On her website, Sruti Dalmia calls the designing of clothes an “insatiable addiction”. An emerging, Kolkata-born designer, her eponymous label has been making great strides in sustainable and slow fashion, and getting the recognition it deserves for showcasing traditional artisanry from northeast India and neighbouring Myanmar. It is the confluence of cultures that provided her with an opportunity to display her designs on a global stage.
Earlier this year, she was selected to showcase the first of her ‘Gemini Series’ collection — The Unsung Melody — at the digital edition of London Fashion Week in February. Currently busy working for the upcoming London Fashion Week in June 2021, the designer took some time out to chat with indianexpress.com.
She shared, among other things, her experience, the importance of sustainability in fashion, how geography plays a role in her collections, what fashion means to women, and which actor from Bollywood she would want to collaborate with.
When did you first discover your interest in designing?
I have a Master’s degree in Business Management from the UK, but my first love remained in the designing field, and in my free time, I passionately experimented with creative dressmaking and art.
It was in 2017 that my vision was born, along with [the birth of] my first child. During my maternity break, I found myself free to work on my passion that I have been saving up for. I launched Sruti Dalmia — a niche women’s wear brand in 2018.
Where are you currently, and what are you working on at the moment?
I am currently in Delhi, working on a collection for the upcoming London Fashion Week June 2021.
This year, you already got to showcase your slow fashion collection at the London Fashion Week in February. How was the experience?
This year marks our international debut, and we were ecstatic when our young brand was selected. The recognition and opportunity to showcase at LFW means a lot to us.
Starting as a ‘direct to consumer’ contemporary women’s wear brand and a company, and focusing on a region which, by so many ways, is unexposed in the international scene, often presents us with a series of challenges that has to be managed with very limited resources. As a designer, entrepreneur and mom, the obstacles only encouraged me to work through them. Our selection at LFW was a huge stepping stone.
What’s the reason for naming the collection ‘The Unsung Melody’?
For the first chapter of the Gemini collection, our brand unveiled the incredible craftsmanship of two regions that comprise my side of the world. It is a song of a treasure that has still not been received by the world and remains uncelebrated. It is the unsung melody.
The ‘Unsung Melody’ features an extensively-researched and home-produced women’s wear line that employs traditional artisanry and craftsmanship from northeast India and Myanmar — a region that despite its historic value, remains vastly invisible and cut off from today’s fashion industry on a national and a global front.
Can you explain what ‘slow fashion’ means? How important is it for sustainability?
Speaking from the context of fashion, slow fashion and sustainability is an amalgamation of multiple efforts by diverse groups of people with an objective to consciously sustain and improve the four pillars of ecosystem:
1. Care for place and environment: Strong practices that care for its environment. Product lines developed using correct innovation and science that cares for the environment — for every living being. Upcycling and recycling fabrics to create fresh garments leading to a much-less polluted planet.
2. People: People, who are the backbone of the system, receive proper training and education, get fair employment and earning opportunities, long-term financial support model via ethically traded products that are easy for them to produce in a conducive trading environment.
3. Sourcing and trade model: Quality over quantity, transparent trade process, profit-oriented yet ethical.
4. Ethical marketing and a shift in consumer behaviour model: Market products with the intention of adding value and not ‘greed’. Encourage reusability and ‘rewearing’ [of] garments. Create clothes that are long-lasting and are not based on ‘fads’. Encourage consumers to purchase consciously. Brand loyalty and sustainability have to go hand-in-hand.
Since you were born in Kolkata, has the city inspired you and your collections in any manner?
Kolkata is in my soul, and as an ode to timelessly elegant pieces, my collection derives inspiration from my childhood in Kolkata where sarees and beautiful northeast Indian weaves were carefully passed down and worn over decades by the women of the house. Reinterpreted over time, but always the hero of the ensemble, they have played the role of the ultimate statement silhouette, and now my muse. I have tried presenting my personal interpretations inspired by the quintessential white ‘taant’ sarees worn by my mother and grandmother.
I feel one lifetime is not enough to capture the true essence of Kolkata, but I will try presenting its many ‘faces’ in my upcoming collections.
You mention traditional artisanry from northeast India and Myanmar. Why are these places important to you?
Born in the northeast, in Kolkata, and having traversed the world only to make my home an hour away in Myanmar, I cannot ignore the unerring resemblance, and at the same time, the stark differences in the home-spun weaves, the life, and the culture that are a crucial essence of my creative world. The collections team the creation of Indian weaves and handlooms with ancient Burmese craftsmanship to display the best of northeastern Indian and Burmese techniques — something that has been vastly underplayed and is rarely or never seen before in the global fashion context.
How do you incorporate upcycling and recycling of fabrics into your work?
Even as an emerging brand, our emphasis on slow fashion is always a core focus. We deploy a carefully (in-house) developed ecosystem that commences from the very beginning of production till the last piece has been manufactured.
As part of the collection, we use upcycled and recycled fabrics directly sourced from fabric upcycling centers in India. Additionally, we are also upcycling all silk wastage into fresh yarns at our weaving centre to produce new garments that will then be added to our collections. Each vestiary is created responsibly with minimal wastage.
How do you amalgamate tradition with contemporary fashion?
As a part of my personal experience, I realised the lack of unique formal wear and modern silhouette options for the ‘new age’ Indian woman. Yes the standard black suits were available, but to me, fashion is a culmination of our personal experiences. Garments that speak of our heritage and history, but at the same time, has a global appeal and is wearable for women of diverse backgrounds. And hence, I built a vision to create a brand that is young, forward-looking, yet rooted.
My silhouettes are made with a combination of Indian and international raw materials. The brand is a reflection of my personal experience of my life spent in four countries — India, England, Singapore and Burma. As an Indian woman, I feel my clothes bridge the gap between ‘what we were’ to ‘who we want to be’.
In the pandemic, what kind of challenges did you have to face?
For a young brand like ours, it meant we just had to survive to begin with. We faced several challenges and there was a difficulty to work remotely with our staff and weavers. We intend to take it slow and steady to overcome the current global crisis.
Tell us about your weavers — most of them are women?
At least 90 per cent of our weavers are women. When I started working with Indian and Burmese women weavers, I felt it was the biggest platform for me to learn from them and vice-versa. It’s important to treat your weavers as partners and help them understand how the final product will look like so that we reach a common goal.
I am multi-lingual and fluent in both Bengali and Burmese and have, in turn, provided environmental friendly sustainability practices training directly to weavers such as how to source raw materials, eco-friendly dying, printing and packaging, etc. We work extensively and directly with weavers and skilled craftsmen to produce proprietary fabric combinations with a strong focus on promoting cross-cultural integration, ethical sourcing and labor development.
Any celebrity that you are keen to dress and work with?
I would love to dress Anushka Sharma. By all means, she is my all-time favourite, and I absolutely admire and adore her. Hope to meet her one day.
Finally, what’s your message to the modern woman who attempts to challenge societal norms and make a statement through her fashion?
Indian women have come a long way. Let’s take a moment to think about the previous generations. For many of us, things have changed for the positive. But for many, it has not. Via strong attempts, many of us are trying to change how society perceives women and our capabilities. Fashion plays a pivotal role in how we can change certain perceptions.
Luxury fashion in India predominantly revolves around the wedding industry. But in my opinion, it should have its own identity and exist independently. We want our women to be independent thinkers, our clothes should reflect the same. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking. If we want to challenge societal norms via contemporary fashion, we have to promote women’s achievements in other fields, in our campaigns, besides marriage and weddings.