On January 9, Ruchika Sachdeva became the third Indian designer to win the International Woolmark prize. Rahul Mishra and Suket Dhir have been honoured with the prize previously. The young designer who received the prize at Florence, Italy, won it in the women's wear category for innovation. In her acceptance speech, Sachdeva said, “India is not known for fashion. It's known for its textiles, its handicraft, and tradition—but not fashion.”
When asked what she meant, she told THE WEEK: “Our country is a treasure trove of beautiful fabrics, textiles and crafts, but at the same time, when one talks about fashion capitals, India does not get counted as one. New York, Milan and Paris are often recognised as fashion capitals. We get more talked about for the age-old sari rather than for contemporary clothing.”
So what does she plan to do to put India on the global map for contemporary clothing? “10 of the 20 judges at the competition were retailers with fashion stores around the world. And the winners get an opportunity to retail their clothes at these stores. That is the first step and I will take it from there.” When asked if she sees herself presenting a collection on an international ramp like Milan or Paris like the previous winners have, Sachdeva said: “I have not thought about it yet.”
The New Delhi-based designer, whose label is called Bodice, said collaborating with Miroslava Duma's scientific future tech lab was “very insightful. When we think of sustainability, we only think in terms or re-usability or fair wages. But working with future tech labs, I realised it goes much beyond that— it is also about being socially conscious and ensuring better conditions for our tailors and not making clothes in a factory where the conditions cannot be controlled. So while they were impressed with the fact that my clothes are not made in a factory, but in a small studio, they educated me further on how my designs could be more sustainable.”
About the collection that won her the prize, Sachdeva said, “We disintegrated used wool or wool that has gone to waste along with steel. The used wool garments or leftover wool from various sources were completely shredded to the yarn form and 88 per cent of that was blended with 12 per cent steel to make new pieces of clothing.” As a result the collection features contemporary clothing that is easy to wear and requires less or no ironing, she added. The steel thread crushes naturally. These are pieces you can wear often, be comfortable in and not be tired of.
As for conscious fashion that is sustainable, consumers can make sure what they buy has a conscience simply by reading the tag. Look for terms like old cotton, biodegradable and opt for clothes made in small studios than in factories. Avoid buying clothes blended with polyester and other synthetic materials, she said. “When you buy from a small designer from around the corner, you are doing more to support the community around them. It is akin to eating a home-cooked meal from a smaller place or eating locally than from a chain restaurant,” Sachdeva added.
Also when you are consuming locally sourced products, you can question its source, how it is made and so on. There are plenty of brands in India that offer socially conscious, sustainable clothing, she said. “I also love getting clothes and weaves from exhibitions and shows like the Dastkar mela held in Delhi every year where you get to buy clothing directly from the artisans or at Dilli Haat and the other smaller markets at Hauz Khas where they are also priced right.”
The designer who studied fashion from Pearl Academy in Delhi and then from London College of Fashion, has always kept androgyny and neutral colours a constant in her collections. Sachdeva said her aim was to make clothes that last for a long time. “I wanted to ensure quality and strong clothes that one can pass on to your sister or your daughter. Also I chose colours like navy, grey and black so that they are never outdated. Same goes for the fit (Sachdeva's clothes are always anti-fit),” she said.
For the Autumn/Winter collection that won her the Woolmark prize, she said she was inspired by “Tyeb Mehta and Nasreen Mohemadi—artists from post-independence India who are known for modern art. While Mehta was known for bold colours and voluptuous figures, Mohemadi mainly painted in black and white and used clean lines in her geometric creations. These were the artists who stood out with their individual voices.”
When asked about pathbreaking moments in her career, Sachdeva said: “Every year, every step feels equally important to me— right from winning the Marie Claire Best Debut Collection in 2011 to Elle Style Award for Breakthrough Designer in 2012, the Grazia Award for Best Urban Collection in 2013 and the Vogue India Fashion Fund Award in 2014 to the Woolmark Prize today, everything has been an add-on, a learning process.”
Amidst all this talk of inclusion, Sachdeva felt Indian designers are creating clothes for people of all sizes. “You don't have to be a size zero to be able to wear designer clothes any more. Designers are making clothes for real women—comfortable clothes for work that can be worn from day to night and not just an event, she said. When asked how an everyday consumer can avoid wastage that often is followed by a trendy, expensive purchase, she said: “Buy clothes and accessories only when you need something. Firstly, you need to be very secure and know what kind of expression you want to make with your clothes. Think of clothes as a means to dress who you are and be a secure consumer than to fall for the urgency to follow trends. Wear clothes that you feel confident about. If initially you do not feel comfortable or confident in a particular style, wait it out. Trends always tend to come back. Try it again when it does. You will be able to make a better decision the second time around.”