My weavers are my lifeline, says fashion designer Vaishali Shadangule
In a candid chat, designer Vaishali Shadangule discusses sustainability as she gives us details about her collection ‘Fil Rouge’ that she will showcase at FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week today
Published: 24th March 2022 07:29 AM | Last Updated: 25th March 2022 10:43 AM | A+A A-
Fashion weeks—irrespective of which part of the world you belong to—usually start with a frenetic pace. In fact, this is very much the order of the day until the finale. Amid attending shows at the FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week on Wednesday, I had been trying to connect with Vaishali Shadangule, who will be showcasing her collection ‘Fil Rouge’ here today. The late responses followed by apologies gave me a sense of how busy Vaishali really has been all day. Finally, a quick chat with the designer is all it takes to discern the excitement in her on account of showcasing her collection at the physical show in India. “It is a different kind of excitement when you showcase at fashion week here [in India],” shares Shadangule. “Everyone will be together after two years, which is amazing because we [Indians] still want to feel the warmth and interaction.”
LIVING THE DREAM
It has only been a week after her return to India from Milan—Vaishali is the first female Indian designer to be part of Milan Fashion Week—where she showcased her first prêt collection ‘Srauta’. There is no doubt that it is a moment of pride for the fraternity. In fact, she’s been greeted by noises of appreciation for her showcase in Milan, as well as at Paris Haute Couture Week last year. When I ask her about showcasing her collection abroad amid a pandemic, she recounts, “It was challenging but that is another feeling: when the whole world was shut down, I managed Paris Haute Couture Week and Milan Fashion Week. So, that was amazing. And the feel-good factor was that I was the first female Indian designer showcasing in Milan and Paris.” Those aware of the collections she has staged previously will be quick to recognise her passion for Indian weaves. It was no different in Paris and Milan. Vaishali adds, “The dream was to always showcase Indian weaves on a global platform, which is happening.”
Vaishali is known to innovate extensively keeping in mind her understanding of nature, something that pervades in her body of work. I ask her whether ‘Fil Rouge’ will draw inspiration from a similar space? “I always connect things with Indian roots, nature, and the soul. ‘Fil Rouge’ means (common) invisible thread. When you’re working with textile, there is always an invisible thread that connects [us] in different ways—the yarn connects with the fabric; fabric connects with design; and through my design, I connect with the viewers,” she mentions.
The designer provides context to explain this further; she recalls how a simple observation of a group of Ladakhi women who were weaving while waiting at a bus stop in their town sparked the idea of working with them to develop ‘Srauta’. Vaishali says, “I never worked with Pashmina before this, thinking that I will hurt animals; and I never want to hurt nature. But when I went to Ladakh and saw the process of how they make yarn by only [carefully] shearing the goat [to collect the fibre], I started working with Pashmina. I saw these women at the bus stop; they break stones all day and make yarn in their free time. It was amazing to see the wonderful skill they have. I thought, why don’t they do this beautiful thing all day!? Why do they have to break stones!? This is how I decided to work with Pashmina. It is amazing how you connect yourself with nature and other things. This is the invisible thread for me. The whole thing is also about connecting Paris, Milan, and India; which is why I thought India is the best place to talk about this invisible thread [through ‘Fil Rouge’].”
CRAFT AND CREATIVITY
Curious about the details, I decided to focus on the collection she’s showcasing today. Of course, the designs will entail cording, which Vaishali has adopted as her signature technique. “Through my signature style of cording, I try to follow the flow of the fabric. The cord connects so many designs, and I am able to give shape to Indian weaves because of this technique. Otherwise, people say Indian weaves are not glamorous, can’t be worn to a party, or need maintenance. For me, cording is like breath[ing]. Without cording, I don’t think my shape can stay.”
Talking about always championing zero-waste in ‘Fil Rouge’, she mentions, “I have tried to use left-over fabric differently, and create something [new texture] very different. The silhouettes will be a mix of Western and Indian; but also unconventional ones. [The focus] will be on textile, less on embroidery. Whatever I try, I can’t fill the fabric with embroidery. I think, in India, we are so rich in textile, and I don’t want to hide that part.”
