Designer Seema Mathias Walks Us Through The Vision Behind Her Earth-Inspired Clothing Brand

The walk from Seema Mathias’ home to her studio in Colaba takes exactly three minutes. During this, she pauses by the expansive almond tree, gathering crimson red fallen leaves, each the size of her palm. This is followed by the rustle of fallen mango and casuarina leaves hastily bunched into a bouquet. A visit to the local florist is the last customary pitstop on a typical workday, where she bags up all the withered and wilted flowers that would otherwise end up in a garbage dump. On more leisurely days, Seema keeps an eye out for sidewalk treasures—seed pods, henna leaves and indigenous weeds. Once back in her 860 sq ft studio, she lays these gifts from nature, like good ideas waiting to be unveiled, out on the table before her nine-member all-women team.

Mathias firmly believes that sustainability starts from a closer relationship with nature’s rhythms. Observing leaves and flowers— their shapes, colours and patterns. “The whole process is so calming. I love going to work. I don’t even call it work!” she says right before showing us some of her recent experiments in dying kala cotton using pomegranate.

Seema Mathias

Mathias’ journey to create her label CoralbySeema is rooted in a profound connection with the earth. A calling that found its voice during the global lockdown in 2020. Having returned from Italy with a freshly minted master’s degree, Mathias felt a deep yearning to contribute meaningfully to the world of fashion. Her revelation came in the form of a project she had undertaken when she was studying—a trend book for Puma in 2022, which featured a section on Boyan Slat, the visionary founder of the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup. Witnessing the devastating impact of pigment dyes on the ocean, she decided to channel her creativity towards this cause close to her heart.

Seema Mathias

As a scuba diver, Mathias’s personal connection with nature permeates every facet of the brand. Her designs are fluid and floaty. They are inspired by the flow and freedom experienced underwater. It’s anti-fit. One size fits all. “As you take that breath and go under the surface, you hear nothing but the sound of your own breathing surrounded by the colours, shapes and beautiful creatures. When you see these colours of nature, you know that colours also need to come from nature,” says the designer whose brand is a deliberate departure from the fast fashion frenzy. She opts instead for a slow and deliberate approach. Each piece, unique in character, eschews mass production, creating a niche product for those who value the premium placed on sustainability.

Every scuba dive is a sea of inspiration, but the octopus, in particular, holds a special place in Mathias’s heart for its ability to blend seamlessly into its natural surroundings. As we discuss the ocean, she mentions her son, who was inspired by her love for the ocean and has become a marine biologist. Now, he dedicates himself to ocean cleanup and coral nurseries. Could it be that in nurturing our passions we cultivate the true legacy for the generations to come? It surely seems so in Mathias’ case.

A mix of fresh rose leaves and kamini leaves laid out on silk waiting to be rolled into bundles of eco-printed fabric

The one true challenge for any sustainability brand is finding eco-friendly suppliers aligned with their brand’s values. Mathias’ solution is simple–cultivating relationships with suppliers who share her vision. “I prefer a highly transparent supply chain. For fabrics such as hemp and kala cotton, each garment is equipped with additional tags providing details about the fabric and its supplier. In addition, due to the widespread adoption of sustainability in recent years, suppliers are now more cooperative and are accommodating even smaller quantities.”

Dreamy roll of silk printed with marigold flowers and dipped and dyed in madder root extract.

Raw materials at CoralbySeema have fascinating beginnings. Some have been foraged from her walks in urban jungles. Others are salvaged before reaching trash cans. And a lot of it comes from friends and family who make it a habit to send Mathias all their dried flowers after parties and celebrations. When we talk, Seema is wearing a breezy marigold-dyed top that is put together by stitching leftover material swatches. Marigold flowers, madder root henna, kamini leaves, onion peels, and pomegranate peels are just a few of the elements that contribute to the brand’s unique colour palette. “Every leaf has an imprint, every flower has one too, each one prints differently—each an individual just like us,” adds the designer who holds a master’s degree in Luxury Accessory Design and Brand Management. True luxury is synonymous with sustainability. Mathias illustrates this with a simple rhetorical question, “What could be more exquisite than owning a piece crafted exclusively for you?”

Read the full story on ELLE India’s new issue, or download your digital copy via Magzter.

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content