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In conversation with VAISHALI S who walked khunn at NYFW

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I remember the first time I met Vaishali S. She wrapped me in her stunning sari made out of khunn, centuries old weave from Karnataka. What a delight it was to be draped by Vaishali in a Vaishali S. We met at the FDCI Lotus Makeup India Fashion Week in March 2019. The March 2020, of course came in a different colour and changed the basic fabric of our life. The Fashion Week got cancelled, sprawling malls that were thriving with the spring summer collections got locked in 24 hours and human beings got caged in their own homes. Alas, humans aren’t as smart as they thought themselves to be and Artificial Intelligence fell short of solutions.

In the era of machines and scientific innovations at the rate of a dime a dozen, human grit and wit has survived and the time to come will decide whether we deserve mercy or a blow of another pandemic to make us realise that sustainability is the only way ahead. Conscious Living and gratitude will soar our spirits high. Vaishali S is a Sustainability veteran. Her choice of fabrics, design outlines and the stubbornness to work with Indian weaves caught my attention. The fact that she walked her designs at the New York Fashion Week clearly spells her love for handloom and dying arts. She is working extensively with khunn, a handwoven fabric from a small town in Karnataka and is leaving no stone unturned to show it to an international audience.

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Vaishali Shadangule
A stunner by Vaishali Shadangule.

I get into an interview with Vaishal Shadangule and speak to her about her commitment to sustainability, much before the word became an essential.

1. What excites you the most about fashion?

Fashion for me is the global language that allows me to share with the world the passion of Indian heritage and its timelessness through modern silhouettes. I would say that fashion was never a choice I made. I stumbled upon fashion and realised it could be my best way of expression.

2. You are a rebel with a cause. How would you describe your journey?

I have never been attracted by the established mainstream trends, rather always intrigued by the forgotten treasures of everyday Indian heritage. Thus, my journey began at home- exploring my surroundings and being fascinated by the sarees my mother and grandmother used to wear. Those very fine weaves made me curious about the technique used and I went on to discover Chanderi weaving clusters. There, sitting with the weavers, I learnt about the inherent craftsmanship and realized that we have such a rich variety of weaves in India. And while I’m still in the process, this led me to discover many more villages, like Guledagudda in Karnataka where they traditionally weave Khunn or Sualkuchi in Assam where they have an ancestral wealth of weaving mulberry silk or Kesapaat.

At the same time, I never believed that these treasures should be relegated to old Indian styles, rather be part of the larger global heritage, and enhanced with modern silhouettes. Yet, loyal to the flow of energy they have been crafted for: this is the reason why my silhouettes always spring out of draping sessions, rather than mere design exercise.

The two unforgettable moments of this journey are going to the New York fashion week for the first time and recently opening our own flagship store in the Kala Ghoda precinct.

3. Regular fashion VS sustainability- your pick and why?

I come from a village and sustainability has always been the way of living. Later on, I stumbled upon fashion, which became my way of expressing this way of life: I don’t see any just apposition, rather fashion is my tool to sustainability. I personally believe that in India, living responsibly has always been a cycle of life. We used to buy clothes only on special occasions and ensuring the quality of the fabric. We already have an existing way of sustainable living, and choosing sustainable fashion is no different. We simply need to realise, especially in these difficult times, that we need to be a part of life on earth.

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Vaishali Shadangule
The colours, the fabric, the design- what’s not to love!

4.How do you define your designs?

Unique and awesome! I fill so fulfilled when I manage to drape a beautiful hand-woven treasure into modern global silhouettes that manage to keep that flow of energy that you can see in each single Indian woman. I usually find my inspiration in nature, so the silhouettes always have a flow. I believe Indian fabrics can be draped in different ways, which also brings an ethreal movement to the pieces. Borrowing the layered complexities in nature, I like to create forms that can be timeless with the inherent quality of handwoven weaves.

5. Are you a minimalist?

I think minimalistically when it comes to designing. I believe simplicity can transform the most complex structures into ageless pieces. But our collections always have integral layers, with individual pieces coming together in a traditional vocabulary of weaves written in an urban language like the cape style blouses. Different weaves have a very intricate way of bringing together the tonality of each piece.

