How Homegrown Designers Are Modernizing Classic South Indian Motifs

L: Inaki The Label R: Rouka
L: Inaki The Label R: RoukaImages from Inaki The Label and Rouka

The who’s who of fashion was talking about the Dior show in Mumbai at the end of March and how well it featured Indian craft and motifs and gave the artisans their due. Many popular publications and social media commentators talked about how Madras Checks, which typify South Indian attire, were featured. While many stunning designs were featured on the runway, touting the idea that the madras checks that were featured in the collection are soley representative of South Indian design is reductive. 

While Kerala Kasavu and the Tamilian Madras Checks are typical examples of South Indian motifs, it hardly begins to scratch the surface. From the ghostly Palapoo to the auspicious Kolam, from Kaithari fabric to Kotapad or Kanjeevaram sarees and everything in between, there are a myriad of fabrics and motifs that are representative of South Indian culture and identity, which may not be as well known. The following are three South Indian designers who draw from their everyday life and the legacy of their identity to create modern designs.

Inaki The Label

Founded by Lakshmi Subramanian, Inaki the label is a handcrafted designer brand based out of Chennai. Co-creating with rural craft communities, Inaki creates designs that are innately South Indian. They focus on creating contemporary designs from handwoven textiles that are versatile, comfortable and showcase Indian fabrics and motifs. Their recent collection is called Zha Collective which has Tamil culture-inspired clothing that is created in association with Buriya — an NGO for Lambadi tribal women in Tamil Nadu. From a loose-fitted genderless shirt that features embroidered motifs of female workers in a paddy field to a circle top made from lungi fabric, this collection truly highlights the brand’s strong Tamil roots. 

Rouka by Sreejith Jeevan

Guneet Monga, the producer of Elephant Whisperers wore a handwoven cotton sari appliqued with elephant motifs for their pre-oscar event. This saree was created by the Kochi-based brand Rouka, founded by Sreejith Jeevan. From elephants to the wildflowers of Kerala, Sreejith is a designer whose works highlight the many shades and motifs of Kerala. Over the years, his sarees have built a cult-like following among passionate saree lovers. He works with multiple weaving clusters across Kerala to create handwoven pieces that modernise the typical Kasavu, highlight the craftsmanship of Kaithari (Kerala handloom) and seeks to take them beyond the limits of special occasions. 

Kalki by Karunya 

Kalki is a slow fashion brand founded by Karunya Rajan, a creative from Mettupalayam in Tamil Nadu who creates timeless, one-off pieces. She draws heavily from her childhood and her cultural identity to fashion attires from locally sourced handloom fabrics, that are embroidered at their studio in her hometown. From embroideries on Kotapad sarees to temple pattern cuffs on oversized shirts, Karunya plays with the canvas and embroideries on her designs. She is also the founder of Bungalow Medu - a café and travel shop in Mettupalayam where one can see the available pieces from her bespoke collection. 

If you enjoyed reading this, here's more from Homegrown: 

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