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Verve People
July 23, 2019

Gundi Studios Is Designer Natasha Sumant’s Attempt At Subverting The Patriarchy

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

Naming her label after a word that seeks to shame women into being less assertive, the New York-based founder — who also works with women artisans in India — is battling sexism with fashion

“She’s a complete gundi!” An expression used to shame outspoken girls into behaving more ‘lady-like’, a word that reduces powerful, rebellious women to simply loud ‘feminazis’, one that made Natasha Sumant bristle with indignation. Through her younger years she noticed that there was a strangeness to how men looked at women who were comfortable in their own skin, almost as if they were worried about what would happen if they galvanised legions of their gender into rebelling against the heavily ingrained patriarchy. Reading about feminist narratives further opened her eyes to a world where she wasn’t limited by her gender.  So when she decided to start her own label after working as an art director with illustrious names like Michael Kors and Pat Mcgrath — she was also part of the team that conceptualised the theme for the Punk Met Ball in 2013 — it was only natural that she turn to feminism as a starting point for the label in addition to drawing from the rich textile heritage of her home country.

Last year, Swara Bhasker wore a vintage jacket in one of the scenes for Veere Di Wedding, where she played the quintessential badass, telling off typical society aunties and boldly walking out of a marriage that no longer made her happy. Pinned to the jacket was a Gundi patch with the intention of highlighting the character’s I-don’t-give-a-damn state of mind. “Feminism dictates all that we do at Gundi Studios,” says Sumant. “Everything we put out comes from first serving women and then serving the environment. The line started as a patch that said Gundi, which I would pin onto vintage clothes and sell online. After Veere Di Wedding, our data from sales told us that people preferred to buy a jacket with a patch pinned on, rather than the individual patch. So we made clothes from scratch.”

We asked the designer to shed light on the stereotypes that prompted her to start this label and managing the labour-intensive processes that happen in India remotely.

What is the story behind the name of your label?
Gundi means female thug in Hindi and the ethos of the label is to celebrate outspoken South Asian women; a figure that I believe has been absent in pop culture. When you’re young and being bratty, people often call you a ‘Gundi’ in a playful way, but as women grow older, they are often punished for breaking rules or going against the grain. I want the label to inspire women to rebel in a healthy way. 

Is there a particular garment that sums up what Gundi Studios stands for?
Our Azaadi dress is deliberately made from Khadi, a material that is intrinsically linked to the independence movement of India. By recontextualizing Khadi to a dress produced by a feminist brand — made by women-owned and women-centred workers — we created a piece that is reflective of the new wave of feminism that is sweeping across South Asia today.

How would you describe your personal style?
I’m still trying to define my personal style but I certainly base the silhouettes of Gundi’s garments on things I would personally wear. 

How do you curate the content that appears on Gundi Studios’ website?
We either create or commission the content that appears on our website. We specialise in long-form and aim to cover topics like sustainability, feminism and pop culture with a focus on creative individuals that we think are inspiring. 

Since your garments are produced in India, how do you manage the label from New York?
I live in Mumbai for part of the year, specifically to oversee product development and design. I design all the pieces myself and prototype them in a workshop in Delhi once a year. We don’t believe in the collection or fashion week model as such. In a larger effort towards sustainability, Sweden recently cancelled the concept of the ‘fashion week’ to discourage the seasonal collection model, and that is what we have adopted as well. 

Once the prototypes are made, we work with various women-centred production units to roll out small batches of garments. A thorough understanding of every aspect of our supply chain is a huge priority as our goal is to meaningfully impact women as both producers and consumers of fashion. 

For the part of the year that I am in New York, I have access to better technology and along with a great team of collaborators that I coordinate with in India, I get the remainder of the work done. I personally handle all content creation, social media and design aspect of the brand so I work on that remotely. I consider myself really lucky to be able to live in two truly diverse cities that have their own unique Gundi community.

How do you communicate with the women that you employ from India?
While we’re still a lean operation, my first hire has been a consultant who is inspecting every aspect of our production process with an ethical and sustainable lens, right from fabric sourcing to the packaging we sell them in. We won’t work with anyone without conducting proper due diligence, which definitely involves meeting those who are producing our clothing. Our first major production run is happening within the next few months during which we’ll be sharing stories from some of the inspiring women who are part of our supply chain.

We say our streetwear is created in a women-centred supply chain. That’s not just because we work with suppliers who employ women to make clothes, but ideally, those that are run by women and have them in management positions or in roles — like pattern-makers — that are traditionally held by men. We want to support as many businesses like ours that take a holistic approach to women’s empowerment; it’s not just enough to employ women, you have to create conditions that will help them succeed and make the most of that employment as well.

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