There is an evident provocativeness to the pieces created by Surmai Jain’s Polite Society. There is a mix of clean lines and jagged edges. There is comfort and construction. There is a dichotomy that exists in perfect balance. By definition, ‘Polite Society’ refers to the wealthy and their appreciation for ‘appropriate behaviour.’ But this brand exists in a space that a normal 'polite society' cannot contain provocativeness and propriety in the same breath, in the same silhouette.
Polite Society the label, according to their website “transcends that very thought process and instead values community, culture, and comfort. The garments from the brand cross categories that go beyond trends and fads and deliver wardrobe investments that instil confidence and conviction within the wearer. The brand’s aim is a simple one - to craft clothes that are as innovative as they are wearable - not by popular society’s standard but rather as the wearer’s statement, all while fostering a culture that brings local talent and craftsmanship to the fore of fashion.”
Founded by designer Surmai Jain in 2020, Polite Society is a streetwear brand, that epitomizes the fusion of luxury and technique. Born out of a passion for fashion and a deep concern for the world at large, Jain embarked on a journey to create a brand that challenged the status quo. "I always believed that fashion could be a powerful tool for change," she explained during our conversation.
Surmai Jain's journey began in the design industry, where she witnessed the concerns that often lurked behind the glamourous façade of the fashion world. In the bustling streets of Bombay, her brand, Polite Society, has emerged as a unique and powerful voice in the world of fashion. And while the label may be at home in Bombay, Surmai Jain's journey with fashion began in Jaipur, where she launched the brand three years ago. With a background in fashion communication from NIFT Bombay and a year-long stint in marketing and advertising at FIT New York, Surmai's creative path was initially paved as a graphic designer.
However, her childhood dream of starting her own fashion brand never faded, and she decided to take the leap. Her venture into fashion didn't start with formal training in design. Instead, she embarked on a self-learning journey. She took pattern-making classes and closely collaborated with local tailors to understand the intricate art of translating sketches into tangible garments. This transition was a challenging yet gratifying process, and it laid the foundation for Polite Society. Surmai's journey to fashion entrepreneurship coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, an unexpected twist that altered her path in profound ways. During this challenging period, she found herself exploring new creative avenues, unburdened by external expectations. It was during this time that she launched her first collection in October 2020. This experience reaffirmed her passion for fashion and solidified her commitment to Polite Society. After initially starting the brand in Jaipur, Surmai moved back to Bombay to set up a studio and a production team. This transition allowed her to tap into the vibrant and diverse fashion scene of the city. With a team comprising two tailors, a master tailor, and an intern, Polite Society continued to grow and evolve.
Polite Society stands out not only for its unique designs but also for its distinct ideology. Surmai Jain's approach to design is influenced by two key factors: challenging societal norms and a deep appreciation for global fashion culture. One facet of her design philosophy revolves around challenging conventional notions of femininity and appropriateness. Surmai aims to create a space where societal expectations don't dictate style choices. Her silhouettes reflect this vision, offering a more positive perspective on femininity and its inherent power. One that is reflective of her personality as well. Polite Society doesn't stop at producing ethical clothing. Surmai Jain envisions her brand as a lifestyle, one that encourages responsible consumer choices. "We want our consumers to embrace Polite Society as a way of living" she said.
The brand promotes longevity in fashion, encouraging customers to invest in timeless pieces that stand the test of time rather than fast fashion trends that contribute to waste. This concept is also what inspired her to launch the collection Poli-morph. While it might not be possible to sell items to their customers who expect perfection out of their main lines, she created a micro-collection that made use of stray seams and seemingly ruined fabrics. One of the pieces from this collection includes Lilly - an upcycled denim jacket “stitched from damaged and rejected pieces at the Polite Society Studio. A detachable flower detail on one side featuring a side pocket on the other.”
The other aspect of her design philosophy is rooted in her fascination with global fashion culture and trends. She believes in the concept of "new luxury," which goes beyond craftsmanship to encompass the brand's values and ideas. Polite Society often blends contrasting materials, such as denim and tailoring, in unconventional ways, creating pieces that challenge traditional norms and expectations.
Polite Society operates with a small but dedicated team. While Surmai has recently welcomed an assistant designer to the team, she remains heavily involved in the design process. Her vision for the future includes expanding the team to fuel further creativity and growth. With an in-house production team and a separate group managing social media, PR, and marketing, Polite Society is hoping to make a lasting impact on the fashion world. As Surmai Jain continues to push boundaries with her unique design philosophy and unwavering commitment to challenging societal norms, with a fusion of personal ideology and a deep appreciation for the art of fashion, Surmai Jain and Polite Society’s journey is just the beginning of an inspiring and transformative attempt at following one's philosophy and convictions.
As Surmai Jain aptly summarizes, "Polite Society isn't just a brand; it's a philosophy. It's a reminder that we can be fashionable and responsible, elegant and ethical – all at once. Our journey has just begun, and we are excited to see where it takes us."
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