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Storytelling is important to promote traditional textiles, says Rina Singh

In an interview with Lounge, the designer talks about her flagship store in Delhi, navigating social media to build a fashion brand, and why she doesn't like the bodycon silhouette

Eka's flagship store in south Delhi
Eka's flagship store in south Delhi

Designer Rina Singh has opened a flagship store in Delhi to celebrate 11 years of her design brand Eka, which focuses heavily on making traditional textiles and techniques part of everyday wear. 

The store, in south Delhi's Meherchand market, uses age-old techniques of architecture. "We have used limestones on the walls, employed reclaimed wood to create the furniture and the arches. It's earthy, rustic, rooted in traditional techniques of the architecture, so I think these values kind of bind the entire brand story and the universe together," says Singh.

In an interview with Lounge, she talks about the brand journey, the new store and why storytelling is important in fashion. Edited excerpts:

A flagship store in Delhi after 11 years… how does it feel?

It’s a milestone, we could have launched it two years earlier, but the pandemic also gave us a lot of insight into further edit. For Eka, the core values remain the absolutely same, but given the pandemic and the amount of noise that we have digitally around us, I have realised that just surviving and selling clothes on e-commerce and through multi-store models is not going to work for us a lot, because I was not able to culminate the whole of Eka in one place. I wanted to present Eka as a lifestyle brand that has so many other value propositions. We have sub brands like Core, menswear and Home. We have retained our value systems for sure, but now comes the change of expression. Warming up to new sensibilities of how we can express ourselves, whether in photography or textile campaigns, has become extremely important to us.

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How important is storytelling for a craft based brand like Eka?

Storytelling is important, especially in the time we are living in. There is so much noise around us, everybody is doing a lot of generic sustainable fashion, everyone is using craft techniques. When I started, I knew this was the only focus area for what we wanted to do. As you travel along the way, you realise that building that candidature for your consumer is the most important thing that can only be done if we indulge in storytelling again and again. I do campaigns that I shoot widely in nature because I think India has so much to offer and honestly, the ecosystem inspires us. 

I don’t think the crafts of India would be anything if we were not a country like we are. So if you see the north, the south or the east or the west, all the indigenous crafts of the country, the textile crafts, are the way they are because there is a particular kind of climatic condition. So ajrakh can only happen where there’s a river flowing, so you can wash it five times for different colourways. You have ample amount of sunlight and you have the mud that you need to do 15 variations of a colour. Likewise, the kind of finest cotton that we weave in West Bengal can only be done there and nowhere else in the world. The kind of climatic conditions that are needed to create that kind of a language or a specific weave can only be done with those local materials. Hence, I feel telling these craft stories with the narrative involved is very important.

You were rooting for mindfulness and sustainability before it became a buzzword. Now there’s a deluge of brands with similar narratives and aesthetics. Does that bother you?

I would much rather put more intelligence instead of maximising you know… changing the whole narrative of my clothes. I still want to do clothes for every day, I still want to do clothes that are rich in textiles. They are extremely wearable and they are meaningful and valuable as far as the textile dexterity is concerned. Having believed in all those values, I don’t think now I want to start a lot of embellishments or start doing millmade or different kinds of shade aesthetic and styling. But yes, how to edit it out and how to present the collection to the customer to keep it fresh and still desirable for the customer… this is something we need to consistently work on. Does it bother me? Not at all! I think natural textiles or our own traditional or heritage textiles are for everybody to use, promote and create. Will I continue to work on my brand if I want to be in the same value system? Yes, of course… I continue to do that. That definitely does pose a challenge and is also exciting.

Your runway presentations have come a long way, given your push on layering techniques and collaborating with stylists like Ekta Rajani. Do you enjoy the excitement of a physical showcase or you’d rather shoot a digital film and air it on your social media for larger audiences?

As far as the presentations are concerned, I think the kind of media we have now to express ourselves is so much that it is baffling for someone who is extremely old school in terms of communication. It's a tool we can use very well and I think the new-age designers are very well versed with it and they are doing an extremely good job. At this point, I do feel that I need to assess and revaluate for myself as a brand how much I want to say and then take a step back and again push the values that resonate with me. I love doing fashion weeks and runway shows because you can see the clothes in movement. 

Digital media still caters to a very young clientele, so I don't think all the women who are very attracted or are wearing Eka on a daily basis are buying it.

Can we ever picture you moving towards bodycon style? You were one of the first designers with a strong anti-fit ethos.

When I started Eka, I wanted to do one size fits all. I have strongly believed in body positivity, although we represent our clothes on certain kind of women. But in the real sense, we are always very size inclusive. So bodycon is something that I personally don't admire at all.

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