In conversation with luxury slow fashion designer Roopa Pemmaraju on her newest collection, preserving Indian craft, and navigating fashion during COVID-19.
Inspired by a garden that blooms in the dark, Roopa Pemmaraju’s newest collection NIGHT BLOOM features beautiful blue, pink, and purple floral patterns, expertly juxtaposed on black background.
Each piece from the Night Bloom collection is crafted using age-old techniques, such as hand embroidery and hand block printing.
Her luxury brand employs artisans in her hometown of Bangalore, India, and her main priority has been ensuring her employees still have work and income during these turbulent times. It has meant finding a solution that could justify reopening cotton mills and digital printers so the artisans can get back to work.
I grew up in Bangalore, India, and I studied fine art and fashion, and worked for fashion houses there. I was always drawn to working with color and texture, and committed to human empowerment.
Then I moved to Australia and that’s where I started my own brand. In part, I was inspired by Aboriginal art, and wanted a way to collaborate with those artists.
Now I live and work in New York, but we still have strong ties with Australia, and of course with India, where our atelier is based.
In your own words, how would you describe your brand’s design ethos and philosophy? What are some of the artisan practices that frame your brand’s aesthetic?
First and foremost, we’re about sustainability and supporting artisans, and our design philosophy flows from that. Our collections all celebrate Indian crafting techniques that’ve been handed down for hundreds of years, and we combine those traditions with modern fashion and influences from around the world. Everything’s handmade, so each piece is one of a kind, made with love by someone talented.
We use hand weaving, block printing, and hand embroidery with beautiful, detailed threading and tiny glass beads. Our artisans are also very skilled at working with delicate fabrics, like silk and velvet, which we use often in both clothing and accessories.
Why is the work of preserving Indian artisanship personally important to you?
I grew up watching my mother and grandmother wear gorgeous silk saris made by hand, and there’s just nothing like it. These traditions are part of our story as a country and a people. I also believe when you preserve traditions, you can share them with new generations and new parts of the world, who fall in love with them in their own way. I want to keep the chain going.
The Night Bloom collection was inspired by Indian gardens, which look different than gardens in the West. Instead of being neatly organized, there are bold colors and different types of flowers growing wildly, without restraint, and there are some types that bloom only at night. That’s what I wanted this collection to evoke, in particular: bright petals shining out in the darkness.
How is sustainability and ethics a center point of your brand?
It’s everything. Our artisans earn wages that help them send their children to school, and they work hours that let them enjoy time with their families, which everyone deserves. They’re part of my community and I want them to thrive. It goes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. The planet is our home and so we treat it with care.
How has COVID affected your brand, and the larger population of Indian artisans?
It changed so much this year. Without the ready-to-wear orders we’d usually get, we needed another way to save our artisans’ livelihoods, so we launched a collection of face masks that, thankfully, have done well. We use the same elevated fabrics and embellishments, but on masks that bring a little hope and joy to an otherwise bleak time. For our artisan community overall, it’s been difficult, to be honest. In India, many workers are starving or losing their homes because of COVID, not to mention all the industries that’ve been part of the ripple effects, like cotton farming and textile printing. It’s been devastating for so many communities in India.
What do you see, or hope to see, for the future of the fashion industry?
Of course I hope to see moves across the board toward less waste, more compassion for workers, all the things we know are important. The more our business and political leaders model this, the more natural it will be for customers to follow. But I also hope to see customers realize how much influence they have, and all the options they have, to dress in a way that’s in sync with their values.
How would you describe your customer, or the Roopa Pemmaraju woman?
Our customer is confident, smart, and kind. I think she loves to express herself and probably loves color. But just as importantly, she cares about the world around her. Any woman can be our customer because every woman is beautiful and powerful, and that’s my mindset when I design.
Images by Neeraj Jain.