Podcast Ep. 65, RUCHIKA SACHDEVA ON INDIAN FASHION’S NEW GEN & WINNING THE WOOLMARK PRIZE

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EPISODE 65 FEATURES RUCHIKA SACHDEVA

Meet Indian designer Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice Studio, the Delhi-based label that took out the 2017/18 International Woolmark Prize . She trained at the London College of Fashion and interned at Vivienne Westwood, before returning home, where she showed as a “Gen Next Designer” at Lakme Fashion Week in 2010. A year later, she launched Bodice Studio. Her idea? To make thoughtfully designed modern classics with integrity, and a respect for artisanal producers.

Join us as we discuss how to make it in fashion, and build a successful small business. Sustainability, our need for connection and the importance of provenance and craft.

We also explore the rise of emerging Indian fashion talent (and no, it's not all Bollywood) and look at how can design offer solutions to fashion's waste crisis.

A recent British survey found that 25% of women have clothes lurking in their wardrobe that can’t wear because they no longer fit. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months can reduce its environmental impact by 20 to 30%.

Ruchika's collections often feature tie fastenings, and moveable pleats and buttons because she wants these clothes to last for years. She also sees designing classics as a way to mitigate against waste. “If they’re too much, too loud or too trend-based, you’re going to get bored of clothes more easily.”

Bodice Studios

Bodice Studios

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…

The INTERNATIONAL WOOLMARK PRIZE is launched in 1953. The following year, 1954, the winners went on to be very famous indeed. An 18-year-old Yves Saint Laurent scooped the prize in the dress category, while Karl Lagerfeld, 21, won for his coat. The judges included Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Last year prize judges included Livia Firth, Liya Kebede, Philip Lim and Eva Galambos of Sydney fashion mecca, Parlour X. Listen to the podcast, Episode 26, with Eva here.

The work of the 2017/18 Woolmark Prize finalists.

The work of the 2017/18 Woolmark Prize finalists.

RUCHIKA’S WINNING COLLECTION. Via Fashion Unfiltered: ‘It took 8 months to create the winning range comprising 6 looks, with 70 % of the weaving produced in small towns and villages in India. She worked closely with weavers from Kullu, a high-altitude Himalayan resort town, to highlight Australian Merino wool. “They [weavers] belong to a cluster that still practices age-old techniques of hand weaving. It is highly skilled and hence painstakingly time consuming,” she said. “They are bored of doing the same brand of traditional weaves, so when I approached them with intensive technique ideas like adding extra weft to the yarn in the warp and weft to make a pattern, they were very happy. They have been my collaborators in this journey.”’

“I started with fashion week in India, and I just realised how hectic it gets, and then I stopped doing shows. Now, I’m trying to see how can I express what I’m trying to do in alternative ways, which also gives me happiness - which is also about sustainable living. If I’m not taking care of myself, how can I take care of the planet?” - Ruchika Sachdeva

Read Sarah Mower’s VOGUE article here.

CREATIVE FAMILIES. Ruchika says her mother, who studied Indian classical music, was “always doing or making something”. The designer links craft, fashion, art, colour and cooking. They’re all creative expressions, she says. Oh, it probably helps that her father, who paints as a hobby, works professionally as a pigment maker. For Ruchika, fashion was a logical progression.

INDEPENDENT WOMEN. Ruchika’s mother instilled in her the need to do create her own success and apply drive and purpose to her career plans. We love inspiring mammas.

INDIAN CRAFT TRADITION. “Upcyling and not wasting was something that was so rooted in the past,” says Ruchika, “there is emotional value in something someone has made with their own hands.” She tells us the story of how the women in her family, like many others, would make clothes and blankets for a new baby by upcycling their old saris - this act threaded love into the gift with every stitch. Ah.

LONDON COLLEGE OF FASHION They say: We believe in using the subject of fashion, together with its industrial importance, to shape lives and drive economic and social transformation. Our College is a total fashion ecology where we examine the past in order to build a sustainable future and improve the way we live. We want our students to have inventive, assertive ideas that challenge social and political agendas. Through teaching, research and knowledge exchange we give our students the skills, opportunities and - above all - the freedom, to put those ideas into practice.” Interested? Listen to our Episode with Dilys Williams, who runs the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF. For Ruchika, enrolling there was also about immersing herself in the fashion energy of the city for the first time. “It’s not about fitting in, but it’s more about expression,” she says.

