Hailing from Hyderabad, Shravan Kummar is revitalising the global fashion industry with inputs from India. Trade in Indian textiles dominated the global sea routes from time immemorial till it got swept away by the rising wave of chemical dyes and synthetic fibres. Today the world is realising the organic nature of Indian textiles, and it is making a steady comeback in international fashion shows, largely due to Shravan Kummar’s collections. Shravan Kummar- the designer rests on his laurels lightly. He feels humbled by the nameless weaver who has carried on the legacy despite all odds!
Disarmingly he confesses that “Fashion is my religion.” He draws his inspiration from the sheer volume and beauty of ethnic Indian designs. Like a high preacher, he has been spreading the beauty of Indian handlooms relentlessly,wooing the global fashionistas with the aesthetics of Indian textile. The fashion weeks at New York, Dubai, Vancouver, and London have been spellbound by his collections. A unique thing about his international collections has been his attention to detail. From Ikkat Bandgalas to jackets with subtle motifs of Kalamkar,i Kummar’s men’s wear collections are a rage. His Mata ni Pachedi inspired collection has awakened the conscience of the global fashion industry. Fashion can be responsible, ethical, sustainable, and more, all at the same time!
What has been the reason behind the success of his collections? It is his fidelity to the textile tradition to which he owes everything , a calling for which he gave up his training to be a doctor, a rootedness to traditions that are centuries old; traditions that claim descent from Gods and sacred spaces. The global audience see the sublime in the motifs of Kalamkari or a certain meditative quietude in the khadi woven on a loom.
His design sensibility is constantly evolving. Kummar is a craftsman who belongs to an emerging generation of research driven designers. Best known for the revival and reinvention of eco-friendly fabrics as well as unusual creations from unconventional fabrics. He is also passionate about advancing the arts and sciences of fashion design, lecturing at various premier design institutes throughout India. It was this approach to reinvent traditions of Indian Handlooms that got him noticed by Cornell University. He graduated from London School of Fashion Designing with a specialization in colour psychology and feels blessed to be able to “weave magic through fabric.” Kummar was the first and youngest fashion designer to emerge from the handloom capital of the country – Hyderabad.
He is best known for his saree collections. Royalties from Gayatri Devi to others have opened their trunks to him so that he can research and revive the lost weave. His absolute favourite is the timeless Benares weave, but, “If I am asked what my favourite kind of sari is, I would say Narayanpet. Do you want to know why? Because they are woven by some of the poorest weavers.”
He uses fashion as a tool to help weavers and craftsmen. He conducts training workshops on weaving and embroidery, promotes micro-credit in fight against poverty and holds the annual event - An Ode to Weaves and Weavers, he wants the Indian weaver to live a life of pride and dignity.
Honouring the weavers at “Ode to weaves and Weavers”
CSP thought it a fitting occasion to speak to him about India’s contribution to Global Men’s fashion, his research into fabric that attracted Cornell , ethics of fashion and his latest success at First international Eco fashion week where his Mata Ne Pachedi inspired collection made the fashion world sit up to the possibility that fashion can be serious and rooted.
We look at the Western world as a trendsetter and the rest of the world as a follower. However, not many of us know that many trends that have taken the fashion world by storm have originated in India- Jodhpurs, Bandgala, Bandi as T shirt. What in your experience has been India’s offering to men’s fashion at the global level?
The evolution of men’s fashion started in the early 19th century both in India and globally. There was a cross cultural exchange at that time. The textiles of India have been a topic of interest in the international fashion industry. The rich culture and heritage of India has awed the global market with its vibrant colors, surface ornamentation and weaving skills. The structuring of the garment of the western is now more comfortable rather than fitted which is inspired by the draped garments in the ancient history of India. Textiles playing the main part such as home-grown silks, cotton, French brocades are all woven in India. Well-known faces of the fashion industry such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, Gianne Versace, John Galliano, and Alexander Mc Queen are now acknowledging India’s pronounced influence on the global world of fashion. With diverse customs and cultures, currently 5 out 10 trends are curated from the Indian history by many well know fashion icons.
Indian silhouettes that inspire western cuts
Coming to the manufacturing hubs, it is not necessary to mention that how many of the global brands are looking forward to having their export houses in India in coming years. The sheer amount of diversity and influences that designers can draw from every region is immense, and no other country than India can come close to it.
