Shubhika Sharma, Founder and Creative Director of Papa Don’t Preach has been on a roll. The designer’s label, best known for its embellished pieces, quirky prints and sustainable accessories recently scored big with its win at the Vegan Fashion Awards 2020 (Best Vegan Shoes for Women). From a High Streetwear e-commerce label to a Luxury Womenswear label specialising in Bridal Couture and Western Pret, Papa Don’t Preach has come a long way and has now reached a milestone as it has completed 10 years in the industry. To mark its 10th anniversary, the label launched its latest bridal couture collection titled Zsa Zsa Zsu in the form a fashion film. At a time when inclusivity and diversity are of utmost importance, the film (with love as the central theme) features individuals from the LGBTQIA+ Community and its allies, including a real-life lesbian couple Haima Nizar (She/Her) and Shruti Venkatesh (She/Her).
We had an in-depth discussion with Shubhika on her major highlight in the past ten years, what her latest collection entails, her fashion film, her thoughts on inclusivity and diversity and more.
ELLE: It’s been a decade! What have been some of Papa Don’t Preach’s journey highlights?
Shubhika Sharma: All these years when people asked me what were your career highlights, I used to go blank, but I think after completing a decade I have become wiser and 2020 has taught me a lot. Which is realising that little things add up, and these are the little things that made what Papa Don’t Preach is today.
I say this most humbly; the team that I have managed to build—the team size, the number of karigars and families we support, we have about 70 karigars—is amazing. I was able to empower the brand, and the brand empowered me!
We like to keep challenging ourselves. That’s why today we have hand-embroidered jewellery and 100% vegan accessories that consist of shoes—one of the first Indian labels to manufacture stilettoes in-house. We won an award for being vegan this year, so that was a highlight! We also do western luxury, western pret, we have costume bridal couture which is a pret winner, and at the start of this year we launched resort and swimwear, so there is no stopping where our thirst for the new is – that is my highlight.
ELLE: What is the inspiration behind your upcoming bridal couture collection?
SS: My lovely team and I sat together and realised that we just had to make a very inclusive love story and it happened quite organically. We wanted to see love from perspectives, all points of view. We realised that love in the first instance; it’s always this feeling of Zsa Zsa Zsu, something you know in your gut.
ELLE: What is the story behind the name Zsa Zsa Zsu?
SS: The name comes from the iconic show Sex & The City where Carrie Bradshaw’s character describes ‘Zsa Zsa Zsu’ as that feeling you get when you meet someone you really really like. That sort of buzzy, butterflies in the tummy feeling when you know, in an instant – this is it. This is that somebody you want to be with.
The inspiration was love, not because we were doing bridal or weddings. I do not limit love to weddings, just the bride and her story – it’s about everybody who is a part of the experience of witnessing two people coming together.
ELLE: What can we expect from the new collection in terms of style and silhouettes?
SS: This collection is not boxed into just servicing weddings or brides. It is occasion wear, which is beautifully hand-embroidered in the most traditional form of karigari in zardozi and zari work, including thread and cutwork, done in our signature styles. We used a lot of materials like metallic charms, laser cut acrylics, 3D roses and beadwork. There are a lot of OTT pearls this time, chunky gold chains. We’ve played with a lot of fun skirts and taffeta which are my absolute favourites, with really cute and kickass bralettes.
We will sell our collection as separates for the first time because I realised people go gaga over our bralettes. You’ll also see pre-stitched sarees with a lot of reflective sequins. More than emphasising on our embroideries as we do each time, this time there are a lot of fun silhouettes. Although our signature jumpsuit is going nowhere, in raw silk, you’ll see it with a lot of secret pockets and fantastic belts, not forgetting the crossover body bags, fanny packs and our vegan shoes. So yes, there’s all of it and all of us in it.
ELLE: Your fashion film, which will be showcasing your new collection, focuses on inclusivity and features an inclusive cast. Tell us more about it.
SS: I’m a very visual person. So, when I had to tell this story of love, I knew it had to be in the form of a film from a unique perspective. The most important thing for me was to feature a real-life couple, and that’s why Haima and Shruti feature in it. There was so much learning for me in this, because when I initially wrote the script, I wanted the film to be about two girls falling in love and getting married, but when I spoke to Haima and Shruti, they were very clear, they said we couldn’t portray marriage in India if it’s not a reality. I wanted a scene where the protagonist throws her lehenga and walks towards the bed in her lover’s arms. But Haima brought to our notice how lesbians are over-sexualised in the media, and they don’t want their love to be portrayed that way. So we had to change that scene then.
There was so much learning and getting sensitised to the nuances of what it really entails to be in love with the same gender in a country like India, with so many restrictions. We sincerely hope for the legalisation of queer weddings and marriages in India, that the community has been fighting for.
ELLE: What are your thoughts on inclusivity and diversity in fashion, and do you see a shift towards it in the fashion industry?
SS: It had become a borderline performative trend where everybody had started expressing it and showing it. It was always very much present in fashion as much as it was in other creative fields where people were a little more comfortable being who they are. As a whole, the art and fashion community is more accepting of everybody and their own personal choices. So I think behind the scenes there was a lot of acceptability and inclusivity.
At the forefront, there’s so much fear for brands, labels and designers, even for individuals to narrate and promote these stories. Because of the flak that you receive, they are unable to talk about it proudly and loudly. We’ve now become brave and started expressing it. My cast was so comfortable in openly expressing their personal choices and sexualities that it was liberating for me as well. It gave me the confidence to go ahead with the film and portray the story the way I had envisioned it.
Of course, there is a shift that is taking place, and I’m really happy it is happening. Sometimes for there to be a real shift, there needs to be an effort put in by the people. I only hope it gets louder, bigger, brighter and shiner, braver.
I also want to talk about diversity and inclusivity in terms of sizing. Last year there was a whole fat tax conversation, and we were given a small pat on the back for being one of the very few brands that customise and not charge fat tax on any customisations. Now that came as a real revelation to me because I didn’t expect the industry to be charging additional on it, and I am glad that was recognised. I manage my own social media account, so I am very in touch with what people are saying and the comments they are leaving and the conversations they are having directly with me. So even though we were dressing brides in all shapes, sizes and forms, we weren’t really in our campaigns featuring a diverse cast, which we’ve turned out now with Zsa Zsa Zsu.
Zsa Zsa Zsu by Papa Don’t Preach