Shantnu & Nikhil graced the global stage at the United Nations COP28 Sustainable Fashion Summit 2023, where their exclusive collection, Indra, made a splash among the luminaries of the fashion world. They were the sole Indian designers at this highly anticipated event, sharing the runway with iconic names like Stella McCartney, LVMH, Rami Kadi, and Gelareh Designs.
The collection itself is a poignant plea echoing through the corridors of the climate crisis. Drawing conceptually on the threads of Lord Indra’s realm, the intricately woven garments convey a great deal about environment. Symbolic cracks representing water scarcity, distressed textures mirroring the severity of drought, and opulent silks echoing the essence of ice caps all converge to transform the runway into a mouthpiece for things beyond fashion.
ELLE: As the only designers from India at the United Nations COP28 Sustainable Fashion Summit, what unique perspectives do you bring to the global conversation on sustainable fashion?
S&N: Our perspective on sustainable fashion is inherently intertwined with a profound respect for tradition, craftsmanship, and sustainability. India’s diverse cultural tapestry provides a unique foundation for sustainable fashion, where age-old techniques and artisanal skills seamlessly merge with contemporary design principles. In a time where climate change is a pressing area of concern, we are glad to be contributing to the cause through our creative endeavours to showcase Indra.
The vast selection of Indian textiles draws its roots from ancient weaving and handloom practices. They not only celebrate the cultural legacy of our country but also contribute to the preservation of traditional craftsmanship, fostering sustainable livelihoods for artisans.
ELLE: What role did the mythological aspects of Lord Indra play in the design of the collection, and how did you use them to communicate the message of environmental awareness?
S&N: Indra is an ode to the rain god in Indian mythology, and it represents Lord Indra’s regal splendour and vitality in the face of the climate crisis. The designs portray the legendary drought embodied by an assumed demonic energy, ‘Vritra’, and one can witness the symbolic cracks representing the threat of water scarcity.
The earthy colour scheme of the collection captures the severity of the drought, while the designs symbolise the effects of this environmental force. What follows is a rapid transformation into water, as this symbolises the presence of Lord Indra. The free-flowing drapes and shimmering silk, which are also signatures of Shantnu and Nikhil, mimic the personification of the serene waters and the beauty of the ice caps.
The drapes and tassels represent the ebb and flow of life-giving streams and embody the dynamic nature of water. Lastly, we have also tried to capture a glimpse of divine intervention in the form of rain and thunder in the form of metallic elements to restore the balance of life. The use of metallic detailing is a metaphor for human resilience and transformative potential, as it can positively impact the environment.
ELLE: Tell us about the specific challenges and opportunities you encountered in fusing traditional Indian fashion components with modern sustainability practices
S&N: The silhouettes that we, Shantnu and Nikhil, design have a sense of structure but the fluidity of a drape. As a brand, we have also fused tradition with modernity and contemporary silhouettes.
So ethically sourcing and creating fabrics that adhere to our design language and philosophy without being so heavy on the environment is something that we have faced and are striving to overcome. We are very proud to say that our collection ‘Indra’ encapsulates fabrics that are ethically sourced.
ELLE: Could you share insights into the selection of materials used in creating Indra, highlighting any eco-friendly or sustainable choices?
S&N: The collection uses all the handcrafted fabrics and slow-weaved handmade looms, that is, cotton-silk and cotton matka fabrics, which are weaved in the societies of Benaras and down in the south of India, ensuring that none of the elements used in the production of the garments cause any harm to the environment whatsoever.
We used refurbished metallic details, giving value to the crafts of India. The textures used in the silhouettes ensure that no machinery is used; they are all handcrafted. The yarns and textures represent the various forms of water, which are the melting ice caps and the flow of the river depicting the drapes.
The metallic detailing to depict thunderstorms ensures that plastic was not used in any form, as opposed to other fast fashion brands, which use plastic beads and other embellishments. Lastly, we have also used authentic tribal references to depict the natural occurrences in nature.
ELLE: How do you hope the audience perceives and engages with the message in this collection, and what impact do you anticipate it will have on the fashion landscape?
S&N: In the global conversation on sustainable fashion, we hope that we bring a perspective that highlights the symbiotic relationship between cultural heritage and environmental consciousness through our brand, Shantnu & Nikhil.
By seamlessly integrating India’s rich traditions into the contemporary sustainable fashion narrative, we hope that we are the conversation-starters that strive to redefine luxury as a harmonious blend of timeless elegance, ethical practises, and cultural pride.
This holistic approach not only resonates with a global audience but also positions Indian couture as a trailblazer in the pursuit of a more sustainable and culturally enriched fashion industry.