AAPI designers bring traditional design into modern fashion
Tell me about yourself and your brand. How did you get into fashion design and what were your first points of inspiration?
Growing up I loved shopping for fabric on our family trips to India and was fascinated by the process of bespoke clothing making – selecting a fabric and silhouette and handing it off to the tailor, embroiderer etc. I studied fine arts in college and I often incorporated fabrics, hand embroidery and beads into my paintings, which led me to study textile design. Learning how to weave, spin fibers into yarn, dye fabrics and even make homemade natural dyes later served as the basis for all of the custom textile development work I now do for my line. My heritage, the different forms of traditional Indian clothing and the way I saw people at home in bright rich colors and embellishments has always been something that has really inspired me as a designer and as an artist. The obsession with color is something that ties my design work and also visual art together.
What role does your Indian heritage play in your design process and inspiration?
I started Abacaxi because I wanted to work with so many different traditional Indian hand and handwoven textile techniques – many of which are in danger of disappearing -[and bring them] into contemporary fashion and our everyday lives. The variety of embroidery, weaving and intricate beadwork that was possible in India has always fascinated me and is still one of the main inspiration points of my work today. There are so many regional and local heritage processes I want to explore. Even having designed several collections over the years, I feel like I’m just getting started and I’m scratching the surface. The kaleidoscope of possibilities is so rich.
What traditional Indian practices and techniques do you use in making your collections for Abacaxi?
I have designed using handwoven fabrics such as ikat (when the warp or vertical threads are resist dyed) and mashru (a beautiful Gujarat weave where lustrous silk is visible on the front of the fabric while cotton brushes the skin on the inside). ). This season in my Stingray collection, now available for Spring/Summer 2022, I have worked with expert hand weavers in Tamil Nadu, India to create a custom yarn dyed plaid using four different vegetable dyed yarn colors and small rainbow stripes of Lurex. The result turned out brilliant. It is a color block design with a very wide chain without a repeating stripe down the chain. I intentionally designed it with overlays so you can see several different shades of color with just four colors of yarn. I visited the weavers there just last month and they told me it was the most difficult design they have ever had to execute.
Some of the traditional embroideries I have worked with are Shisha (Mirror embroidery), Phulkari (Punjabi silk thread embroidery), Ari embroidery, Eyelet embroidery and Zari. Tie-dye techniques are another great one. I recently launched a new website for Abacaxi and now you can explore each of these techniques, view videos and photos of the processes, meet makers and even shop by textile technique or collection concept.
Another traditional Indian practice that we are now proud to work with is the ancient method of cotton farming, also known as regenerative cotton farming, through a partnership with Oshadi. Our future cotton fabric productions will use this cultured fiber and we are also incorporating more and more natural dyeing processes from India.
How did you learn about these practices and techniques?
I had no formal training in any of the Indian textile techniques, but I found I learned a lot from my mother and other family members. I think the knowledge about textiles was passed on to me. My mother was always very particular about what type of fabric she would wear and when we had traditional outfits made for weddings in India I learned about some of the different types of embellishments. Then, due to my passion and interest in the subject, I did a lot of research myself. I am grateful that I was able to travel not only through parts of India but to various places around the world to now research artisanal textiles.
What does it mean for you to bring these traditional Indian practices and designs to a new audience through your work?
It is very meaningful to me and obviously very meaningful and valuable to the makers – the weavers, artisans, tailors, seamstresses and all the people behind our productions in India. The work has a powerful impact and when you buy one of our pieces you not only get a quality, handmade garment, you get it [you] also support manufacturers who continue an age-old tradition. Every transaction has meaning by adding value to the work.
How do you modernize more traditional practices when incorporating them into Abacaxi collections?
An example is my use of hookah work or mirror work. This is an embroidery technique with small, mostly round, mirrors embedded in the embroidery, traditional from Rajasthan and Gujarat. One often sees shisha in wall hangings or on very typical tunics or kurtas. I made it on a rib knit jersey fabric and I added hand embroidered fringes for a 3D effect. I have a hookah knit shrug set, dresses with a row of mirrors on the front and now a hookah pouch purse. I think seeing this technique on a stretchy knit instead of stiff cotton is a way to modernize it or bring it into more everyday, contemporary clothing.
Another great example is the custom Stingray color block weave I talked about. Yarn-dyed plaids and striped cotton fabrics are very typical of South India – madras plaids are probably the best-known example – but I wanted to create a wide, colour-blocked warp design that is completely different on one end than the other, making this traditional hand-weaving technique more graphic and creative view is taken to another level.
Often in my design process I start with the techniques and fabrics I want to use and the inspiration or concept for the collection comes through and I design the textiles and assemble the palette and sketches. The techniques themselves are often the basis for inspiration.