KOCHI: At the cusp of four long years spent at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Chennai, Caroline Joseph acknowledged that being a fashion designer didn’t quite fit into the ideals of an imperishable world. She had to step outside, to a different mental paradigm — one spurred by the realisation that the fashion industry is the second largest pollutant in the world, after oil.
Fashion, for Caroline, was not just about sustainability, it was about mindful consumption. Also intrigued by the art of storytelling through fashion, she moved to Auroville in Pondicherry where she spent two years working as a stylist for a slow fashion and conscious brand.
Years later, Caroline has developed a repertoire with some of the finest names in fashion leading the sustainable wave, including Swara — Voice of Women, an organisation which works with women of Durgapur, Studio Malai, Salt Studio, Save the Loom and Tilfi Banaras, to name a few.
Tilfi Banaras painted Kerala royalty disparately in a collection titled ‘Thamburatti’, Swara weaved a narrative about looking past ‘pretty’ faces and brought together women of different ages. Caroline’s signature palette — moody and earthy with a dash of greens spell mindfulness and sustainability.
“A year ago, when I came back to Kochi to freelance and create an identity for myself, I figured that the term ‘stylist’ was mostly restricted to someone solely involved in dressing up models. In my opinion, the era of creating beautiful pictures and great outfits just for social media is long gone. Pictures hold stories and the ones that have a voice create a powerful wave.
Therefore, I try to create intimate narratives with a mix of elements. My campaigns have always centred on stories, eventually which end up becoming the face of a brand. For example, in Thamburatti, I made up a tale of two sisters — Parvathy and Lakshmi, in the backdrop of the Kerala landscape, their spirits louder than other showcases of royalty in palaces,” the 24-year-old explains.
Find her work on Instagram @_its_me_caroline.
Unlearning fashion education
For generations, women in Caroline’s house have been adept at sewing clothes. Needless to say, Caroline picked up the craft at an early age. “But when I delved into fashion in-depth, I learnt the consequences of the business. Once you realise that it contributes so much to pollution, you can’t unsee it. Additionally, fashion has exploited labour. After being heavily invested in the industry for 20 years, I had to find a distinct reconnect,” elaborates Caroline. While fashion school taught her to find references and work around it, Caroline feels the same loses authenticity. “I figure out the concept and then examine the location and logistics, fix your focal point and frame,” says Caroline, who recently turned set designer for the short film ‘Soldier in the Trench’ starring Prayaga Martin.
Caroline’s photo essay ‘Isolation creations’, incorporating vegetables as subjects, went viral during the lockdown. “I returned to Kochi with a plan in mind, to revamp my strategy, but the pandemic changed perspectives. During the lockdown, I experimented with photography, shooting the most mundane things around the house. Later, I realised that even a vegetable or a glass of milk has much significance -- these were captured in diffused, natural light, with a warm colour palette,”