I ask her about the textiles and crafts that she will showcase today; will we be witnessing something extremely different from the oft-seen Vaishali S creations? While talking about it, she goes ahead to discuss sustainability and how everything comes down to transparency to create trust between the designer and the consumer. “There’s a little bit of Pashmina that I’ve added [to the collection]; but it was more to showcase transparency that I have brought in by launching blockchain technology with this [through QR codes]. Everyone is talking about being sustainable and everyone wants to be so. I think the way to be transparent is to show how you are following sustainability. Putting everything on blockchain was a step forward for me; the customer gets to know how I am working with my weavers, where the yarn comes from, where we make the garments, etc. All Vaishali S pieces will be on blockchain. I think, step-by-step transparency is the way forward.,” she mentions.
There are other textiles too, such as Merino Wool woven in Maheshwar, Chanderi, and another textile from Karnataka. “I want to show everyone how we can be transparent, how we can respect weavers by giving them respect and money.” Adding that it is an ongoing project for her, Vaishali says, “One by one, I want to cover [textiles from] the states.”
Most of us associate Vaishali’s creations with off-whites that she uses frequently. Will she steer away from this colour and experiment with hues like she’s done in her recent international displays? “Yes, this time I will be showing more colours. During the pandemic, everyone was sitting at home, few people were depressed; it was black for me [then]. In Milan, I started my show with black, and then [went on to showcase] beautiful colours. The message was: whatever is the condition, you decide what you want to be—happy or productive. It is the same now: lots of colours to showcase happiness and celebration. But, of course, off-white is my favourite, so you will see a lot of it for sure.”
BUT FIRST, SUSTAINABILITY
In a post-pandemic world, a sustainable approach can no longer be an after-thought in fashion. Vaishali agrees. In fact, sustainability has always been a key highlight in her collections. I ask her to give more insight into how she has restructured her brand to keep this aspect at the centre of all things.
The designer shares. “In India, sustainability has been a way of life and it is in-built in lifestyle, food, fabric. It is not always about using natural fibre or natural dyes. It is equally important to respect the weavers you work with. If I don’t do that, they will leave this [industry]. My weavers are my lifeline. We depend on each other. My goal is to give them respect, give them design language. I think this is the most important part when talking about sustainability. The other things, such as not wasting [resources] and respecting nature, are in-built. I always say: hamare ghar mein aadha aangan aur aadha ghar hota tha [our home was half a courtyard and half a home]. I have that kind of learning; ki aapko nature ko bhi utna jagah dena hai jitna aap le rahe ho [you have to give nature as much space as you occupy]. If you treat nature like that, automatically you will be fine. And that, I don’t have to do consciously. The conscious part is how I can be more transparent.”
THE NEXT STEP
Moving to her plans for the future, I curiously probe if a full-fledged home line is something Vaishali is considering, given that is a usual route most designers take after trying their hand at creating accessories. “I have done a few international and domestic projects [in the home space]. In fact, I will be displaying a few products at the Embassy of Italy [in Delhi today] with other Italian brands. There are lamps that I have made using left-over fabrics, along with panels and home décor.”
I decide to end with a question I know I can comfortably ask her now. The designer has seen her share of hardships, from the time she started out as a young girl in Vidisha to her journey to Bhopal and finally, Mumbai. She shares, “I always say, I have lived so many lives in these years. I was a very different person when I was in Vidisha, I was very different when I was in Bhopal as well because I learnt so much. And, of course, the whole fashion industry journey: positive, negative, whatever be it, I am just following the flow.” She goes on to stress on the positives of her journey despite the struggle, “I think when I started my brand about 20 years ago; there’s been a lot of struggle, energy, and so many things when you start from nothing. Of course, you have to go through so much, which is fine. But, you evolve. You become a better person; stronger… and many good things, when you face challenges in life. So, this is a good feeling. I have seen bad things in the industry that were tough to deal with. Still, I am standing here, doing the things I decided 20 years ago, and that really feels nice.”