Tugging at the tresses of your memory, nimble fingers braided together family secrets and Jātaka Tales while a tincture of coconut oil smoothed over the coarseness of your childhood — such was the power of champi (head massage) in South Asian households. This sacred ritual passed down from mother to daughter in a long, unbroken thread of resilient femininity, lends itself emotionally to the latest fall-winter chapter of mixed media couture by streetwear label Gundi Studios. Hand spun by women across Kachchh, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, the heritage capsule envisioned by founder Natasha Sumant promotes sustainability and a circular economy.
Dyed with pigments from local flora clinging to Himalayan foothills and open meadows, the upcycled cardigans and sweaters of the Champi collection are the handiwork of traditional artisans at Kullvi WHIMS (Women of Himachal Self-help group) who painstakingly enmeshed Pahadi motifs into indigenous wool reared by the semi-pastoral Gaddi community over half a year. Their enthralling knitwear is adorned by a geometric patchwork of polychromatic blocks that do not overlap and thus stand out in contrast with each other as the trademark of sharp design. Such an effect could only be possible through the age-old intarsia technique requiring seasoned craftsmanship and forbearance, testament to how much love these women poured into each of Gundi Studios' contemporary creations.
With boundary blurring originality, the studio eschews fleeting sartorial trends to incorporate Indian accents within urban chic silhouettes. With a touch of inspiration, their style vocabulary cajoles oddballs like quilted skirts and shackets into the universe, reinvigorated by diverse influences ranging from Mughal era mashru legacy to punk wrap-arounds straight from the 1960s. The hybridised saree dress, on the other hand, bears a bodice conjured up from sensuously see-through organza woven by the Kachchh cluster, to be later cut and sewn together in a workshop at Delhi.
When Natasha was a freelance art director in New York long before building her ethical fashion, slow living label from the ground up, she spotted a heartbreaking paradox of how the world's third largest exporter of textiles continues to slip under the radar when it comes to diversity on the international runway. Determined to integrate Indian women across each step of the way from sketch to stitch, Gundi Studios is spearheading unapologetic gender equality when it comes to the distribution of labour or their outspoken brand image, challenging the male gaze that dominates visual narratives across the globe and daring us to do better.
Browse through the Champi collection here.
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