Meet 7 Global Fashion Designers From The Northeast India

1. Mawi Keivom

Mawi Keivom’s namesake brand all began with charm jewelry. A series to which she adorned jewels and vintage baubles sparking a ocean of style-seeking copycats across the world.

Mawi was born; and since show begin at London Fashion Week in 2002, Mawi’s covetable designs fueled by foreign encounters, far-flung cultures and ancient traditions have been capturing hearts worldwide. High-end costume jewelry and accessories with a forward thinking aesthetic, a tonne of glitter and bags of glamour – it’s no wonder we’re all in love.

Here, we chat childhood globetrotting, her native India, her sources of inspiration and that Bauhaus camera bag with Mawi Keivom.
Showcased in London, Paris and Milan, her designs have been spotted on everyone from Rihanna and Scarlett Johanssen to Deepika Padukone.

“I tend to work with classic materials: crystals, pearls and semi -precious stones. I also use a variety of materials (from gold and lace to papier-mâché) depending on the season and the inspiration,” says Keivom, whose earliest fashion memory is raiding her mother’s trunks for vintage clothes which she would cut and re-work.

With a flagship store in Shoreditch and plans to expand, the brand is working on re-launching their men’s jewellery line; together with new designer collaborations (earlier ones include Selfridges, Hugo Boss and Disney).

2. Atsu Sekhose

Designer, Atsu, New Delhi

“Creativity defines us,” says Delhi-based designer Sekhose, who recently celebrated 10 years in the fashion industry. “With our exposure to western music and fashion from South East Asia, we have a good sense of style. Also, coming from Nagaland, we grow up with a great textile aesthetic.” While his clothes may not be overtly ‘tribal inspired’ — especially the new spring/summer ’18 collection, which is retro inspired with modern silhouettes — he believes his colour sensibility reveals his roots. “There’s always a use of graphic elements, bold colours like red, black and white, and, of course, my love of stripes,” he laughs. “Once I made a collection that people called the Naga ball gowns, but they were not! But I guess the inspiration is always there.”

With a strong clientèle in the Middle East, the NIFT graduate — who apprenticed with Tarun Tahiliani and worked with Spanish high street brand ZARA, before launching ATSU in 2007 — is making headway in the US and the UK markets, especially with his prêt line. Red carpets and magazines also flaunt ATSU — like Prachi Desai’s black-and-white outfit at the GQ Best Dressed 2017 and Deepika Padukone’s Elle (December 2016) shoot. Recently, the 38-year-old, who hails from Kohima, has begun working with artisans from the Northeast. “We are doing our own colour stories now, with an eye on the international market,” says the designer, who is putting the final touches to a new home line that he will be launching by the end of this year.

3. Keren Longkumer

Co-founder, LOQ, Los Angeles

A young design aspirant, Keren Logkumer from Nagaland went to the United States of America to pursue her passion for fashion from Fashion Institute of design & merchandising, California, where she discovered her love for shoes and is now the co-founder of a well-known shoe brand LoQ in 2015 with her best friend Valerie Quant, whom she met at a footwear design program in Los Angeles.

The Northeast Indian designer shares a long distance work relationship with Quant as they work from India and LA respectively. LoQ’s footwear is designed in Los Angeles and crafted in Spain, and is made for women who are always on their toes.

She had chosen footwear because she was tired of doing technical flat sketches for apparel. I had so much fun researching and drawing shoes, I realized I could do this for life,” says Longkumer, whose earliest memory of shoes is trying on her mum’s royal blue, pointy-toe suede pumps. “I remember asking her to save them for when I grow up. I think that memory subconsciously inspired me to pursue footwear design,” she adds.

“Today, the two-year-old footwear brand is going places. Most recently, singer Solange Knowles wore their Villa (suede square-toe pumps) in her video; don’t touch My Hair, and also the Xavi (tubular strap sandals) in Cranes in the Sky. “We are now in over 50 stores, from Hong Kong and France, to New Zealand,”

Speaking of managing work from two different time zones, she says, “It’s vital to communicate, to listen, and to respect each other’s point of view/decision.”

4.Shenali Sema

Co-founder, Untitled Co, New Delh   

Born in Nagaland, graduate in Textile Design from National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad, and having studied fashion from the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (CSM) in London – she is every bit an artist. She now lives in Noida (uttar Pradesh).

With her work featured in Vogue, Elle, Grazia, Harpers in India and has been featured globally in surface Asia Magazine and Business of Fashion-as one of the rising talents in Asia. the designer from Nagaland says the region, “known for its rich craft and textile heritage”, greatly influenced her perception of design. “Our approach to design is driven by varied interpretations of traditional embroidery techniques, surface treatments and fabric manipulation,” she adds. Sema is currently working with a group of NID designers to start a collaborative platform that involves the exchange of design and techniques with craftspeople from the Northeast and elsewhere in India.

She was also written about by Susanna Lau of Style Bubble- one of the most influential fashion blogs in the world. She was also the creative director of the fashion house- Morphed India, before starting her new venture UNTITLED Co.

The brand name, Untitled Co, says nothing, yet says a lot. “Our view of design is constantly evolving; incomplete and unfinished at every stage, with room for growth — like an untitled piece of art. We wanted to create a space that nurtures this thought process,” begins Shenali Sema. Launched in February this year, the label — that showcased the first collection at LFW — is part of Untitled Design India, a company she started with business partner, Rinzin Lama, in 2015.

