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    In a hyper-cluttered market that’s full of fast-moving as well as mindful fashion brands, what does it take for a label to register its presence? For starters, a strong narrative and a vision for the future help. Which is why the following five cool Indian fashion designers registered on our radar. From exploring sustainable materials by experimenting with bacterial cellulose (yes, you read that right), to working closely with Indian weavers and promoting slow fashion, to creating footwear that competes with international designs, these young designers know a thing or two about standing out. And here’s what you need to know about them.

    Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith Suseelan of Malai
    Image:Courtesy Malai
    Image: Courtesy Malai

    For Slovakia-based material researcher and designer Zuzana Gombosova, it was always about exploring the potential of microorganisms as a resource to create sustainable materials. She found her answers in bacterial cellulose, which she started growing and producing while studying at Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design in London. Gombosova’s fascination with India and its capacity as an emerging market prompted her to shift her base from London. She connected with Susmith Suseelan, a Bengaluru-based mechanical engineer and product designer, who was interested in developing a similar material. They both partnered with a coconut processing unit and started developing their version of bacterial cellulose. Because it resembled the white flesh of the tender coconut, they called it ‘malai’. After further research and development, they created a material which was completely biodegradable, flexible, and water resistant, making it perfect to mould in a variety of accessories. Currently, the brand makes products (primarily bags and pouches) in collaboration with international labels.

    Kaka Sumi 
    Image:Courtesy Kaka Sumi
    Image: Courtesy Kaka Sumi

    While growing up in Dimapur, fashion glossies were the only access Kaka Sumi had to the world of luxury footwear. Influenced by Spice Girls, Jimmy Choo, and Christian Louboutin, Sumi knew his aim: He wanted to create a homegrown footwear label which was edgy and elegant. He started crafting shoes early on (while he was still in school), and launched his eponymous label in 2017. Sumi wants to push boundaries through designing beautiful mules, interesting thigh-high boots, and using jute as part of his creative vocabulary. However, leather remains the material he experiments with most. He has also started working on men’s footwear, and created his own version of gladiator flats. 

    Riya Gupta of Studio Rigu

    ‘Empowered femininity’ – that’s how Riya Gupta defines her label. Architectural silhouettes blend with Indian textiles to come together perfectly in power suits, coat dresses, and scaled trousers. With an uncompromising commitment to quality, Rigu is about edgy, contemporary pieces, which can fit any discerning working woman’s wardrobe. Gupta, after finishing her graduate course from London College of Fashion, saw a gap in the Indian market – there were hardly any labels creating powerful, statement-making pieces with a tinge of fun. So she launched her label in 2017, with whimsical prints and a striking colour palette being a focus.

    Varun Panesar for Forth Goods
    Canvas and tan brown leather backpack. Image:Courtesy Forth Goods
    Canvas and tan brown leather backpack. Image: Courtesy Forth Goods

    Minimal, functional, yet sophisticated – that’s how we sum up the backpacks, wallets, sling bags, and laptop bags by Forth Goods. Launched by Varun Panesar, his label is inspired by geometry, and the products, made in fine grain leather with vegetable tan in neutral hues, age gracefully. And in case you’ve ever wanted leather bow ties, Forth Goods has some great pieces. 

    Aman Singh of Bareek
    Bareek's hand woven shirts. Image:Courtesy Bareek.in
    Bareek’s hand-woven shirts. Image: Courtesy Bareek.in

    Tasteful, buttoned-down shirts and an overall sense of responsible fashion – Aman Singh’s label Bareek ensures that weavers are the focus of his ethical fashion label. Every shirt – cotton or khadi – is created on a non-mechanized loom, always woven by an artisan. The process involves the creative team travelling door-to-door in search of the best craftsmen in the towns of Nalgonda, Murshidabad, and Kalna, to create pieces. Singh’s foray into fashion happened with ECHT, a weaver’s collective focusing on the pieces created by some of the best Indian weavers. The demand gradually grew, not just in India but internationally too, and Bareek took shape. Today, the label is characterised by its fun colourways, and sense of old-world charm. 

    All images: Courtesy brands

    Anupam Dabral
    Sr. Associate Editor
    It was while studying fashion journalism at London College of Fashion that Anupam developed a keen interest in the anthropological aspect of the discipline; for him, fashion only makes sense when seen in the context of its environment. He is always on the hunt for great stories, and in his spare time binge-watches films/shows starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.