Fashion Talk with Sangita Kathiwada

Fashion intrigues, inspires and excites. From the overtly glamorized Fashion Weeks, to India’s journey on the fashion map, the business of fashion has changed by leaps and bounds. Sangita Sinh Kathiwada, the maven of multi-designer store Melange, speaks about her tryst with design and stumbling into the fashion world.

Sangita Sinh Kathiawada
Sangita Sinh Kathiwada

You started almost 21 years now. Where did the idea of a multi-designer fashion store come from?
I would say it’s not about fashion, but more about design. I am a professionally qualified graphic designer and have a keen eye for design and aesthetics from spaces to products, textiles and accessories. Before Melange, I ran a jewellery-making unit for three years.

What, according to you, helped develop your sensibilities?
I grew up in a family where my great grandmother, grandmother and mother were at all times doing something with designing; be it arranging flowers for the pooja, or doing decorations on the walls and floor. Besides, a lot of importance was given to clothing as there were so many celebrations, so frequently. It wasn’t imposed, just a natural and organic environment that had beautiful aesthetics.

How did your foray into fashion begin?
I found this beautiful space [the Melange store], where I wanted to express my creativity and design. I met many experimenting and adventurous young people, who were doing some phenomenal work of converting textile into shapes. I never thought of it as fashion, instead just that how these shapes could be worn on the body by using Indian fabric. So we started working with natural fabrics like linens, cottons and silks. It was the first time ever in India that eccentric, adventurous, experimental clothing was showcased in a place as exotic as this. Considering its Altamount Road address in a 106-year -old heritage building, I don’t know when it became fashion.

Indian garments have rich textures, fabrics and artwork, do you think these will become mainstage fashion or will it always remain a niche section?
I feel Indian garments are an outcome of laborious processes and, hence, will always remain niche. It cannot be mass produced. Its beauty is that not everyone can have the original works.

Your comments on the revivalism of traditional Indian arts.
I think, in nature, everything is dying and everything is growing. Till it’s alive and fresh, it will stay. We can’t take credit for revivalism. People are now enjoying brocades, handlooms and woven fabrics. Something that is very intrinsic to India and has lived through thousands of years and is still beautiful, will remain. You and I cannot do enough to protect it. It will remain just because it’s so beautiful and people love it.

If we compare stitching or patterns in India with international counterparts, are we somewhere close?
We are really lagging behind as our technical knowledge is low. International markets are all about fashion; by nature, we create beautiful clothing to wear for ourselves. Women make and embroider clothes at home without thinking of it as a market. Secondly, we don’t have much money pumped into fashion. Internationally, they invest so much into technology, machines, clothing and fusing. We have a long way to go.

Do you think sound formal education is lacking?
Yes. It could do a hundred times better than what it does now. There is no top-quality fashion education in India for merchandizing, retailing, management, business and construction. It’s very disappointing. There has been no co-ordination between the industry and government bodies. I feel we could have been a leader in tourism and fashion but didn’t utilize the opportunity at the right time.

In the past 21 years, have you noticed a shift in people’s tastes towards clothing?
There is a constant change. When we started Melange, my entire clothing range was 100% natural fibres. Then came a phase where demand for embroidery and colours such as red green and yellow emerged. Every designer started creating versions of these. I remember a beautiful Italian woman walked into my store and was looking for an Indian kurti in India because the whole of Los Angeles was selling embroidered kurtis in the name of India. So for four years, we went through that period. And now everybody is fed up of those top-to-bottom embroidered clothes.

Your favourite designers.
It changes every week. Let’s see, at the moment I am wearing a label called All Saints. I have been wearing it for the last eight years. I also wear a lot of an Italian designer called Biasa. Out of the Indian designers I wear Pero by Aneeth Arora, Gaba, Maku by Chirag Gandhi & Sanntanu Das and White Champa by Anjana Das and others who make lightweight clothing.

What will you wear this festive season?
You will see me in cotton and malmal lehengas. I bought one of Chetan C that we just launched here at Melange. It has beautiful Indian motifs like banana leaves, tulsi tree, women; basically celebrates environment and nature.

And for weddings?
I would again wear cotton lehengas with gota pati and a lot of chiffons, which are predominant in our Rajput community.

Last word…
In terms of accessories, we didn’t have a great market in India because people only wore real jewellery. But now, in the last 3 years, people are quite comfortable wearing costume jewellery. I love to wear cloth jewellery as it is lightweight.

By: Payal Hindocha

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