Independence Day special: 5 tastemakers on how they found freedom in fashion


Independence Day special: 5 tastemakers on how they found freedom in fashion

Free yourself to be yourself

By Shweta Gandhi  August 14th, 2018

Fashion, for many, is the freedom to express — express your thoughts, your sexuality, your belief systems. This Independence Day, we spoke to five influencers on how fashion has empowered them and set them free — from transgender model Anjali Lama on how fashion shaped her career to designer Anita Dongre who became self-reliant by building a fashion empire, these stories will inspire you, pull at your heartstrings and make you believe that fashion is, indeed, a powerful tool for change.

5 influencers on how fashion changed their lives:

Anjali Lama, transgender model

"When I came to Mumbai from my village in Nepal, I came to study and to work. Modelling wasn't my goal, and fashion was a faraway dream. At that time, it was enough to have food on the table and a roof over my head. I was always tall and slender, and my friends encouraged me to try out modelling. In 2007, I competed in a transgender walk but didn't win. Then in 2009, I had the chance to be on the cover of a national magazine along with my transgender friend. That fuelled my passion for modelling, but being a transgender model wasn't that easy. I wouldn't get work in my own country, whereas girls younger than me would. I even tried my luck at Nepal Fashion Week but didn't succeed. Lakmé Fashion Week was my next goal, and after two failed attempt, I finally scored a chance to walk for designer Monisha Jaising's Summer Resort '17 show. 

"Being a transgender, expressing yourself is difficult. I have worked hard to redeem myself, and for the LGBTQ community. I realised that I am giving them hope by following my passion for modelling. Fashion is a powerful medium — those who understand it pay you respect when you earn a name for yourself."

What freedom means to me: "Freedom, for me, is when every gender, every culture and every community gets their basic rights. Everyone has a right to live and a right to get equal opportunities. No one should be discriminated against."

This Independence Day, I promise to: "Keep striving to achieve my dreams. I will do my best for my community and help change society’s perceptions. Results take time; I'm not going to give up anytime soon." 

Picture courtesy: @anjalilama_official


Anita Dongre, fashion designer

"Back in the '90s, fashion designing wasn’t considered a real profession, and with a traditional Sindhi family like mine, this might have been the only reason I was even “given permission” to set up my first workshop. This was essentially two sewing machines on my bedroom balcony where my sister, Meena, and I designed for friends and local boutiques. Seeing my unrelenting passion and determination to make this work, my father eventually gave in and supported me in setting up a small factory. 

"I strongly believe that when you empower women, you empower a family and build a stronger community and this will lead us to a more progressive, inclusive nation. In addition to becoming economically independent, they also get respected by their immediate family members and communities. Having been in fashion space for a while, I feel privileged to rediscover and revive these beautiful Indian heritage crafts through my designs and work.

"Fashion has empowered me — for me, it's also an emotion. My true satisfaction comes when I see someone feeling good about themselves when they wear my labels. This is what I started out to do, something I believe in even today and keeps me motivated immensely." 

What freedom means to me: "To be economically independent, empower your family and be part of key decision-making processes."

This Independence Day, I promise to: "Continue trying to work towards empowering women and building stronger communities."

Picture courtesy: Anita Dongre


Parmesh Shahani, author and head at Godrej India Culture Lab

"Right from a very young age, I’ve used fashion very creatively as a form of expression, as a form of articulation, as a form of my own identity to address many issues in a world where people expect you to conform to various ideals. I used fashion to: empower my sexuality; blossom through my clothes and my expression of it; establish my aesthetic.

"When I was 4 or 5 years old, I used to like wearing bow ties. I made it my own style, and it made me feel good. When I was 13 years old, I was wearing neon shorts, pink shoes and the likes. I was bullied for my sartorial choices — like donning print on print — but I didn't give a sh*t about what people said. Your body is the only aspect of your life that is truly your own, as well as the choices you make with it.

"Choosing to be fashionable gave me the confidence to accept my own sexuality, and it empowered me to form my own design aesthetic and build my fashion vocabulary. I look at fashion as something that’s intrinsically a part of life. What we wear in addition to what we say and do are very strong communication markers. I truly believe fashion is a powerful tool for change."

What freedom means to me: "The capacity or ability to respect other people’s point of view and co-exist in a space." 

This Independence Day, I promise to: "Not equate discrimination with equality. We're going to get the best gift with section 377 going away, but it’s a far step from achieving equality. We’ve won one battle, but I promise to keep fighting."

Picture courtesy: Parmesh Shahani 


Spardha Malik, plus-size fashion blogger and Digital Editor - Ogaan India

"For as long as I can remember, I’ve found fashion a release, a way to tap into creativity, and somewhere along the line, I started using it as a tool to make a statement. I’m forever amused by my friends when they say “I could never pull that off” because it feels like I have some sort of a superpower. This encourages me to keep on pushing my limits and is a constant source of empowerment.

"The diversity of fashion has truly empowered me. You can be in a clique, be avant-garde, or even be a rebel. Even though pop culture will have you believe that there’s a set guideline each season, I think that there are no rules. You can be your own version of strange and still be fashionable. For me, fashion helped clothe my “not so perfect” body in a way that made me look like I’ve got it together. 

"But there are challenges too. The biggest problem is finding clothes that compliment my body instead of trying to hide it in a tent. I’m constantly searching for brands and designers that know how to dress a curvier frame." 

What freedom means to me: "Completely doing away with our warped norms of beauty and body perfection, and instead, doing our best to encourage self-expression, originality and diversity." 

This Independence Day, I promise to: "Be kinder to all the women in my life because I don’t know a single one who isn’t struggling with some sort of beauty or body-related insecurity." 

Picture courtesy: @spardhamalik/Instagram


Rosalyn D'Mello, author

"I grew up with a very negative self-image of myself. I never knew how to clothe myself in ways that flattered my body. 10 years ago, I began to wear saris — at that time, I was working in a publishing house with the sales team being predominantly men, and I felt like I was taken more seriously.

"Switching to a sari made me feel more empowered and less conscious about my curves. Soon, I started working in the art world where saris were appreciated, and it slowly became an addiction. I built a collection of 60 saris, and my style became experimental — I would make blouses with puffy sleeves, or wear crop tops instead. Two years ago, I discovered the Sari Series website that promoted the idea of wearing a sari sans the petticoat, and that completely changed my outlook towards fashion. I started feeling disillusioned with high street brands that designed their clothing in a fitted manner. I felt they were all made in a very oppressive mindset with limited sizes.

"Your personal sense of style is uniquely you. You want it to be an expression of who you are. I now wear clothes that allow freedom of movement — lungis with crop tops and halter-style tops. I am now veering towards conscious consumption of fashion: I choose clothes carefully on the basis of the fabric used, and I support the handloom industry. To me, fashion is not about staying trendy, it is about being able to enjoy what you are wearing."

What freedom means to me: "Being independent, and at the same time, being interdependent." 

This Independence Day, I promise to: "Not become complacent through your silence. Toe the line once in a while." 

Picture courtesy: @rosed1985/Instagram