Most of the designers find it easy to break into Women's fashion internationally how challenging was it for you to mark your presence in the men's world of fashion?
Men’s fashion is a market with a lot of room to explore in limited restrictions. This an incredibly challenging market as one must create something different every time and yet stick to the construction details. Three things that one must keep in mind are the pace of trends, functional aspects, and the wear ability of the garment. But in corporate and social sector, men and women fashion is no different. It is just that men’s fashion has more structured garments than women’s fashion.
How do you cater to different sets of audience, Indian and western? What are the specific things that you keep in mind while designing for the global range?
There is a big difference which cannot be ignored. Indian men incline more towards cultural, history, art, and evolution whereas western men always want their garments to be structured and coordinated. Even if we take the actors at the Hollywood red carpet, you can see how settled and suited up they are, unlike Indian men who love to experiment. The other major difference comes at sizes as one is a rice eater and the other is bread eater hence fittings differ.
When designing the garments for global range, the elements are chosen in such a way that it remains CLASSIC rather than just a fad. I remain true to my ethics and values, but I do tweak a bit according to the current global market trends! It’s not just about stitching pieces together but more of giving a soul to the product. So that the products have a meaning when passed on to future generation.
What is the design sensibility that is integral to your designing irrespective of the market? What is the eternal element that defines a Shravan Kummar creation?
HANDLOOMED fabric is and has always been an integral part of the label irrespective of market situation or sales. The label always keeps up with the pace and pierce of the fashion trends. Examples of these for men's wear are jackets, shirts, trousers.
The design elements in my collections are the handloom textiles and the placement of the woven motifs. If you clearly observe an outfit made from motif woven fabric, the motifs are placed so carefully while stitching that no where they end abruptly. It never misses the rhythm in the fabric!
Pic Courtesy Smantha Kirsch
The most important is that I believe that one will identify a design as Shravan Kummar rather than Shravan Kummar in design.
The international collections centre around a sustainable factor with some gallant elements. The concept of designing revolves around promoting the Indian crafts in the international market, akin to placing old wine in a new bottle!
You are a craftsman who belongs to an emerging generation of research driven designers. You have some unusual creations from unconventional fabrics under your label. What is your fascination with Fiber Science and how does it help fashion industry?
Fiber Science in fashion is a study that covers the art, the physical sciences, the business and management, the history and anthropology of fashion and fabrics. It helps to create market apparel products that propose unique aesthetic, enhanced functionalities and comfort, connect with the digital world, help improve the well-being of people in need, manufacture sustainable and functional textiles that can fight infectious diseases, and understand the role fashion plays in our lives, among many other fascinating topics!
You are internationally recognised for the use of sustainable, organically dyed, and handloom-woven natural fiber fabrics. (The Fiber Science and Apparel Design department of Cornell University hosted designer Shravan Kummar Ramaswamy for both a fashion show featuring hand-made textiles and a lecture on social responsibility in design and apparel on May 2018). Can you tell us more about that.
I am really humbled by the support I have received from government and international bodies. It is only because of them that I can showcase our habitat on international platforms. Fibre science in Indian fabric is nothing but the study of the fibres in terms of their effect towards the well-being of man and nature. It is this intimate connection that Indian craftsmen have with the elements that guide us to embrace sustainable practices.
Being the only Indian as “The Nixon Distinguished Speaker" for the 2017-2018 academic year was a very enlightening experience. It was a great honour to learn and share knowledge about the international perspective on rich Indian heritage in fibre science with students and faculty. I was requested for a fashion show featuring handmade textiles and a lecture on social responsibility in terms of design and apparel. The lecture revolved around the use of sustainable, organically dyed, and handwoven natural fibres followed by the garments made of the same on the ramp. I opened the show by speaking about the importance of giving back to the weaving and craft communities and how to make the designs sustainable and socially responsible. Following it, the first line of 7 outfits, 6 women’s wear, and 1 men’s wear made from undyed Khadi was showcased Later there was a show flaunting the pride of Telangana craft “Gollabhama Weave”.
A total number of 8 pieces are still displayed in prestigious Cornell university library. Link to the show’s video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZcRSC-85H4
Do designers have a responsibility towards nurturing the rich legacy in terms of weaves, dyes, patterns, and crafts they have inherited?
