“Sustainability through indigenous khadi was the soul of my collection.” This simple statement by Ahmedabad-based designer Purvi Doshi succinctly explains her motivation for coming up with Co-existence, a special eco-friendly collection of handspun and handwoven cloth, which was presented in a grand way at the recently concluded New York Fashion Week 2017.
For her maiden show in the U.S., Purvi conceptualised and created her outfits to make fashionistas understand that magic on outfits has to go hand in hand with love and care for other living beings. “This is vital to ensure sustainability of life on Earth. Man is the most superior animal and he has proven this time and again by taking away jungles and water resources from other animals. As they say with great power comes great responsibility, it is time to show responsibility and behave like head of the animal kingdom. It is time to co-exist for the future of humanity.”
On how she implicitly conveyed the message, she says: “As a designer I do not use leather, pearl, silk and wool. There is cruelty involved in accessing wool in many countries , where they make it a fun show, an entertainment but animals are inflicted pain when knives are crudely used on their bodies to obtain wool. Similarly, to get leather jackets such a large number of cattle are slaughtered in the sub continent. Crocodile farming is done in the U.S. where they are bred and killed side by side. Nobody has a right to take a life to get fashionable jacket, belt or outfits. The fact that khadi is good for the skin as well as for the conscience was our message. Its all-year wearability as a fabric was also conveyed.”
The collection was designed bearing the Western ethos in mind but not losing essence of Indian culture. “The garments were all embellished with fine Indian embroideries and delicate cuts to whet the Westerners’ appetite for art and crafts. They were also attracted to the fact that my collection was handmade and natural in all aspects including colours which were organic and plant based.”
Translating vision on fabric
Explaining how the theme was translated onto the fabrics, she says: “We showcased many species of animals and birds like playful panda, beautiful flamingos, towering giraffes, gigantic elephants and graceful birds in this gentle earthy collection.”
On correlation between the theme and indigenous techniques, she says: “This is another step forward to continue on my path of giving a push to intricate arts of India like khat, aari, mirror-work embroideries and other skills that are now on the brink of extinction due to inadequate opportunities for craftsmen to earn a living. These crafts are traditional and passed on from one generation to another. In a way, these arts connect with the basic premise of our collection.”
In order to make the western customer grasp the message that khadi can be worn in outfits comfortable to them, the designer showcased skirts, crop tops and gowns on the ramp. “I showed khadi’s versatility; it can be exceedingly soft as well as coarse. I used all kinds of khadi from Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kolkata. It all boils down on who your weavers are and what kind of designs you want. Western cuts and silhouettes were all contemporary to appeal to the fashion sensitivities of the Americans.”
This way, Purvi also disseminated awareness among the Americans that khadi was skin friendly. “I am the first designer to showcase khadi at the New York Fashion Week,” she claims. “We demonstrated that when Indian arts and crafts are converted into international style of clothing then it appeals to youngsters. They don’t go for sari, kurta, pyjama. So I made clothes which are glamorous, young and international. Americans found my designs sensible, romantic and eye pleasing. Some took selfies with me. I earned lot of respect for introducing Indian art and philosophy. I would describe my fashion as thoughtful and kind.”
Purvi combined traditional techniques with contemporary designs. “We restored heirloom traditions from the heart of our villages and fashioned them into contemporary tales. Reviving the Indian traditional arts and crafts has always been my main focus. Right from the fabric that is hand woven khadi to natural colour dyeing process and to hand embroideries like aari work and mirror work, I have worked with lots of Indian craftsmen in my projects.”
Purvi got permission to do the show at the last minute. “I presented India in a subtle and graceful way and did not go overboard with marketing,” says Purvi.
When she gave demonstration to American models, they had their reservations. “When I was explaining how embroideries are made and khadi is used as fabric quite a few of them got goosebumps. However, their apprehensions disappeared when models wore it as they found my outfits light and fell in love with garments. The feedback I got from Americans was that they were inspired by this kind of thought.”
Finally, was she missing the Indian cuisine? “Not at all I had my Gujarati comfort food like khetla, dhakra and khakhra. I was relaxed and happy eating my staple vegetarian diet,” she says, amidst burst of laughter.