BOHO CHIC is often the default point for artisanal handwork - whereby the wearer can read from a garment’s aesthetic how it has been made. A garments might play up the handwork aspect via purposeful imperfection, for example. Or by “ethnic” styling - you know the score: 1960s hippie vibes, Talitha Gerry on the roof in Marrakesh, traditional embroideries. That’s fine, says Ruchika, but it isn’t for her. “I always wanted to make something that doesn’t exist, because I don’t believe in adding to something that is already there. But what about the women who want to wear modern, clean-lined things? If I can open those women up to artisanal craft then I am adding something [meaningful].”

PLEATS. Heat-setting works best with synthetic fabrics - basically the plastic melts the pleat into shape. “Most natural fabrics such as wool or silk will pleat perfectly well, but care has to be taken in cleaning and wearing. Cotton and Linen will pleat but tends to crease easily. 100% polyester fabrics are best for pleating and can normally be washed at a low temperature and still hold their shape.” Via Ciment Pleating. Ruchika solved the permanence problem by pleating her woollen pieces with heat, then securing with a top stitched, contrasting binding. Tricky work!

Bodice pleated skirt from  Parlour X.

Bodice pleated skirt from Parlour X.

Bodice Studio’s mission statement: “EXPLORES TRANSITIONAL WARDROBE STAPLES THROUGH THE PURSUIT OF INNOVATION ALONGSIDE THE USE OF INDIA’S INDIGENOUS TEXTILES; MODERN TAILORING THAT INCLUDES A RESPECT FOR THE PROVENANCE OF CRAFT, AN AWARENESS OF INDIVIDUAL PURPOSE AND A RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS FAIR BUSINESS PRACTICES.”

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HANDLOOM FABRIC is a venerable tradition in India. For a fascinating breakdown of some of the different handloom and hand embroidery traditions by region, read this. Australian designers Pam Easton and Lydia Pearson talk about these fabrics in their recent podcast interview - listen here. Want more? Try Episode 19 with Lisa Hall all about Indian fashion crafts.

RECYCLING WOOL in India. “Known as the “cast-off capital”, Panipat is home to 150-200 such mills, which take in discarded clothes from Western countries and turn them into recycled cloth. The industry employs around 20,000 people and brings in annual revenues of $62m, according to Pawan Garg of All India Woollen and Shoddy Mills Association, a trade body (“shoddy” was originally a non-pejorative word for reclaimed fibre).” Panipat is now in decline because of the cheapness of virgin synthetics. Read the full article in The Economist here.

Ruchika at work. Photographed for Jones magazine.

Ruchika at work. Photographed for Jones magazine.

PLASTIC BUTTONS. Why so common? They’re cheap. But there are alternatives. Ruchika partnered with an artisan who makes toys from coconut shells in South India, in order to use his shell waste to make buttons. To nix the rustic look, she had them enamelled.

BOLLYWOOD STYLE AND THE INDIAN WEDDING MARKET. The star power of Bollywood is a massive factor in the growth of the Indian fashion industry. “Unlike the global trend where celebrities mostly turn up as front-row guests of the designer, and where only top models play showstopper, things work differently in Bollywood-obsessed India,” writes Aekta Kapoor in Open Magazine. “Tinseltowners are our supermodels. They pose in fashion advertisements and play social media fashion icons and the face of the Indian fashion industry— besides acting in films, of course. Fashion creators need the wide reach and appeal of Bollywood films and stars to draw attention, media coverage and business. Stars need designers to help them look trendy and updated when they attend events. It’s a marriage made in designer heaven.” Meanwhile actual marriage is a giant part of the fashion biz too. According to The Hindu , the Indian wedding market is growing by 20 % per year and in 2017 was worth about USD $50 billion.

Sonam Kapoor at her 2018 siexwedding to Anand Ahuja

Sonam Kapoor at her 2018 siexwedding to Anand Ahuja

BUT contemporary Indian fashion is about much more than that, says Ruchika. “Bollywood took to the flashy side of it, but think abut our history: think about GandHi, think about khadi, it’s super earthy and beautiful and natural…[Or] Kalamkari, the hand-painting done on textiles; that was traditionally done on saris using natural dyes. I think there is so much more in Indian fashion to be explored, and there is a comeback to the traditional craft…the rich heritage in our own backyard.”

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Read about the history of Gandhi and khadi cloth here.

A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING THE WARDROBE CRISIS CONVERSATION. WE'LL HAVE A NEW EPISODE FOR YOU EVERY WEEK. CAN YOU HELP US SPREAD THE WORD? WE'D LOVE YOU TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS & LEAVE A REVIEW IN iTUNES.

Until next time,

Clare x