Meet the designer who is promoting Indian handlooms and saving the environment

From the lookbook of Eka

For a girl whose family hails from a small town of Kurukshetra, where the main occupation is farming and academics, sustainability was a way of life for her. “Eating local produce, wearing handwoven and locally sourced materials to the extent that even the soap bars and bathing oil was procured from local vendors”, explains fashion designer Rina Singh, who promotes sustainable fashion, across the world, through her label – ‘Eka’.

Eka is a sustainable revolution started by Rina, in 2009, with her husband. Eka was first introduced internationally, as Rina thought that global market was more lucrative at that moment, but with muses like Arundhati Roy and Meera Nair she decided to bring the brand to its root.

In an insightful conversation with her, Rina tells us the story behind her label, how she helps rural artisans and how to make a conscious effort to create a lasting, sustainable wardrobe.

Autumn/Winter looks from Lakme Fashion Week

Starting out:
“I always wanted to be a dressmaker. In 1997, I applied for fashion design studies to Wigan and Leigh College and got a scholarship to finish my course with HND diploma in Fashion Design from UK. It was there that I learned about fashion: historical costume studies, researches, terminology, illustrating, styling and presenting. It instigated my interest in textiles and crafts.”

The story behind Eka:
“Eka was the name of my first collection, which meant one thought or an idea presented as one though made by various skilled crafts people. I stuck to it as it sounded as a good name to represent my clothing. We are careful about using only natural textiles, and work primarily with handlooms. In 2010, I made a small line, packed it and went to London to a trade show, which was a disaster. But on the last day, I was to visit the boutique Egg is run by Maureen Doherty. The quaint store is known for rare finds and avant garde designers. When I met her, she looked at me and asked if I made the dress I was wearing and I said yes. The next day, we sat down and she selected a bunch of clothes from my suitcase, that was my first Eka order.”

Incorporating traditional methods to create modern art:
“We work with traditional skill sets like block making, khadi, indigo, kantha embroideries and block print at the studio facility. We work extensively with handlooms across the weaving belts of rural India, across West Bengal, Bihar, U.P., Himachal, and Gujarat. I use block print extensively to create new abstract surfaces, instead of traditional designs from Indian diaspora.”

Autumn/Winter looks from Lakme Fashion Week

Promoting Indian handlooms and artisans:
“We have been working with handlooms since the beginning, with a team of weavers who have been with us for almost a decade now.  With the artisans, like block makers and printers, we have a commitment to provide a minimum work throughout the year. Getting enough business from across the globe for them, as well as ourselves, is the primary objective of marketing and retailing through chain of stores across the world.”

Creating a sustainable wardrobe:
“To create a sustainable wardrobe for yourself, it is important to buy less and choose wisely. Buying cheap is never a sustainable choice, that never comes from an ethical work environment. Pay attention to the process of making. Buying natural fibre itself is a good start. I advocate timeless, ageless and fashion without boundaries.”