Rahul Mishra is an Indian designer who grew in a small village but makes fashion with a global appeal. The concept of his brand, however, goes beyond the clothes, as Mishra strongly believes in respecting nature and fair trade. Ahead of his Paris Fashion Week show Sleek spoke to the designer about his brand’s philosophy of sustainability and the fashion industry as a trigger for social change.
Having grown up in Kanpur, worlds away from the fashion capitals. What made you decide to start a career as a designer?
Starting from a small place where I grew up, I learned the value of resources, respect for Nature, farmers and animals. The privileges that we have got as human beings has somehow shaped my philosophy and the vision behind my brand. The entire approach what we follow is craft based, village based and sustainable which can be credited to my humble upbringing. I really feel this was one of the favourable conditions, which made me excel at life, whether it was winning the International Woolmark prize or the various other awards. I come from a family of doctors. After I graduated in science I decided to get into the design field. From the day I started learning design my entire upbringing came in very handy and helped me to reach my design philosophy.
One of the main principles of your brand is to do good. You do not only create sustainable fashion but also encourage people to leave the big cities slums and instead work from their native villages.
The global boundaries are dissolving with the ever-changing times and fashion is more universal than ever. This is the era of communication, and fashion is one of the most effective tools, information travels at the speed of light. Fashion has much bigger reach and it is influencing us like never before. I think fashion can bring about positive changes in society, if we practice the sustainable approach. I think the idea of social responsibility completely depends on the empowerment of less privileged. The Gandhian philosophy of environment, employment and empowerment for all in the key to achieve it. The very idea revolves around the very famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi – “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.” Reverse migration started by taking slum dwellers back to their houses rather than calling them to work in the city. Hence taking work to back to them, where they have not just better food and sanitation but also have a good time.
In your previous collection you used the recurring motif of lotus. How important is it for you to use the elements of Indian culture in your works?
India has a very strong culture that’s created a lasting impact on creative minds. Beyond motifs, for us the key elements behind any collection is the philosophy, as we’ll use handmade techniques, which enable more participation from craftsmen to generate more and more employment. The influences in terms of details and motifs can come in any culture not necessarily India. For example in one of my collections which was shown at Paris fashion week the motifs were greatly influenced by the Japanese art form called Katagami.
Is it important for you to work from India?
Our manufacturing which involves employment for various artisans and craftsmen requires the support system which is tailor made in India. The design details which are created by human hands are the most essential part of our brand. India is one of the most important resource centres for that in the world but we are open to work in different locations. For example, recently we have been contacted by one of the NGOs in Afghanistan which is working on rehabilitation of women artisans coming from different Afghan villages. The idea is how we can involve various sections of craft communities in the world to come together as a brand.
Why aren’t there more Indian designers at high level you’re at?
I am very grateful that you feel that about us. I feel if you’re not showcasing at top fashion capitals like Paris, Milan, London and New York, it is very difficult to get noticed. It’s also challenging to take part in these events.
It’s not a country centric problem, it is a problem which is there in all fashion hubs apart from the four fashion capitals. All other cities of the world also face this kind of problem. Thanks to winning the International Woolmark Prize and being invited by the French Fashion Federation that I am showing at Paris fashion Week. No one can question the amount of hard work and luck it requires to be there.
The exposure and international recognition requires immense talent, hard work, perseverance and good timing. There is a lot of talent in India like any other country but it’s just about the timing.
What are your plans for the future?
After Paris Fashion Week we have the ongoing process of designing the new collection, improving our techniques working on new methods, creating a better back end system and a trip to Indonesia, where I need to explore more potential in terms of sales as Indonesia is emerging as the next big luxury Market. The long term goal is to be counted among respected fashion labels in the world with strong sustainable philosophy where we can reach out to thousands of more artisans and create more opportunity and work for them through the magical idea called fashion.
What are we going to see in your forthcoming collection?
The new collection is called “fourth dimension”. The fourth dimension is an essential tool to revisit the past through human hands in a world ruled by technology, and fight the constant time and space to look into the future – to preserve the unseen hand of the skilled artisan who painstakingly beats technology to infuse individual hand skill in creating a couture expression of the fourth dimension. The genesis of all dimensions in the universe begins with a single point, a dot. And the dimensions it takes to create multi dimensional forms. The Spring/Summer collection enables us to discover the fourth dimension enhancing 3D, with the touch of human hands. This collection has an engaging dialogue of opposites; an ambiguity; where sheer & opaque, drape & structure, and the play of different textures bring together a juxtaposition of different elements and shapes.
SS16 collection by Rahul Mishra will be shown on 3 October during Paris Fashion Week
Interview by Ira Solomatina