Hers was the face that launched a thousand ads. Whether it was in denims and a tank top, her lithe fingers cradling a can, or nude next to a bottle of perfume, Cindy Crawford was the ultimate heartthrob of the 1980s, famous for the distinctive mole gracing her upper lip. But before she sashayed to popularity, she was plagued with insecurities about her ‘beauty mark’. Kids teased her in school; her sister thought it was hideous, and convinced her to get rid of it. But her mother persuaded her to let it be and soon after, that ‘ugliness’ propelled her to fashion stardom.
Like Cindy, the Indian fashion industry is now ardently embracing the ‘imperfections’ and differences that make us human. Waif-like figures, those walking clothes-hangers, still rule the runway. But space has been made for diverse body types, ages, colours, ethnicities and gender identities. The chubbily plump, the dwarfishly short, the queerishly trans, or those on wheel chairs. The fashion police can’t dictate terms to a populace that is finally free of corseted ideals. Designs have become universal—they must be comfortable and look good not only on models, but on as many people as possible.
This is inclusive fashion. And one of its cheerleaders is The Pot Plant, a gender-fluid clothing brand run by Resham Karmchandani and Sanya Suri. “We use fashion to tell our truth. For us, inclusive fashion is giving everybody the comfort and freedom to be who they are. It’s about living life beyond labels and finding our identity as individuals.”
Sohaya Misra’s designs.
Sohaya Misra, recipient of the Grazia Young Designer Award in 2016, believes in breaking stereotypes. “My brand is gender neutral—I don’t design clothes specific to men or women. It epitomises the basic principle that style is an individualistic and artistic reflection of who we are, not what society wants us to be. I want to highlight the concept of live and let live, and promote acceptance and tolerance.”
“If a person wearing your garment does not feel comfortable, the design has failed,” says Anita N. Iyer of EKansh Trust.
The fashion industry has largely been exclusive and elitist, but now, it is catering to diverse people. Bending the rules is appreciated and cookie-cutter trends are passe. Comfort and individuality have become priority for many designers. “It is the customer who dictates our work. Designers have to keep their needs in mind and create clothes. After all, everybody wants to look good. Why should only a certain kind of person enjoy this privilege?” asks designer Sunita Shanker.
“Fashion is not fashion if it doesn’t cater to all,” says designer Gaurang Shah, who recently showcased his Peshwai collection at the Lakme Fashion Week. “While you may have premium creations as well as those for the masses, the ability to fulfill the desires of consumers is paramount.”
The widespread adoption of social media is one of the reasons for fashion coming out of its ivory tower. “Social media platforms have sensitised people regarding gender equality and body types as well as issues of the aged and specially abled,” explains Shanker.
Transgender model Anita Lama; a wheel chair-bound model at EKansh Trust’s fashion show.
Designers are now coming up with couture tailored for the specially abled and making it adaptable. In September 2018, the Fashion Design Council of India collaborated with Tamana, a school for the differently abled, to organise a show called Unity in Diversity at Hyatt Regency, Delhi. Students from Tamana graced the ramp along with models wearing couture by Nitin Bal Chauhan, Amit Aggarwal and Rimzim Dadu amongst other designers as well as clothes made by the differently abled.
The elderly also struggle with conventional clothing as age comes with its limitations: physical and mental. Simple activities like fastening buttons and tying drawstrings can become challenging. “We must find solutions and make things simple for them. Easy and inclusive must replace difficult and exclusive,” says Anita Narayan Iyer, founder and managing trustee, EKansh Trust, who recently organised a national competition to showcase adaptive clothing. “A wardrobe malfunction that someone associated with our work experienced was the trigger to organise a fashion show for the differently abled.”
An outfit designed by The Pot Plant and fashion blogger Neelakshi Singh.
Inclusive fashion is as much about comfort as it is about looking good. “If a person wearing your garment is not comfortable, the design has failed,” says Iyer. Inclusivity’s emphasis on comfort and accessibility has made it the future of the runway. It is for this reason Gaurang Shah incorporated the trend into his collections for the past 14 seasons. Shah and like-minded designers are bound to turn the fashion industry into a playground of inclusivity.
Blogger Neelakshi Singh, also a plus-size model and lecturer, grew up with insecurities about her body. Eight years ago, she was overjoyed to go to a fashion show, but the moment she stepped into the venue, she wanted to leave. She was passionate about fashion, but didn’t see herself fitting in the industry. With the thrust towards inclusivity, conforming is the least of her concerns. “It feels surreal to see myself walking on ramp for three years in a row with a brand that believes in making fashion inclusive,” she gushes. “I finally feel like I belong here and have a voice.”