North By North-East
India is synonymous with ancient traditions and rich textile heritage. Clothing in our country varies depending on the ethnicity, geography, climate, religion, rituals and cultural traditions of the people of each region. While this connect to the roots still prevails, it is also a country with an emerging and flourishing contemporary global fashion scene and the North-East region stands at the forefront of it. In order to understand the design aesthetic here, it is crucial to understand the cultural and psychological aspect of the people. They are very open-minded and modern in their outlook, welcoming new thoughts and absorbing changes more generously as compared to the rest of India. While they do continue to hold on to their old customs, practices and traditional attire on the one hand, on the other, they have embraced westernisation as well. Prime examples of these ethnic fusion styles can be seen in Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.
One of the key reasons why the people in the North-East have a different fashion sense as compared to the rest of the country is that Bollywood is not as influential in this region. As opposed to Bollywood, the North-Easterners have an affinity towards K-pop, cosplay, Korean and Japanese dramas, films, animations, and a variety of other Western subcultures. For me, growing up, the single major influence was Western music — rock, heavy metal, punk, grunge, hip-hop, and the like. We subconsciously emulated our favourite musicians, be it their hairstyles or their fashion sense. The clothes, we felt, were an extension of who we were as individuals.
Later with the advent of the internet, the exposure to Western culture burgeoned, and for the youth, fashion became a great outlet to express themselves freely. The North-East also has a very strong tribal culture, which has generated a great diversity of weaves, fibres, colours, embroideries and materials of clothing. Here, a craft is not practised as a hobby, nor is it a commercial venture; it is an integral part of the life and customs of the people. Owing to the climatic conditions, most of the fabrics woven in these hilly regions are heavy cottons and silks. For example, the bags and fabrics for our brand munkee.see.munkee.doo’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection were woven in Manipur and that was when we realised how difficult it is to make lightweight fabrics there since the weavers are used to working with heavier or thicker yarns. In Manipur, like in other parts of the region, weaving is entirely the work of women and it is a treat to watch them exchange ideas on weaving, embroidery, beading, and their passion for the craft. Among the Meiteis, Kabuis, Thangkhuls and Kukis, women practising this craft are usually married. Whereas, among the Paites and Hmars, the majority of the weavers are unmarried women. Textiles in Manipur have been associated with social and ritualistic events for a long time.
Even today, most of the textiles are produced and sold within North-East; it is almost as if the colours and motifs represent some sort of sociocultural meaning that is imperative to the lifestyle of the people. At munkee.see.munkee.doo, our vision is to introduce a modern and contemporary version of Manipur textiles to the global customer and in the process support, encourage and uplift traditional weavers by making their craft commercially and economically viable. We have now started working with another group of weavers on lightweight cottons for the next season and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it. These are exciting times for the North-East fashion scene. We are now, more than ever before, seeing a host of keen, young, talented entrepreneurs getting recognition and making serious inroads into the competitive world of fashion.
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