The seeds of interest for Sama Ali were sown right at childhood. Growing up in Lucknow and Kotwara, she watched her parents work closely with craftspeople and artisans, sparking an passion for handcrafted luxury. Currently, she is the Creative Director of House of Kotwara and a London College of Fashion Alumna. ELLE spoke to her asking her about her love for handicrafts, her future plans for House of Kotwara and more.
ELLE: You’ve grown up around artisans. Has this shaped your love for the world of fashion?
Sama Ali: Growing up in Lucknow, our Karkhana was on the ground floor of our ancestral home in Qaiser Bagh, and it still remains there to this date with a lot of the same people who have been there since the beginning. It was a part of my daily life, coming home from school finding my parents there working with the craftspeople. I would often sit there and have my own ideas turned into embroidery for rakhi, and for my dolls. This was and always will be my world. Working with people putting mind and skill together to create beauty is why I love fashion, it grounds me and keeps me going. And as a designer I feel like that collection is vital, each design has me in it.
ELLE: How much of an influence did your storied childhood play in your collection Dilam?
SA: We are always influenced by our experiences and as artists it’s always reflected in our work. This collection showcases the whimsical aspects of my childhood, fairytales, joy, gardens, it’s really an escape into the best feelings I carry of hope love and joy!
ELLE: How close is the cause of women to you? How do you work with them?
SA: Kotwara has over the last 30 years trained almost 10,000 women in the art of Chikankari, this has helped them gain independence from bad marriages, overbearing families and turned them into value additions in the eyes of their families. We also run a school in the village of Kotwara that is free for all the children who want to come study, we also teach vocational skills there. Empowering women directly and indirectly has been one of the founding pillars for House of Kotwara. Rural life is full of challenges and women do need support in many facets to come out on top, may it be with job security, healthcare, and the education of their children to provide them with more opportunities than they had.
ELLE: Each collection has a story, what was the one behind this?
SA: I’ve been inspired by all the wonderful brides I’ve met over the pandemic and it’s been really wonderful designing clothes that will always be a part of their memories. This along with my own experiences as a former bride, has really played a huge role in my design journey, along with, the influences of my childhood in Lucknow and Kotwara, and my years in London exploring Europe and bringing the east and west together.
ELLE: What kind of people do you envision wearing Dilam?
SA: The modern Indian bride is carefree yet compassionate. She wants to enjoy her big day and share it with the ones she loves. The Kotwara woman knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to be herself. She wants her choices to mean something, she doesn’t want to go for the generic, she wants to imbue everything she touches with a part of herself, making it her own. I envision someone who is authentic to wear Dilam, and Kotwara in general.