6. What’s the one thing you learnt in college that has helped you till date?

I did a course on draping and going to college really strengthened my technical aspect. My knowledge got refined and I realised that their focus is also on uplifting handloom weaves, which gave me confidence in what I was doing.

7. What inspires you to create?

When I was a child, I used to see my mother’s wardrobe and the fine, soft sarees it had. I also saw my grandmother often wearing Khunn blouses. My surroundings in many ways have aspired me since then to discover the essence of a weave. Nature too has a way of dictating a lot of my designs because when I observe things around me, they are subconsciously registered in my mind and later, while feeling the texture of fabric, the flow of a river or the blossoms of mogra might come to mind. It’s a very organic way of imagining different silhouettes.

Vaishali Shadangule
The power of women and handloom! It’s two to tango!

8. You are passionate about promoting Indian textiles. Which are your favourite weaves and why?

I think all Indian weaves have their own individual character and it must be brought out through various designs. But Khunn and Chanderi remain some of the best weaves I’ve seen, the ones I have “played” with the most and eventually seen evolve, from traditional sarees to dresses and capes. I also like how we can blend two weaves; it opens up your mindset and helps you explore the nature of each weave. Each weave has a voice of its own and this must be brought to the international market.

9. Recycling & Upcycling are the buzzwords to swear by. How will the Indian fashion scene change post the Covid era?

The simplicity of living is in living in sync with nature and this is something we need to realize, not just in our business policies as we revive ourselves after the crisis, but also in our lifestyle. “We should think about nature the way we think about ourselves.”

It will be a slow process to realign ourselves to a circular world from the hierarchical human invention we’ve been following, but it is the need of the hour today.

10. What are the fabrics & printing techniques being used for your collections?

We don’t use any printing. All our fabrics are handwoven on the traditional double shuttle loom. We use many weaves from all over India- in our latest collection, Madanottsava, we used Murshidabad silk, Chanderi, Khunn, and Banarsi brocade all having their own traits, techniques, and weaving elements.

11. How do you ensure minimum waste while manufacturing your merchandise in order to minimize the negative impact on the environment?

Draping is an element that ensures a zero-waste garment, which has become a signature touch of the label, and fabric pieces that remain are repurposed into upcycled accessories and home décor installations.

12. Is Sustainability a strong part of your aesthetic design?

Yes, sustainability is definitely a part of our aesthetic. Our brand philosophy revolves around a zero-waste concept since the conception of the label, and we follow this in our home décor pieces as well. Upcycling is an integral part of our designing and we create wardrobe pieces like accessories from unpurposed fabric pieces. Our flagship store is also a collage of a hand-polished mud-cow dung wall that works as a natural cooling agent and repurposed wood from the dumping grounds of Saki Naka that we furbished into lamps, ceiling décor, and window frames. I personally feel that keeping eco-consciousness at the center of your business demands more responsibility from you and this shapes your values as an individual too.

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Vaishali Shadangule interview
The hands that weave can swirl too. I find this picture too cute.

13. What are your favourite pieces from your collections?

I regularly fall in love with each and every piece of my collection, and I would feel guilty to point out one or the other. Nevertheless, I myself am amazed at seeing how a cape that rebelliously makes a bridal outfit sumptuous, the very next day can look pretty cool on a white shirt with a pair of pants.

14. How has the Indian fashion scene changed since 2010?

Back then I was feeling a weird rebel promoting sustainability and traditional weaves in modern styles. Today, sadly for my rebel spirit, but happily for our planet (!), sustainability has become mainstream and everybody (more or less sincerely) is riding the wave.

At the same time more and more people and designers are realising that slow living is the need of the time. this discovery and adaptation has always been the duty of good designers.

15. Three clothing pieces you can’t live without?

I honestly prefer sarees, they can be draped any way you want, it’s such a versatile piece and has a lot of connection to Indian textiles. I love my khadi dresses; I wouldn’t be able to work without them. Last but not the least, my Khunn shorts under the skirts are just so comfortable.

