, Gaurav and Ritika, Nachiket Barve and Dev R Nil as well as a few other names from the North East.
“It’s a great platform for talent from the region to showcase their works. Though the North East is a part of India but because of its geographical distance, it seldom gets to be part of such events. But things are changing now, I’m sure it will be nice to see the local culture and designs and we will get to interact with other designers from the region,” expressed Barve, who will be showcasing his collection at the event.