She may not watch Bollywood films, but Mawi Keivom is clearly clued into the leading ladies of filmdom who are fast joining her growing legion of fans. “Every time Deepika (Padukone) or Kareena (Kapoor-Khan) wear my jewellery I go ‘whoa’,” says the Manipur-born, London-based founder of eponymous accessory label MAWI. That her industrial-luxe-meets-punk-meets-tribal aesthetic has also caught the eye of international style stars like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Alexa Chung is proof of her 12-year-old label’s international appeal. Now Keivom has taken a global-goes-local turn with MAWI X KOOVS, an affordable line of signature baubles, totes and t-shirts. Launched in collaboration with Indo-British fashion website http://www.koovs.com, the collection offering 40 styles, across four design stories evocatively titled “Neon Punk”, “Tropic Luxe”, “Love Struck” and “Tough Love”, went live in India on November 10. Covered in jewelled hearts, crystals, skulls, spikes, gems and glitter galore, each piece bears the distinct MAWI touch. “It was about doing something that was true to our handwriting and brought the DNA of what we do to the collaboration. So, we picked some of the best-selling pieces from our archives,” says Keivom. Here, she discusses the cross-cultural influences that propel her work and her future plans. Edited excerpts:
Is this tie-up a conscious move to make more inroads into India?
This collaboration has come at the right time, because our products aren’t widely available in India. This propels the brand to a much wider audience. It makes it a lot more democratic, so that the younger, college-going girl can also afford to buy pieces at accessible price points, without compromising on quality and aesthetics. Being Indian myself, it’s just fabulous that the brand is getting this kind of exposure and opportunity here. It’s like a homecoming on a mass scale.
How easy or difficult was it to translate your extravagant style into something more affordable?
Maybe from a production and technical point of view it was more challenging to make something at a good price point. From an aesthetic point of view it was super easy to translate, because it is very true to what I’m doing for our main line. But Koovs has been amazing in forging the right alliances and collaborating with the right factories to achieve this vision.
How does being Indian manifest itself in your work? More specifically, how does the Northeast influence come in?
India has influenced my aesthetic so much that you can see it in almost everything I do. It is not afraid or apologetic. It’s out there. The glitter, madness, colour and boldness — we come from a nation where we don’t compromise on that. We step out at 9 am with saris, kajal, gold jewellery and flowers in our hair. We are not afraid to dress up, whether we’re going to the temple in the morning or to a wedding at night. As for the Northeast, the tribal way of dressing is also very colourful; it’s about craftsmanship, the weaving, the big bold jewellery, the things we do with our hair. It’s definitely been a big influence on my sensibilities.
Have you been keeping tabs on the emerging crop of designer and blogger talent from the Northeast?
As a region, the Northeast is very progressive and so in tune with what’s going on, be it in music or fashion. They draw a lot of inspiration from South East Asia. It’s always been like that. Only now they have a wider platform to be able to express themselves. I get a lot of fan mail from there and I’m so glad I’m able to influence people and be a role model for them. I think there is so much talent to be tapped in the Northeast.
You’re primarily known as an East London brand. How does the city add to your work?
It’s a city that has always inspired me. Whether it’s the music, history or culture — the punk aesthetic, for instance — you can see undercurrents of that in everything I do. London’s embraced me and given me the platform to do what I do. I don’t think I would’ve had that opportunity in Paris, Milan or New York, maybe. The United Kingdom, in general, is very supportive of young talent and you’re given the opportunity to make it big.
You established your brand internationally before making a foray into India. Do you think that approach has opened up more doors for you, as opposed to the reverse?
Maybe, but probably not. London’s been that platform for so many people, like Roksanda Ilincic and Richard Nicoll, who are not from the UK but have become big British brands. It’s a really unique place, where even if you don’t have the money you’re given the support. In India, a lot of designers come from privileged backgrounds and start out with family money, so the situation is quite different. In London, people start out with no money and they really struggle to make it big. Not to say that Indian designers aren’t struggling, but most of them already have a good starting point. In contrast, we really have to prove ourselves.
You’ve spoken in the past about being a small brand and liking it. But you’ve shifted gears now.
Initially, you don’t want to run before you can walk. So, it was really important for us to lay the ground-work. We didn’t want to compromise on brand-building and wanted to create something that was aspirational and pure. But there comes a point where you have to diversify. We are looking at more collaborations, trying to expand the consultancy side of our business, open more retail stores and just spread our wings. We want to grow the leather bag business, re-launch men’s line and hopefully, eventually, do clothing.
Box Chain Heart necklace
Multi-bead Spiked Ring
A Square Link Spice necklace
Fang And Skull necklace