Fashion Talk
Sunita Shanker

Sunita Shanker

Label Sunita Shanker

Handmade & handcrafted likely to lead the way

Inspired by the rich traditional crafts of India, Sunita Shanker’s work is a unique interpretation of style that combines both fashion and tradition seamlessly. In an interview with ,Kiran Sahija the designer reveals her inspiration behind her collections, the way she finds consumer choices shifting and the upcoming trends in the fashion industry.

Fibre2Fashion : What inspired you to start your own label? What were some of the hurdles faced initially?

Sunita Shanker:

The desire to design clothes and products creating synergy between fashion and traditional crafts and textiles motivated me to have my label.

Setting up a business without experience was sort of a calculated risk one took. It is quite challenging to work as a creative professional and to run a business.

I work on design innovation giving a contemporary relevance while using the craft community’s expertise that is evolved in respect and methodology to the people. I couldn’t work without acknowledging the collaboration of the communities and their exemplary workmanship/artistry. The rich cultural heritage of India has been the true inspiration for my work.

Fibre2Fashion : How do you manage to nurture your imagination for your collections?

Sunita Shanker:

The engagement with the traditional practices educated me to learn, adapt and create within the context.

I innovate with changing materials and treatment to overcome commercial viability. The concept for any given collection is an amalgamation of the diverse traditions and various available elements evoking a cultural sensibility while being contemporary. The collections are not necessarily trending specific. The thread of cultural continuity runs through my work. 

Fibre2Fashion : Can you elaborate about the design process which goes behind each collection?

Sunita Shanker:

There is no specific template for the design process that is followed. I have the experience of working with various crafts and weaves that include embroideries along with other embellishments. It is a complex process of working with different areas of crafts and designing the collection. Each differs in procedures depending on local circumstances, material and the craft itself. Combining them for the range requires a lot of preparation. Sample development of a single collection can take from 6 months to a year or maybe more. The process for the artisanal design is far more elaborate and labour intensive.

Fibre2Fashion : How does your team coordinate among each other to make the final product?

Sunita Shanker:

There is established teamwork or synergy between the rural crafts communities and the urban community (master, pattern maker, trailers, coordinators etc). Most of the staff in the studio and the workshop are from rural areas and are familiar with handcrafted. Those who are not, patiently get sensitised to the process. Each piece is handcrafted or handwoven. Many skillful hands are involved in making each piece. Dyes used are natural or eco-friendly (azo-free).

Fibre2Fashion : Lately social media has become an enormous influence for the fashion industry. How has it helped your label to grow?

Sunita Shanker:

Social media has been an equaliser as it has democratised the business of fashion and its reach. It has created an interactive platform for the label to make its presence felt and reach a broader client base transcending boundaries.

Fibre2Fashion : Is the consumer choice parallelly shifting towards eco-friendly fabrics? Where are the orders majorly from (in terms of geographies)?

Sunita Shanker:

Over the years one has observed the gradual shift in consumer choices, they are not only favouring eco-friendly fabrics but are also mindful. The clients have been consistent given the fact that they are aware of the label’s forte. The client base is local, also the Indian diaspora in the international arenas including Singapore & Japan.

Fibre2Fashion : You have been in the fashion industry for a long time. What are the changes that you have seen in the fashion industry so far?

Sunita Shanker:

Over the years the fashion Industry has become organised and professional. Numerous fashion colleges have come up in a short span. They succeeded in cultivating and creating various allied professions: choreography, styling, event management, PR, communications etc.

From a humble beginning with few boutiques and domestic stores, the industry has grown leaps and bound with the advent of globalisation, digitisation. The arrival of international brands, boutiques, and malls helped the fashion industry to emerge as a creative Industry that helped in employment generation.  

Fibre2Fashion : How would you define current and upcoming trends in Indian fashion industry?

Sunita Shanker:

Social media has stretched the boundaries of visual vocabularies that aided everyone to think differently. The onslaught of the pandemic has been responsible for influencing our thinking and the trends. Handmade and handcrafted are likely to lead the way. Mindfulness in both production and consumption will be significant. Simplicity, comfort, minimalism with few spirited sparkles will be trending.

Fibre2Fashion : Which are the five wardrobe essentials you would like every woman to have?

Sunita Shanker:

Tunics that could be worn as both a dress and as a kurta. Classic trousers, classic t-shirt/tops, track pants, an overgarment/jacket combined with accessories: scarves, curated jewellery pieces.

Fibre2Fashion : Which collection of your label is close to your heart and garnered the most praises?

Sunita Shanker:

Bandhani from Kutch and Kantha from Bengal. It is bandhani and the exploration within the craft that has garnered more praise.

Fibre2Fashion : Where have you exhibited your collection till now globally? How was your experience with international clients?

Sunita Shanker:

Japan, Stockholm, Singapore and London to mention a few. The handmade element and the subdued sensibility in design have always garnered appreciation. The artisanal skills and the story of collaboration with the crafts community into a wearable work have generated interest.

Fibre2Fashion : Which are the upcoming fashion weeks in India and abroad where you would be participating?

Sunita Shanker:

Presently, I am engaged and involved in creating work and helping the crafts communities that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Fibre2Fashion : What advice would you like to give to upcoming designers and fashion enthusiasts?

Sunita Shanker:

There is no shortcut to success. As there is no single course either, one can discover new ways of working. In simple terms, adaptability is the new norm at work. The pandemic has been instrumental in the change of perception. Integrate new skills at work. Striking a balance between skills and technology is the future. Most important work as a team.

Credits: Paulami Chatterjee