THE ART OF SLOW FASHION
Designer Naushad Ali reimagines sustainable design
It was a chance encounter with a cutout from a newspaper advertisement about admissions in NIFT in his late father’s diary that led him to apply for a seat. Perhaps his father wanted him to become a designer. “Maybe that’s why I found the paper tucked in the diary,” explains Naushad Ali—the 32-year-old Puducherry-based designer—of his first brush with fashion. Or maybe, it was all those years of doing homework sitting on stacks of textiles at home that prepared him for a career in fashion. Either way, it all seems to have worked out well as he prepares to represent India in 2019. He is among the 16 designers chosen to participate in the International Fashion Showcase (IFS) held annually in association with the British Fashion Council. This is the first edition of the IFS biennale and Naushad Ali is among the two Indian labels that made the cut.
The theme for this year’s IFS is sustainability, which is what rules his design philosophy and not just
in the use of handloom textiles but also in the concept of reusing leftovers. For Ali, who lives in a small town with its heritage buildings and the sea and its spirituality, the belief in recycling comes from his experience at Auroville where he lived for many years before moving to Puducherry. “I want to recreate my studio for the installation in London because I want to tell the west that leftovers can be used for making beautiful things. It is simple and I want them to be teleported to the studio with the aid of sounds and textures,” he says. And for a designer who has ditched city life because he felt choked, it is no small feat to debut among doyens talking about sustainability in fashion.
Modest beginnings. But it all started with the diary. Born in Vellore, he spent the grounding years in Chennai and later in Bangalore, after which his parents moved to Puducherry. His father was a textiles trader; it was a modest house but high on aspirations. Ali wanted to be an astro-physicist since he was good at botanical drawings, but when NIFT Chennai happened instead, he knew he would do things differently like any small town per-
son, who is used to a slow pace of life,” he says.
The sustainability mantra. That is perhaps what makes him a champion of slow fashion among other designers, who are trying to usher in a new mindset that focusses on sustainability through their designs. For Ali’s Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) collection, the inspiration is a textile cluster in Tamil Nadu called Musiri. When he went there for the first time, he was fascinated with the simplicity of the colour schemes. The collection is called “Spring /Summer, Fall/ Winter and Spring again” because he believes in curating things that are not subject to trends or dictated by consumerist fashion.
Inspiration “As designers, we try to reimagine things but it takes time even for an experiment; we have to weave 30-40 metres of cloth.” But unlike other young designers, Ali is undaunted by the idea of bringing slow fashion to the runway. “I want to make clothes where the fabric is rooted in our culture but the look is global,” he says. “We like to use local references in the fabric but not in the design.” It was the stretch of the brown landscape along with the blue skies and the red of the temple tiles with the colours of drying peanuts that decided the colour scheme of his collection. For the ramp presentation at the LFW, he has remixed an old Tamil song. “It is all about the simplicity of cotton, the stripes and the checks,” he explains. In his simple designs, the touch of minimalism is balanced by a fine sensibility of contrasts—an observation of how nature contrasts with human constructs. Life comes full circle. Having come this far, the journey, he says, is long and full of challenges. But he believes in his instincts. After graduating from NIFT Chennai, he took up a few jobs but realised the city wasn’t meant for him. He decided to return to Puducherry and set up his studio in Auroville that helped him understand sustainability from a spiritual viewpoint. “I never belonged in a city,” he confesses. But it wasn’t easy because everything, from buttons to trained staff, had to be outsourced. “I gave myself five years; I thought, let’s see what a small town has to offer.
It is all about long walks, and a lot of time to see things around that make their way into his designs like the yellow of the colonial buildings in the White Town quarters of Puducherry, the grays of the ashram buildings and the blue of the sea. The plentiful time helps,” he insists.
Looking ahead. In 2014, he set up Studio Liam in Auroville to revisit and transfer the expertise of Indian craftsmen to contemporary fashion. In 2017, three years after launching his label, he received the Grazia Young Sustainable Designer award. Earlier this year, he was chosen to represent India for the first IFS biennale at London Fashion Week in 2019, supported by the London College of Fashion and Somerset House. Jaspreet Chandok, VP and head of fashion at IMG Reliance says the win reaffirms that India is fostering some exciting young talent. The exhibition is the central element of the London Fashion Week. “It is a great opportunity to see what others are doing,” Ali says. For now, it is a slow town with its immense sea and its beautiful colonial buildings, the leftovers from a past and people who have come here to understand spirituality that lets him be. Away from the maddening crowd. Away from the grip of fashion seasons and away from everything that will take him away from who he is—a small town boy with grandiose dreams. And some of those are already beginning to come true as he takes a leap of faith.
Ali’s collection for Lakme Fashion Week 2018 (top and right)
Shani Himanshu’s designs champion sustainability (above)