How did your journey begin into the world of fashion?
I was born and raised in India and ever since I can remember, I loved drawing people, especially the women in their colourful sarees at the salon my mother frequented. Later as I studied for my pre-med exams, there was no escaping the fact that my heart was in fashion and art. I dropped out and applied to fashion schools in England and The U.S. At 19, I packed my bags and flew to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. I was pretty wild, as a designer. I’d be creating multiple-armed and multiple-legged garments and pushing the boundaries of the known, much to the chagrin of my poor teachers. The very-7th-Avenue-loyal chairman suspended me for my non-conformist ideas, but soon enough Donna Karan saw my rolled-up scroll of a portfolio (with paper I made from rice and corn husk) and hired me on the spot. Shortly after, I went on to create my own line of clothing, popular among the club kids of the 90's. I continued my work in fashion as an illustrator and designer for Ralph Lauren, Geoffrey Beene, DKNY and many others.
Have you always had a focus on sustainable and ethical practices?
I created LOVE IS MIGHTY in 2010 with the intention for it to be a company I’d leap out of bed to go work at, something I believed in with every fibre of my being. I was not conscious that I was creating an ethical and sustainable brand as there was little or no talk of it back then. In my personal life I would not harm a fly so why would I exploit animals and people in my profession? It was clear to me that the world did not need yet another company that views humans and animals as resources. I try to be as thoughtful as I can throughout the design and manufacturing processes, so I’d say I’ve always had a focus on sustainability and ethics ever since I was in control of making those decisions with my own company.
What are the main challenges you face when trying to bridge ethics and luxury?
It’s crucial to tell the story behind each beautifully crafted product and help the consumer understand why these shoes and accessories are priced more than your average mass-produced products. I need a well-oiled marketing machine to be able to spread the word. The other challenge, which has been a rewarding learning experience, has been in conveying quality expectations of the international luxury market to remote tribal artisans, and creating designs relevant to the global consumer.
This is a whole new business model and navigating this unfamiliar territory can be daunting and challenging at every twist and turn, but the thought of creating a successful ethical business that paves the path for others to follow is exciting.
How has the industry changed since you founded your company in 2010?
Stella McCartney was the only luxury brand I knew and respected that was animal-free and big on CSR. I’m pleasantly shocked that sustainability is going mainstream now. I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Big brands are marketing their products as sustainable and using alternative materials to leather and fur. This industry trend is mainly driven by younger consumers for whom animal welfare is a key topic. Luxury stalwarts like Jean Paul Gaultier, Gucci, Versace, Margiela, Tom Ford, Michael Kors have pledged to go fur-free and a host of others are following. A recent report by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence states that “Vegan Fashion will be a major trend for 2018/19, particularly in the luxury sector”.
LOVE IS MIGHTY feels mighty relevant right now.
You must come across so many amazing people in your quest to work with tribal and indigenous artisans. How do you go about making these connections?
My life has been enriched by the wonderful people I meet on this journey. A lot of it is spontaneous, just like my work with the artisans and I love that. Inspiration takes me to remote places and artisan communities. I meet expert weavers who have held the honour for generations and women artisans inspired by a vision of a new empowered future. I tend to run into photographers, documentarians and entrepreneurs on these trips and forge new friendships. When I’m not traveling I present my work and speak to students at Parsons and The New School and meet other entrepreneurs who are passionately creating change in their communities. Recently I visited Donna Karan’s Urban Zen in the West Village to view the incredible work of photographer, Jimmy Nelson. He happened to be there and I was his only and very lucky giddy audience. We connected over our journeys into remote regions and our passion and deep respect for tribal cultures. I would love to work with him. These connections happen quite naturally as a result of the work I do in fashion and social reform.
Your designs are so beautiful. Where do you source your inspiration?
Thank you. I like classic shapes and I’m a stickler for detail. The textiles and handwork of the artisans inspire me immensely. I welcome the challenge to translate ancient craft into modern design. A lot of my inspiration comes from my environment, whether I’m navigating the North Indian desert or standing in front of a Gauguin painting at The Met, and then it all changes when I work with the artisans. I usually have specific ideas of what I want when I approach the artisans and what materializes through our collaboration is far more beautiful than the original idea. So it’s a true confluence of minds and cultures. I’m learning to let go and allow the fluidity of this process. The work of Japanese designer, Issey Miyake, has been a huge influence on me as a young designer.
What are three tips you would share to guide a fashionista toward a more conscious buying approach? What should we be looking for in our products?
I love fashion, and I’m so thrilled that we have more conscious fashion brands to choose from. I’m not militant in my life and I’m a big advocate of live and let live. So do your best. Progress, not perfection.
1) Take a look at the label inside of your item before purchasing and get familiar with the contents. Buy organic and choose natural dyes whenever possible. Good for your skin and for the environment.
2) If your item was mass-produced and is made by a major chain-brand, it’s likely that the factory worker was not paid a fair living wage. Support smaller brands who are committed to treating their employees with dignity.
3) I suggest staying away from animal-derived products and avoiding leather and fur as much as possible. Not only is this cruel to animals but takes a heavy toll on the environment as well.
Again, progress not perfection. Together we can create a compassionate and fashionable world.
You must travel so much to maintain the relationships you’ve been within your business. Can you tell us how you manage to find a sense of peace amongst the consistent change. Any special rituals?
This lifestyle can wreak havoc on one’s health and well-being. I learned this the hard way. I have a daily ritual of meditation and a regular yoga practice which keeps me grounded and sane. I have a mini travel-size altar that I pop up on the road. It’s important for me to nurture my connection with spirit. It keeps me humble and allows me to not take myself so seriously. Oh, and lots of water and healthy vegan food.
What are your top five CAP Beauty favorites?
I am very careful about what I put in and on my body. It’s imperative that it has no animal products and has not been tested on them either, and is as natural as possible, so CAP Beauty is such fun for me to shop at.
I travel often into the desert in India, in conditions not ideal for my skin and hair. My days are spent in the dry hot sun and at the end of the day my hair is matted and I’m covered in dust after a usual encounter with a dust storm.
Besides dousing my hair and body in organic coconut oil, here are my faves carried at CAP.
DR ALKAITIS ORGANIC DAY CREME for hydration and youthful skin
DR ALKAITIS ORGANIC EYE CREME I apply this at night
RMS "UN" COVER-UP I don’t like my face caked-up and I usually eat up my make-up, so I was thrilled to find rms products
THE COCONUT BUTTER Yummy! I can eat this by spoonfuls!
BODHA MODERN WELLNESS SMOKELESS ORGANIC INCENSE - GROUND An earthy grounding, which would transform any space I find myself in. Looking forward to adding this to my travel-size altar on my next trip