Rich is something that has a story and a history which should be cherished so definitely. It is every designer’s responsibility to nurture the rich legacy and bestow it upon posterity. The present scenario is all about technology, mass production and fast fashion. The handcrafted skill is slowly losing relevance and is facing a definite extinction. So, it is the responsibility of the designers to nurture the rich legacy as the stories are quintessential for fashion evolution.
Currently the on-going trend is that the international brands are sourcing Indian fabrics such as Ikat, Kalamkari and are creating western garments by selling them as one of a kind which are highly priced whereas the Indian market is ignoring its own heritage and are behind their fashion ideology. Designers should come forward and honour rich heritage in their creations.
What is the ethical responsibility of the client? How does he exercise his choice? Does he buy according to trends or a piece which benefits a weaver? What is the role of designers in creating an awareness about crafts?
The studio has always sold outfits which are crafted out of handlooms. Clients know exactly what they are getting when they buy a Shravan Kummar garment. We do educate about them about different types of weaves and their significance so that they understand the type of garment they have selected.
A client plays a major role in any business. Especially for a brand like mine where handloom fabrics are used, it is especially important for the client to be knowledgeable about their purchases. I make sure to sit and have a quick chat with the client regarding the significance of the product and care labels so that they would understand their responsibility towards the product and appreciate months of painstaking efforts of weavers.
We try to create awareness about the weavers through our fashion shows and I follow policy of ‘use more fabric’ to render support to the weaving community. Even if people want to copy my designs, they will have to at least buy the fabric and that will be a victory for me!
Eco Fashion Week Australia (EFWA) celebrates a mindful sustainable and innovative approach to fashion. Chief ethical designers from all over the world participated in the Eco Fashion Week held at Australia designing couture based on sustainability. Please share with us the proud moment when you represented India at Eco Fashion and the hold of meditative Khadi on the hearts and minds of discerning clients.
It was a great honour to represent India at Eco Fashion Week. While ideating about the collection I was looking at various textiles and crafts for inspiration. I was drawn to craft known as “Mata ni Pachedi- Meditative Khadi”, a 300-year-old craft. A folk art from Gujarat, it also uses flora and fauna and the figure of a goddess all hand-painted in natural dyes so one mistakes it for Kalamkari. The Vaghari community painted for themselves as they were barred from entering temples. It was also used as a backdrop (Pachedi) or a canopy to the mother goddess. This beautiful craft was facing near extinction as the machine-made replicas were eating into the demand of the handcrafted products from Gujarat.
I decided to present this craft at the Eco fashion week. I ensured that it was contemporary and yet remained authentic to its roots. The craft was only permitted for smaller fabric pieces. The designs were transferred onto the lengthier yardage. Garment silhouettes were westernised keeping in mind the Australian market. A few of the fabrics were transformed into skirts, a few into shirts and a few were draped in a way resembling the silhouettes of the western outfits. Being mindful of zero waste, the left-over pieces were used to make jewellery such were used head gears, neck pieces etc. Each garment has an Indian essence but an international appeal.
Mata Ne Pachedi in a western drape.
When the models walked down the ramp , weavers back home were ecstatic. They saw their efforts winning international accolades. I felt that my purpose of representing India at the Eco Fashion Week was accomplished and my belief in the sustainability of Indian traditions was redeemed.
Fashion and Responsibility seems like a misnomer. How can one reconcile the two?
Responsibility is a word that has a wide range of meaning in the fashion market. Responsibility towards what? For me, responsibility includes not only to the environmental stewardship, but it also means, radical transparency, equal rights at work and economic rights of the labour. Today, every brand is trying to reduce their carbon foot prints in manufacturing but when it comes to marketing and packaging sustainability goes out of the window. Fashion and responsibility can be reconciled but big question is to what extent are you willing to walk the talk?
Personally, I believe that fashion will not be truly responsible until we see ethics and sustainability embraced by the mainstream. It will become meaningful only when responsible fashion becomes the permanent trend, the new norm! Events like EFWA, will help spread the word that fashion can be responsible and sustainable. Coming from a country like India which has a long history of sustainable living it will be a big chance for Indian textile traditions to resuscitate the Fashion Industry , a chance to bring in the old values and spread the world that fashion can be a force for positive change .
Bowing to a more holistic future.
(Photographs courtesy Shravan Kummar Fashion shows Profile. Feature image: Hand-painted, embroidered handloom garments in Shravan’s collection (Pic courtesy Samantha Kirsch)