Vaishali S interview
Vaishali S, herself working with the weavers.

16. 3 Reasons to go for Vaishali S?

The way Vaishali S garments are created makes them extremely comfortable and easy to wear, and at the same time timeless, stylish, and elegant. You feel embedding the beautiful story of preserving Indian crafts and village weavers, in the most caring way towards mother Earth. In line with the (new) times, our pieces are durable, and can be matched in different ways.

17. Faux pas to stay away from?

Whatever you do, avoid following mainstream trends in search of sales. Go back to your roots, find the things that have always been there and make something that reflects your ideology.

18. What are your upcoming launches to look forward to?

We launched a collection recently at Lakme Fashion Week, called Madanottsava. We will be showcasing 15 exclusive pieces from this collection in a ‘Handloom bride for weavers’ capsule, where we will be paying our weavers part of their double wages from every purchase that a client makes. This ensures that they get the money directly and in advance in their bank accounts, and we can pay them double wages during these difficult times, as we cannot arrange for essential items in the remote weaving villages.

I look forward to the launch of my new collection that was due in Delhi fashion week, then cancelled. Unknowingly very in line with our very times, its title is ‘Rebirth”, and I believe everybody will be touched by its message.

19. You are an inspiration to many designers who look up to role models for guidance. What is your one key advice to them?

Search hard and deep what is your message to the world. Then search hard and wide among the different amazing Indian weaves and choose the ones that allow you to express your message in the best way. Don’t be scared to feel weird, be scared of being mainstream.

Vaishali S interview
Labour of love, dedication and grit.

20. How can women instil more confidence in them?

By thinking on what makes them a strong person rather than what makes them a strong woman. And wear a statement piece from Vaishali S, that makes you feel confident.

(I agree to the above statement.)

21. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

I wish I focused less on my creation process alone and understood that for the world to then know about it, also earthly activities like promotion are important.

22. How did New York Fashion Week happen?

I travelled to New York and did a few shows but when I applied for the New York Fashion show and got selected under the emerging talent category in 2015, it made me realise the potential the label had and I’m thankful for that opportunity to this day.

23. What are your 3 lessons from the lockdown?

I think that the lockdown is a sign that we need to return to our roots and live responsibly, not just when choosing our wardrobe but also while choosing our lifestyle. It has made me realise the power of nature, and how we need to be in sync with it. We need to think about nature the way we think about ourselves. It is only then that we can hope to achieve true progress.

24. How will you motivate consumers to imbibe sustainability in their habits?

Maybe I should start sharing more information about the whole process of exploring, creating, manufacturing, creating communities with the weavers, etc etc. Sustainability was associated with poor quality and poor design. Showing them the opposite and explaining all the thought process behind it, can only make them fall in love with the concept too. Sustainability would become a desirable target rather than a “good” thing to do only.

As consumer tendencies change, there will be a shift in mindset, and to imbibe a more sustainable mentality, we will be conducting workshops at our store on the restoration of old pieces, like how to drape an old saree in different styles so it remains ageless or how to repurpose garments to create upcycled pieces. Every piece bought from our capsule collection will have a philanthropic factor as our clients will be helping our weavers strengthen their families during these difficult times. Anyone making a purchase will also become an advocate of sustainability, as they will be making an informed choice in support of garments that are entirely handwoven from Indian textiles.

Vaishali Shadangule interview
Handwoven , Indian and Classy!

25. Your one advice to all the readers of Let’s Expresso, a top fashion & lifestyle blog?

Be a part of nature’s cycle, go back to basics. Reuse. Recycle. Redesign. Rethink.

Thank you Vaishali Shadangule for speaking your heart out. It’s great to see the narrative building and designers understanding their role in contributing to a circular economy. We have a long way to go but the intentions will set a smooth path and timely reach of the objectives.

I close this interview with Vaishali S’s words: Reuse. Recycle. Redesign. Rethink.

Do let me know your views in the comments section below. I urge you to move the sustainable road.

Thank you!

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