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Contemporary Indian designers Gundi Studios
Gundi Studiosvia Instagram (@gundistudios)

The Indian designers remixing their heritage for a new era

Gundi Studios, Mae, and NorBlack NorWhite are turning out contemporary collections that dig deep into the country’s artisanal history

Forget New York, London, Paris, and Milan – at least for a while. Some of the most exciting fashion happening right now is bubbling up far beyond ‘the big four’. From South Africa to Seoul, Nigeria to New Zealand, a vibrant new gen of designers are eschewing the establishment and creating on their own terms, within their own communities. The world might have locked down last year, but thanks to social media and progressions within tech, fashion feels more global than ever.

One place that’s fizzling with electric creative energy is India. A variegated fashion playground brimming with rising talent, the country is home to a growing group of designers that are reinventing streetwear by reimagining it through their own unique lens. Oversized shirts are given a bandhani (tie-dye) revamp, outerwear is embellished with exquisite zardozi embroidery, and bright, co-ord lounge sets are crafted from upcycled sarees by brands like Gundi Studios and NorBlack NorWhite.

Espousing Indian textile families, weavers, and artisans, these community-driven brands instill contemporary pieces with extraordinary, history-indebted flourishes and skill honed across generations. The result? Clothes that can be worn to a big Indian wedding just as easily as they can be thrown on for a turbulent rickshaw ride through the local neighbourhood. 

But it’s not just clothing that’s on the agenda for these blossoming brands. Unafraid of tackling social and political issues within their work, a number of designers are challenging gender ideals and blurring the binary lines through their collections, while others are reclaiming disparaging terms thrown at women by twisting them on their head. Here, we meet the creative minds behind Gundi Studios, NorBlack NorWhite, and Mae – three of the most exciting designers on the scene. 


How do you turn the tables on a derogatory tag that has long existed to describe outspoken and assertive South Asian women? By owning it in all its glory. Doing exactly this is 29-year-old Natasha Sumant, who’s striving to smash the patriarchy by celebrating gundis – a slang expression that translates to female thug – around the world, courtesy of her slow fashion brand Gundi Studios

Best known for creating satin bomber jackets that feature the label’s nameplate in hand-stitched, shimmery zardozi embroidery – an elaborate art form demanding long hours and deft handiwork – Gundi Studios pays homage to an embellishment technique historically prevalent in Indian culture.

Traditionally only carried out by men, Sumant is seeking to change this by working with female artisans to create the intricate patterns seen throughout her collections. It’s also a way of systemically combatting the lack of opportunities available to women from underprivileged communities across India. 

With the label getting its start in 2018, the young designer now shuttles between Mumbai and New York, staying close to her roots with appearances on the runway at Lakmé Fashion Week. With a focus on quality, not quantity, instead of churning out endless collections, Sumant is taking her time – turning out brilliantly thoughtful, boundary-pushing collections as a result. 


Long before tie-dye fashion found its prominence in music festivals, runway presentations, as an emblem of psychedelia and in the fickle dictionary of trends, it existed as a ubiquitous practice in India known as bandhani. In fact, it’s as popular now as it ever was. 

On a trip to Kutch, Gujarat in 2010, Toronto-raised friends-turned-business partners Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar discovered the nuances of this old-school craft, which in hindsight set the foundation of NorBlack NorWhite’s core values – preserving indigenous textiles and living in colour. There, they met a family who were experimenting with bandhani “in a way that left us excited and inspired,” recalls Kapadiya. Soon after, NBNW was born out of a New-Delhi studio, with members of this inspiring family working alongside the two designers to conjure vibrant, easy-breezy collections with a focus on exploring the ‘grey’ space that exists within fashion and culture. 

From sweat-sets and army jackets dyed in a mirage of shades to hand-painted chiffon sarees and organza tier dresses – each piece exudes comfort without compromising on the flamboyance. “The process of designing for NBNW is liberating because we make what we love and there are no rules to be followed,” explains Kapadiya.

More recently, the brand has evolved to become a cohesive platform championing POC and artisanship by giving us an insider view into its distinctive production process and the close-knit team leading it through an ongoing video series called Know Your Craft


Translating to ‘I am’ in Hindi, indie clothing label Mae initially started out as a personal project to enable Jayeta Rohilla to pinpoint her identity and personal style – because after all, what we choose to wear is essentially an extension of ourselves. Having experienced a multicultural upbringing that led her to wildly different corners of the world – Sweden, Nigeria, and China among others – she struggled with a conundrum faced by most diasporic Indians. “I didn’t fit in the box of what being a traditional Indian dresser meant but neither did I completely embrace Western ideals of fashion,” she reveals. 

With this in mind, she put her energy into creating a unique space that fuses this duality in a manner that means those like her needn’t choose between one or the other. Describing Mae as non-binary, Rohilla strongly believes that clothing doesn’t have a gender. 

A culmination of hip-hop and Bollywood influences often piques the 31-year-old designer’s interest, giving way to a range of bold fusion-wear. Think blinding neon bomber jackets interspersed with silk brocade patches, pleated cotton dresses, and oversized puffer jackets with built-in gloves concocted from upcycled Banarasi sarees. Indian bridalwear even gets an overhaul in Rohilla’s hands, as relaxed and extravagant are woven together in a novel design language that includes lush maroon hoodies and matching pants adorned with gold sequins.