When Asmita Marwa made her debut in Lakme Fashion Week in 2008 there was a lot of buzz around her for a number of reasons. First, before her there were hardly any designers from Hyderabad who had showcased at this prestigious fashion week. Second, A-lister stars including Tabu, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh and Siddharth were occupying the first row at her show.
Back then not many knew that Asmita had been designing for Telugu films already and it was because of her goodwill in the industry that all these top stars came to support her and attended the extravaganza to root for their favourite designer.
When the models came on the ramp and showcased Asmita Marwa’s stunning designs in Kalamkari, it not only turned heads but Vogue was quick to write about her as a ‘Promising talent to watch out for’.
Over the years, Asmita has showcased in more than eight seasons at Lakme Fashion Week, a number of times at Blenders Pride Fashion Tour, India Beach Fashion Week and India Resort Fashion Week to name a few. Bollywood celebs like Priyanka Chopra, Vidya Balan, Sonam Kapoor, Rana Daggubati, Asin and Shriya Saran dote on her designs that mainly focus on resort wear.
Based in Hyderabad, Asmita Marwa is considered one of the top designers from India and for her the future of fashion is about sustainability and zero waste production.
In an exclusive interview with Friday, the designer talks about her designing sensibility.
Your Zero Waste collection showcased at the Global Sustainable Fashion Week in Budapest in 2016 was a rage. Can you tell us how you created that collection and what were your thoughts behind it?
At our workshop nothing is considered as scrap. All the small bits and pieces of fabric that are usually wasted from the sides are neatly segregated and put into various packets which we use for recycling and repurposing to create appliqués, fabric textures and accessories for our Zero Waste Collection.
The collection was such a hit that just a couple of months later we were invited to the Ganges Danube Culture Festival in Budapest where we showcased our Khadi collection.
Now we have made Zero Waste a part of our design sensibility and language. You will find us taking up scraps and creating a beautiful fish, a kite or a dramatic design out of it. It gives us immense satisfaction that through our creativity we can reduce waste on this planet.
You are an advocate of sustainable fashion. What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
For me sustainability is a state of mind. It is about being conscious of the environment around you and translating it into action that brings a positive impact on the environment.
When I am designing I ensure I use natural fabrics and dyes. Sometimes it can happen that I want a certain colour that is only possible with synthetic dye then I ensure I colour different fabrics with it so that there is no wastage.
Sustainability is also about reinterpreting my own designs as a form of art. I do not believe in fast fashion where you create something and then it goes out of fashion the next season. I look at my work as art and when a person is investing in it they should be able to wear that design again and again. They should be able to mix and match and style it in different ways every time they wear it.
I take a certain idea and build my collection around it so that it has a distinct identity and makes a mark on one’s memory. For instance I made a Whirling Dervish Collection focusing on the dance movement and 5-6 years later people still came to me looking for that design. This is sustainable fashion to me.
My Tribal Jackets have become conversation starters. I take textiles from different cultures old and new from Burma, Afghanistan, India and synergize it into one single collage jacket. It then becomes something you will cherish, something you will want to keep as an heirloom.
What do you mean when you say you use ethical norms and practices to create your label?
Labour exploitation is a bane of our industry. I ensure people who work for me they are like family. During the pandemic when lockdowns were imposed we kept paying salaries. We have medical insurance for our senior staff and everyone has a regular shift and holidays. I want my artisans to enjoy the process of making each piece as much as I do and my clients are free to interact with them when they come to my studio. I believe each piece belongs to my artisans as it belongs to me.
Talking about the lockdowns, was it hard during that phase?
It was very hard. I downsized my business gave up my office space and shifted into a smaller one. But that’s when magic happened. One lady from Bahrain saw my designs on Instagram and just looking over the phone she took 30 pieces. I felt if you keep believing in yourself the universe comes together to help you out.
You are not seen much at fashion weeks anymore and showcase mostly on Instagram. Why is that?
I must tell you an interesting story around this. When I first applied to showcase in Lakme Fashion Week I was rejected. I was really upset although many people said it had nothing to do with my designs it was because I applied late. But I went back and worked on my designs and applied for the next season when I was accepted. That Kalamkari collection I showcased is still relevant and I guess I started creating sustainable fashion from my very first show.
I must say displaying at Lakme Fashion Week gave me that visibility that made star stylists approach me for my designs. It also gave me a lot of media attention. But now I feel the focus is more on the showstopper than on the designs. Also, fashion weeks are very expensive and need a lot of PR. I think I have been there done that. I am in that phase of my career where people already know what to expect from me.
So I have chosen Instagram and my Studio as my business platform.
Who was the first celebrity you designed for?
I designed for Tabu in the Telugu film Coolie No 1. This was way back in the 90s when I was very young. But that special relationship we started off on the sets of this film still exists. Then I designed for Preity Zinta for the film Premante Idera and I styled Nagarjuna for his path breaking movies Manmadhudu and Santosham where the costumes are still talked about.
Rana Daggubati is someone who carries off my designs extremely well and has been a showstopper for me a number of times. Shriya Saran too is someone who carries my designs beautifully. I loved it when Priyanka Chopra wore a top from my collection. I specially designed a half saree for Vidya Balan to wear at an event she attended in New York.
Did you ever consider moving to Mumbai?
I did get offers to style in Hindi films but I didn’t want to move there and stay away from my son. Hyderabad offers me my comfort zone and I also have a very discerning clientele here. I do trunk shows and exhibitions in Mumbai and Kolkata.
What was your experience like in Dubai?
I did two exhibitions in Dubai and it was a great experience. Since we do resort wear like nobody else and people in Dubai are looking for something stylish to wear to the beach, on their travels abroad or at the brunches they attend; our collection was much appreciated there. Lawyers, dentists, doctors – independent, free spirited women picked up our collection because they felt our designs defined their personality. It was fun.
While I was there I had a wonderful time exploring Dubai and picked up a lot of stuff from the souks at Deira.
You fuse the traditional with the contemporary like you use Khadi, Kalamkari and Banarasi materials and heritage art forms in your collections. Can you tell us more about the thought process behind it?
Timelessness is my USP. I take an old craft and give it a contemporary structure. I create silhouettes and designs that people can wear at all occasions. I am in graduate in psychology and I am a self-taught designer and I’ve never had any formal training. I am extremely proud that I can actually take a few strips of cloth and cut, stitch and create something stunning out of it. My work has a very bohemian undertone that actually defines me. I have developed my design language that in turn helps in creating sustainable fashion. If you are talking about my thought process, I develop a concept and reinterpret it over a few seasons creating a distinct identity and a unique design language.
Are you designing something special for Diwali?
We are working on some customized pieces right now. Our collections are priced anywhere between 8,500 and 45,000 Indian rupees. We customise a lot of wedding wear for the brides and grooms.
When you are not designing what is it you are usually doing?
I am a home chef and I enjoy growing my own vegetables. Cooking and designing are very similar wherein you are adding various ingredients to create something wonderful. So when I am in the kitchen, it’s like therapy. I also design spaces on request so when it’s not clothes, it’s the walls that attract me. Being creative is a way of expressing myself.