“We function as an export house and work with design teams of various international brands to put together runway collections. We also work as creative consultants for export houses in India,” says the 33-year-old, who was drawn to textiles as a preschooler, with “my mother’s old magazines of Lady Di keeping me company”.

5.Nixon Bui

A native of Daporijo in Upper Subansiri district, Arunachal Pradesh, Nixon Bui is the founder and creative director of his eponymous fashion label NIXONBUI, a contemporary fashion-culture brand based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

When business school didn’t satisfy him, Nixon Bui decided to stay back in Copenhagen to pursue his other interest, design. “It was always there, the fascination for design and art, to create something out of nothing,” says Bui, who credits his interest to his mother, a crafts teacher. “NIXONBUI (launched in 2014) offered a way to connect my love for my heritage and tribal roots with my passion,” he adds.

The brand, founded in 2014, draws heavily on motifs of tribal communities of North East India. The tribal inspirations are not only reflected in the designs, but also in the values of designing which recognizes and respects the forces of nature and advocates quality and originality. A native of the Tagin tribe of Arunachal, Bui blends ancient tribal and minimalistic Scandinavian elements in his work.

The essence of the brand can be described as an urban expression of tribal energy, implementing the tribal philosophy into the modern world. “One of his successful designs is a denim jacket with the face of an Arunachali tribal woman embroidered on it,” he shares

With two collections a year, Bui’s mashups of urban wear and tribal-inspired designs are balanced out with detailed handworked techniques. “Scandinavian design is minimalist, while tribal motifs are bold. But there is geometric base to both,” says the 30-year-old, who participated in the Copenhagen Fashion Week this year and is planning an event in Itanagar this December.

Bui’s pilot collection displayed T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, pants, and caps. Twenty-one unique pieces inspired by the tribal lifestyle of the northeast were showcased.

6. Stacey Pongener Syiem

Fashion Designer Stacey Pongener Syiem was born and brought up in Shillong, Meghalya has been weaving a successful career in the UK with elan. She has been running three businesses – Little Hill People, Stacey Strahand, and Independent London Fashion Week in the countryside of West Yorkshire. Now a proud mother of three adorable daughters.

Stacey once wished to be a boy because her father did not treat her right. she was the youngest in her family and following the matrilineal system(youngest daughter inherits all the ancestral property) in her region
she would receive the largest share of the property which was against her father’s wish.

when she was three she was sent to live with her aunt but she had to return to her family when her aunt relocated abroad and didn’t want to take along because of financial constraints. At home, she then tried to act like a man and started doing heavy labor on the farm to prove that she could be just as worthy as her brothers. In his father’s eyes,women are weak ,manipulative, and bred to become wives and mothers.

When she got tired of proving her right to be his heir, I swam out of the pond and ventured into the wilderness, excited and free, to do what I was destined to be. It’s an incredible feeling to know that the girls in my city now look up to me. I had promised my six-year-old self that someday I will do great things and the “being a girl” tag will not be able to stop me. I was determined and understood that if I have the brains and courage to achieve something in life, nothing can stop me.

She started with a collaboration with an NGO that provided livelihood programmes to women. And, now I buy directly from women weavers from Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. She try to give a bulk order to them in every six months and she don’t haggle with them.

A self-taught designer, Syiem has been at it from the age of eight. “I used to help my grandmother on her hand loom, then I began making clothes for myself and my friends. I would spend ages reading fashion magazines, studying how she could incorporate a contemporary aesthetic into our handloom,” says the West Yorkshire-based designer.

CEO, Little Hill People, West Yorkshire Stacey Syiem showcases her collection at a recent show Stacey Syiem A Little Hill People tribal-inspired
While Little Hill People began with bags in 2013 — their Gabil messenger bag, with a traditional arrow motif, is popular — the sustainable ‘urban tribal’ brand soon got into clothes. TV personality Pascal Craymer was recently spotted in one of their dresses with khasi dharatrimming.

Ever since she launched her Little Hill People, business has been growing steadily for Stacey Syiem she is now the CEO of the company. She’s been busy popularizing the ancient tribal art craft of the several North-East Indian tribes.

“Luxury shoppers love things that have a story. That’s how the brand was born,” says the 33-year-old, who works with a team of artisans back home to manufacture them. “Going forward, I’d like to team up with the government and set up an industrial unit.”

With a few outings at the London Fashion Week, and an upcoming showcase at the Independent London Fashion Week in 2018, she says the brand is now expanding to Europe, with Sweden being their newest stockist. Syiem is currently working on a collection that will also use saris woven in the Northeast, along with applique and embroidery. 

7.Richana Khumanthem

Richana Khumanthem was born and brought up in Imphal, a quaint little city tucked away in the northeast region of India. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi and a Master’s degree in Fashion Business & Management from Nottingham Trent University, UK.

Brought up in a community that follows Paganism, Richana grew up amidst fascinating folktales, myths and legends. This influence clearly shows through in her concepts as well as her design collections. Richana strives to bring the textiles of Northeast India, and Manipur in particular, to the forefront of both the national and international fashion industry.

She BELIEVES this can be achieved only by bridging the gap between the local artisans and the consumers. Every piece of indigenous hand loom has a story to tell. It is these stories, behind every motif, every textile that will ultimately be the binding force between the artisans and consumers, not as two separate strata of the same glamorous industry, but as one entity who understands, feels and cherish the depth and history behind every hand loom creation.

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