— Jasmeen Dugal
Gayatri Khanna's export business Milaaya Embroideries works with global luxury labels Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Armani, Escada, Anna Sui. This season, she launched her pret label 'Gaya' at the phygital edition of Lotus Makeup India Fashion Week. In conversation with the designer.
You have a design aesthetic steeped in hand craft. How do you balance retail appeal with a two-pronged vision to innovate design and sustain indigenous textile craft?
'Gaya' is designed in Europe, handcrafted in India and sold worldwide. It is a global brand in the true sense of the word! My first company, Milaaya Embroideries, which manufactures and designs embellished products for luxury brands across Europe, UK and the USA since twenty years, was established to amalgamate the traditional arts and crafts of India in the form of embroidery — with the International designs of these brands. During the pandemic, there was a slowdown in the export business and Gaya was conceived to bring together Milaaya's ethically sourced resources and sustainable supply-chain with their crafts knowledge and savoir-faire. We launched with loungewear keeping in mind work from home, work-cation or an evening with friends or family. We have made optimal use of our resources and sustainable supply chain to create a stylish, wearable home-grown collection that supports the livelihood of hundreds of 'karigars.'
Do you feel an intelligent slowdown is the way out for designers, post- pandemic?
Yes, slow fashion is the way forward. Designers have to be mindful in the way they use their resources, thoughtful in their designs and sustainable in their production process. Slow fashion has a conscience. It involves creating garments for longevity and encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints and almost zero waste. This is the reason why slow fashion brands have a sustainable and transparent supply chain, like we do at Gaya. The designs are timeless with an element of detail or embellishment, or a print that makes it unique and stylish. The higher price you pay for a garment that is created to last longer will be worth it when the fast fashion t-shirt that cost as much as your coffee will be done and dusted in a couple of wears. Fashion designers, influencers and celebrities can be catalysts in this movement. The post-pandemic customer is smarter today. They have changed the way money is spent and will consider shopping with brands they relate to and whose values are in line with theirs. Every purchase will have a deeper value attached to it and will have a purpose. Keeping this in mind, designers will also have to revisit their policies and value systems.
Do you feel a digital edition should replace catwalk shows this season or evolve to an industry transition towards phy- digital editions considering its global reach and potential to incorporate digital runways with e-commerce?
In these unprecedented times where everything is slowly going digital, I feel the industry should gradually transition towards phy-digital editions considering its global reach — the world is your runway then! The costs are minimised and lesser resources are used — isn't that the need of the hour? A buyer from the US can view a show taking place in India without having to fly down to attend. With the advancement in technology, and people getting used to shopping online, details of the garments can be captured and presented to buyers efficiently on online platforms. Moreover, phy-digital editions give creative freedom to the designers to present and showcase their collection in a way that is restricted at physical shows.
Do share how you explored the potential that the online edition of India Fashion Week offers.
Due to the pandemic, people are getting used to a virtual lifestyle and now more than ever we need to exploit the benefits of e-commerce and digitisation. We created a beautiful video presenting our garments like a story, one that everyone easily relates to and feels a part of. It is necessary to engage buyers and consumers online where the attention span is small and uncontrolled. We created look-books with all the information a buyer could need and an immersive website that is engaging and easy to navigate. So, a digital fashion week gave us an opportunity to have a wider audience in any part of the world, who could access our collection through digital platforms. Social media played a important role in allowing us to express our brand values, aesthetics and sensibilities. That said, when showcasing a collection for an online audience, your competition is that much bigger as the audience has easy access to brands all over the world. To engage them, hold their attention and build brand loyalty, you need to be transparent and make them a part of your story and your journey. At Gaya, we have a transparent supply chain and our customers know exactly where their products are coming from.
What would be your advice to those who want to shop responsibly or build an ethical wardrobe?
I am an advocate of slow fashion and sustainable manufacturing processes. Fast Fashion is a vicious business model where several collections are brought to the market as quickly as possible, driven by what's in trend on the runways. These collections are produced in low quality and at a low price to shift the items as quickly as possible until the next trends arrive — at the cost of the environment and the workers. As the trends change fast and most of the productions land up in land-fills, the production process of fast fashion itself is harmful to the environment. And, workers are exploited, over-worked, under-paid and made to work in shoddy sweatshops to control prices. Slow fashion, on the other hand, has a conscience. It involves creating garments for quality and longevity and it encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints and almost zero waste. Fast fashion was also fuelled by the excessive use of social media, the need to post a new picture every day wearing a new outfit and the constant need for validation through comments and likes. Now, the same social media can be used to influence positively, encourage the use of slow fashion products, and creating awareness of its positives. Repeating garments is no longer looked down on but is considered a wiser choice. I wear dresses that are made in our sustainable and compliant factory years ago but still feel as good as new because of their quality and designs. As consumers and responsible citizens, we need to take every step possible to minimize carbon footsteps and protect our environment. A classic design made with the utmost care and manufactured sustainably in a vertically integrated factory, and one which can be dressed down or dressed up as the occasion demands, is an investment. For instance, a floral print dress can be worn with a denim jacket for day and accessorised with an exquisite necklace for the evening. And a classic white shirt worn with pants for day can be transformed into evening wear when paired with a beaded skirt!