Natural by nature

design-wise

Floral Kalamkari creations by Divya Sheth (below).

She lives by a certain motto: ‘live as close to nature and wear as natural as possible’. Kolkata-based designer Divya Sheth is one of the few designers who practise using only natural fabric, natural dyes, zero-waste policy, and slow fashion. A trained photographer, this stylist and makeup artist-fashion designer was self-taught and later hired professionals to tutor her. And the reason she opted for natural dyes? An allergic reaction and skin condition that forced her to look at natural dyes! Excerpts from an interview...

Why Kalamkari?

In my quest for textile reinvention and revival, I came across Kalamkari. In today’s mindless and micro-cyclic fashion scenario, it’s mindful to choose to be slow. I work out of Kolkata, but I am an avid traveller. Ajrakh and Ikat are distant arts, but I indulge in them closely. My love for antiques, art, textiles, natural dyes, and a streak to develop something archival and
artisanal drew me towards Kalamkari.

Young customers prefer to buy something that’ll last. The Kalamkari which uses natural (vegetable/flower) dyes starts fading after every wash.

As there’s a discrepancy in colours, no two garments would ever be the same. This must be considered an advantage as each piece is a unique hand-printed design. I work with celebrated artisans, and they make sure the colours age but not fade. It’s a slow process, but beautiful. Clients are advised to either wash our products with reetha, a natural shampoo, or do the organic dry-cleaning. This helps the clients reap the health benefits of natural dyes. We specialise in silhouettes, which are form-pleasing and loved by the youth.

There is a lot of talk of sustainable clothing. Is the trend catching up?

Being a thinker, health aficionado and passionate about ‘back to roots’, artisanal arts and natural dyes are  obvious choices. Global warming, increasing pollution, diseases and facts that prove that the textile industry is one of the biggest pollutants, force a responsible citizen of the planet to think of a solution. According to me, this is one. My personal belief reiterates my passion for using natural dyes, natural fabric, and organic living. Sustainability is not merely a trend but a way of living. Therefore, with the market becoming more conscious of the benefits of avoiding chemicals, soon the consumers will understand and value sustainable clothing. It is the way to be — the present and the future.

Commercially, how profitable is sustainable fashion? Does zero-waste ‘mantra’, which saves on the usage of fabric, easy on your clients’ pockets?

Sustainable fashion is doing really well. With the youth becoming more nature-conscious, there’s a rising demand as compared to other trends. The fight against ‘fast fashion’ must continue. There has been a lot of noise from store owners. We are grateful that the press keeps the needed interest alive. Of course, ‘zero waste’ helps. It does control the production from ideation to the actual in a way that minimises waste. It entails pattern-making, stitching, and tassels saving the handwoven, hand-painted works of art. Therefore, controlling the price at all levels.

What is ‘zero waste’, your strength?

‘Zero waste’ uses patterns which utilise maximum textile without wasting ‘off-cuts’ and ‘off-rolls’, using leftovers creatively for tassels or packaging. Also, pattern-making considers the minimum-waste principle. We only use eco-friendly packaging — biodegradable packaging with jute, cotton etc; plastic is a no-no. Besides, the segment interested in natural, artisanal and sustainable is also increasing.

How aware is our youth about fashion, fabric, and style?  

There’s a niche of well-read and conscious individuals who believe in sustainability. They might be inspired and influenced by the celebs but definitely have an understanding of what suits them. There are all sorts of people, those who wear what they like, and those who follow celebrities are substantial, too.

What is unique about a Divya Sheth attire?  

Earthy colours and botanical floral are prominent in our collection.

You studied fashion photography and make-up-styling. What got you interested in designing clothes?

I am a trained photographer, stylist, and makeup artist.

Before starting my label, I taught make-up and designing,

naturally in Kolkata, where I got married, did not give me much chance to work in the styling industry. Born and brought up in Delhi, and being a student of Lady Irwin College, the love for fashion helped me be the president of Fashion Society in college. I undertook intercollegiate fashion shows.

A photography course at NIFT, Delhi, in collaboration with Australian college ICPP, with many hours in library helped me love my composition and balance; make-up courses with two leading ladies, Samantha Kochar and Vidya Tikari, did help in conceptualising the look, a big part of fashion. A professional styling course at Central Saint Martin’s, London was enriching and vital for the kind of work I do. All this gave me the confidence to start something, for which I had always received oodles of compliments — designing! The whole journey was so intriguing and engrossing that the brand ‘Divya Sheth’ was conceived as the muse and end-user was me and myself for almost a decade! The brand shaped itself with an entry to Lakme Gen Next in 2014.

You specialise in Western silhouettes. When will we see ethnic designs from you?   

Nijmandir and Rada are my recent collections and very Indian. I use art and style as an outlet to expose the many facets of my personality, creating garments that are not only therapeutic in nature, but also symbolise the contemporary female. The objective is to carry on a tradition that has fascinated the world for generations.

How are we placed in the international scene on fashion?

Our brand’s aspiration is to bring forth old arts like ajrakh and hand-painted Kalamkari via collaborations with master craftsmen and artists. If given the opportunity, we (Indian designers) must not only compete but excel in the international market, as India’s rich heritage and traditions must be offered to the world. With the kind of talent Indian craftsmen and artists possess, it’s our duty to showcase the best in Indian crafts and textiles.

When will you start designing for men?     

Soon. Men’s line is in the pipeline.

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