Browsing through Namza Couture’s Instagram page is like taking a trip to scenic Ladakh—the imagery stops you in your tracks, compelling you to take in every fine detail. From the tactile texture of sheep wool robes to the brocade patchwork and the hand-spun pashmina. Hues of charcoal grey, metallic red and teal green accented with floral lace and stylised crane motifs conjure a world where ethnicities co-exist and ideas and influences coalesce to create wearable art. Namza, which means clothing in Ladakhi language, was founded in September 2016 by Leh-born designers Jigmet Disket and Padma Yangchan. The duo studied in New Delhi and after a brief professional stint, returned to Leh to set up the design house.
Mountains of Inspiration
Various ethnic groups of the region come together to inform the aesthetic of the design house. “The nomads of Changthang in the eastern region, the Brokpas in the northwest, Zanskar valley, and even regions such as Yarkhand, Tibet and Mongolia have influenced our work,” Jigmet explains.
It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that Ladakh’s defining cultural exchange through the Silk Route makes its presence felt on their mood-board. The designers, for instance, have incorporated motifs such as cranes—a symbol of peace and flowers such as the lotus which is a symbol of good fortune—and both these motifs bear a great significance in Buddhism and can be seen at monasteries and prayer houses in people’s homes.
It is, in fact, hard to overlook the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in their work. “The rich history and folklore of Ladakh not only serves as a source of inspiration, but also gives a sense of purpose to our work at Namza. Every region has its own traditional costumes that go back thousands of years. While we are proud of our heritage, we also attempt to modernise and make it relevant,” Padma says.
A Gradual Evolution
As expected, the label veers away from trends. Instead, the emphasis is on traditional Ladakhi ensembles recontexualised using modern silhouettes. Historically, nambu, a kind of fabric derived from sheep wool, and spuruk, a textured fabric again derived from sheep wool from the Zanskar region, were used for traditional dresses and trousers. The designers produce finer versions of these textiles and fashion their pieces out of them.
Given that Namza’s design narrative is steeped in culture and folklore, it is only natural that a vibrant network of Ladakhi artisans forms the design house’s backbone. Jigmet and Padma work with weavers to revive traditional textiles as well as to contemporarise them for modern use.
The label has recently expanded its offering to include bridal wear, a space no local design house or brand has ventured into previously. “For any special occasion, Tibetan brocades were the only choice people had in Ladakh. As young women, we understood that many brides are looking for a statement outfit that makes them feel special on their big day and that’s where we stepped in,” Padma adds.
Hyper-local Goes Global
The label made its runway debut at the London Fashion Week in 2019. “It was a big moment for us. With a timeline of just two months, the pressure was intense, but with all hands on deck, we managed to pull through,” Jigmet remembers. Evolving the brand to keep pace with consumer’s constantly evolving tastes and sensibilities has been key for the young designers. Whether that is through the introduction of new colour palettes in nambu and pashmina fabrics or through the addition of details like zippers to traditional costumes for added comfort and fit, Namza prides itself in going that extra mile when it comes to meeting its modern customer’s needs.
The duo has embraced the uncertainty that comes with fashion entrepreneurship and has worked to mitigate those risks early on. “We are also grateful to have family support which goes a long way when you start your journey as entrepreneurs. A message we would like to give to the young women entrepreneurs is to be proactive and face your challenges head-on,” Jigmet says. “The biggest challenge has been to keep our wheels turning and grow the business by hiring the right people and building our brand,” Padma adds.
Like every design house, the pandemic has impacted Namza too and getting work done on ground level has been the most challenging aspect. “In these trying times, we have been leaning on each other for support. Most of our local craftspeople have had to work from home,” Padma says. The duo hopes that things return to normalcy at the earliest. “The Namza woman who is perseverant, real and strong continues to inspire us everyday,” Jigmet says and signs off.
Photographs courtesy: Namza Couture