“When you know what you’re against you have taken the first step to discovering what you’re for,” Salman Rushdie had wisely commented. Similar was the case of Vaishali Shadangule, who left home in act of rebellion against societal pressures that dictated she live an ordinary life. Today, she is anything but ordinary – as she creates pieces of wearable art and uplifts communities through her creations
Vaishali Shadangule, who is globally celebrated for her design, was only able to showcase this talent after blood, sweat and tears paved a path for her. This path in retrospect seems promising, but at the time was a risky step towards a far-fetched dream. For this small town girl from Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, fashion was a luxury if not a fantasy, as at the time, she resisted societal forces that were pushing her towards marriage and away from pursuing higher education –one she fulfilled many years later, at Pearl Academy.
In 1997, Shadangule, an Indian girl with a middle-class background, dared to dream. Chasing independence from the burdens of societal pressures, 18-year-old Vaishali ran away from home to Bhopal without any plan. “A lot of odd jobs exposed me to a latent instinct that lay within me that I wasn’t aware of — I would always tell people what to wear, what looked good and took great pleasure in doing so,” she says.
After a suggestion from an acquaintance to explore fashion, Vaishali opened up to the possibility of design, which in itself presented a diversification of challenges. “Barely being able to make ends meet with what I could earn, I was able to attend only three days of fashion studies in a college where I learned the bare minimum of how to make a fashion figure,” she says. So, the self-taught designer applied for jobs, the first of which was teaching fashion illustration. Her talent for illustrating however,did not make up for the skill of teaching that she lacked, so after six months of teaching in Baroda, Vaishali bought a ticket to Mumbai and took a leap of faith.
After a research seminar in Mumbai, Shadangule’s dream began to materialize, as she attracted attention and inquiries for her work. As though treading on thin ice, she carefully worked her way up through jobs and hard work, to ultimately acquire a 150 square feet space in Malad, which marked the launch of her brand, Vaishali S.
For many, the launch of a brand would be the well-deserved endof a turbulent journey of trouble and toil, but for Vaishali, comfort was boring. “As a young woman, I had this dream of understanding the craft and studying it, and so I went to Pearl Academy and did exactly that,” she says. So, Vaishali, wife, businesswoman based in Mumbai, and mother of one, set out to Delhi to fulfill the dream her 18-year-old self envisioned for her. What came next was Masters in Milan in 2013 and her first show at New York fashion week in 2016 (after which she has presented four more collections), where she proudly showcased the beauty of Indian textile.
Exposure to the glitz of New York and Milan, or the glamour of Mumbai’s rich and famous played no role in Shadangule’s design ideology – for who inspiration emerged from the pallu of her mother’s Chanderi sari. “My collection in 2011 explored contemporary silhouettes made from Chanderi fabrics. I wanted to shed light upon the fact that Chanderi could be worn in a different context than just the sari,” she adds. And so, the designer played a major role in freeing Chanderi,Paithani, and handloom techniques from West Bengal and Karnataka, to name a few, from the confines of traditional silhouettes and shapes.
With this idea, the designer explores the weave practiced in villages of Maharashtra and Karnataka, the Khun weave, and gears up to showcase it at LMIFW AW’19. Through her collection, she attempts at maximising the use of this technique on saris as well as modern silhouettes, to increase the demand of this craft, which currently is used solely for blouses – a very miniscule market.
“It is unnerving to see craftspeople, who possess treasures in the form of looms and crafts, lock up their shops and leave because they are being exploited or worse, treated like the carriers of a dying craft. A village that was known for Khun weaves, where I have researched and developed my collection, had over two hundred looms less than a decade ago. Today, it has not more than 75,” says the designer, with great concern.
It is refreshing to see a designer connect emotionally to the communities that carry crafts forward. Her design intervention modernises their creations so as to create a demand, which she hopes will sustain these communities who are slowly ditching their crafts in order to make ends meet. So, while designing, she keeps the essence of the craft alive to create wearable pieces of art from handspun weaves. “The colour palette of the entire collection for LMIFW AW’19 is colourful, because that is what Khun is in its purest form,” she adds.
Vaishali continues to explore the depths of what was once a dream, without negating the reality of the craftspeople that make it possible. “We have the responsibility to create demand, showcase their work and most importantly – to give back,” she says. The designer refuses to believe the right amount of attention is being paid to these communities who constitute a crucial part of India’s cultural fabric.
“If a person gets due credit and respect for their expertise, they wouldn’t ditch that expertise to do odd jobs. They would take pride and pass it on to younger generations. We must do what needs to be done to revive,” she urges the readers. Her latest collection is an attempt to do just that, as she showcases the versatile craft and brings weavers to Delhi for an interactive session to bridge the gap and create conversation.
With her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground, Vaishali hopes to create for the future, while simultaneously reviving wonders of the past that may have been forgotten. Her middle-class values of sensitivity, selflessness and fighting the good fight – give her an edge in an overly competitive industry.
Compiled by Diya Mathur