From handmade Italian jacquards and fine Japanese satin, to tulle that is hand-beaded in India, each piece is as culturally diverse as the society to which it belongs, says New York City-based fashion designer Harleen Kaur, whose eponymous brand focuses on “eco-conscious”, ethnic outfits.
By practising small batch production in NYC, using OEKO-Tex fabrics (registered certification), and trying to source more sustainable alternatives to “all of our fabrics, trims and packaging”, the 31-year-old designer has been focusing on “zero-waste practices” since the brand’s inception in 2016.
Stressing that sustainability and ethical practices aren’t addressed often enough in the Indian fashion industry, Harleen talks about blend of cultures in design, sustainable fashion, and the need to initiate learning about ‘personal aesthetic and design’.
What is it about Indo-Western clothing that attracts people?
I feel like the blend of cultures is what attracts most people. For me personally, living in the US and being raised by Indian parents who were born and raised in Thailand, I had a unique blend of cultures just within my household. Then at school and in my community, I interacted with people of so many different ethnicities. That’s how most Americans grow up and when you can find clothing that expresses that, it just feels right to me.
How has the pandemic altered fashion and its many facets?
I think it put everything on pause for almost all of 2020. People were wearing more casual items at home which really halted the growth of so many companies like ours since most of our pieces are for parties or going out in general. Now, people are more excited about going out and buying new clothes because most hadn’t for an entire year. It seems like people are more adventurous now too.
Has people’s outlook towards fashion changed over the years? If yes, how?
People outside of India have definitely taken a more unique approach to South Asian fashion. I think living abroad has opened our eyes to so many different cultures, especially here in the US, which has changed our style significantly.
Your take on sustainable fashion…
Re-wearing is an essential part of sustainability which is why we try to make our pieces as versatile as possible. By making sure the garments are of the best quality possible, we can also prolong the life of each piece. We are introducing more recycled fabrics, and we use 100 per cent recycled packaging for all of our orders.
One thing you would like to change about the fashion industry…
I think the most pressing issue is that of global warming and the waste that our industry produces. I would love to see larger, high-end brands implementing more sustainable practices and introducing new ways to be more sustainable. Amazing innovation is happening in the industry but in order for those new technologies and products to be more readily available, more brands (especially large, well-funded brands), need to adopt such practices.
What would be your advice to designers looking to make a mark in the field?
Know your stuff! I think school is so important for fashion designers looking to make their dent in the industry. That time allows you to not only learn about the trade but also to learn about your personal aesthetic and design. It allows you room to grow and really assess your long-term goals. Internships are a great way to get experience, but choosing the right ones where you get a more well-rounded experience is key.