While her contemporaries were still drawing stick figures, Ragini Ahuja was sketching elaborate figures of women wearing saris. The Delhi-based designer, who burst onto the Indian fashion scene with her first showcase at Lakme Fashion Week Summer-Resort 2013, was always gearing up for such a moment. Her creative genes — a father who worked in the garment business, and a mother who was super handy with design hacks and DIY projects for her children — certainly helped. “My elder sister, who is an engineer, always said that I could never fit into the organised professional sector. ‘Something creative’ was her suggestion. So I mulled over it, and then, after finishing school, I headed to National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi,” says Ahuja, on the sidelines of her label Ikai’s Spring-Summer 2018, which she presented on the second day of Amazon India Fashion Week.
Excerpts from an interview:
Your current collection, Clan, was recently showcased at London Fashion Week.
Clan is inspired by the struggle of the Kayan tribe, which lives in Myanmar. They are being pushed out of their land and this is my way of highlighting their cause. The geometric patterns and the simple designs are something I have imbibed from their culture. There is a lot of use of classic black and white in the form lines, squares, hexagons and other linear shapes. I have used pre-washed chanderi and hand-spun cotton, which after so many washes become super soft and lends itself beautifully to my creations, which are have very clean cut lines and straight anti-fit silhouettes.
Have you always been this politically aware and socially conscious?
Subconsciously, sure. But it is now that I have become more aware — what with the world we are living in — when people are being persecuted for not fitting into one particular box or the other. The same applies to design. If we restrict ourselves and not venture into new spaces and ideas, we will be creating and wearing the same thing.
How has your brand evolved in the sustainable fashion space?
I was first exposed to sustainable fashion during my graduation project at Pratibha Syntex, Indore. They worked with sustainable fabrics and organic materials – but they were the only ones doing this — and only for export. That’s when I realised that one has to be conscious about these things at the design level itself. It’s not the embroidery, the bell sleeves or the off-shoulders that define the prevalence of design but the social scenario. And that’s what I have been striving to do ever since my debut in 2013.
You’ve been exploring business opportunities in international markets such as London and Paris.
We are in talks with Le Bon Marche, a store in Paris, which I think is something special, as it’s such a cool place. I had thought that they wouldn’t like these lightweight fabrics, but, surprisingly, they liked my designs. The same goes for London. Though Ikai is sold at many stores in Qatar, Dubai and other places, London and Paris are special.
What’s next for Ikai?
Churning out a collection for every fashion week every season is not my cup of tea. I like slow fashion – maybe one collection every one or two years. I am right now soaking this all up.