Designing is something, building a brand with a vision is something else. Ajay Kumar is one of those designers who has created a brand that is an extension of his traditionally rooted self, yet flamboyant.
Founded on modernity where art marries fashion and aesthetics meets sustainability, Kumar’s brand of clothes is inclusive and supportive of the system and people who create and wear them.
Born in 1978, Ajay Kumar graduated in fashion designing from the National Institute of Fashion Technology from New Delhi in 2003. He introduced the kaleidoscope, a unique style in his designs where India’s national flower lotus and national bird peacock are placed in the centre and other patterns revolved around it to compliment from all sides. He worked with some prestigious menswear brands like Blackberry’s, Indigo Nation, Reid and Taylor and Peter England as head of design casuals. His prior experience in marketing campaigns, styling and retail urged him to make a mark of his own. In a brief tête-à-tête with The Soothsayer, Kumar talks about his journey, his work and his accomplishments. Excerpts:
Q) You have quite an interesting range of clothes designs ranging from lotuses, tigers to abstract prints. What lies behind your imagination and your inspiration?
A: My main idea of building a brand named after my name — Mr. Ajay Kumar — is to introduce nature print on clothes. I include Indian architecture, culture and many more facets. I started this experiment of printing with our national flower lotus as its manifestation is birth or rebirth. Taking the Indian print and turning it into a contemporary and modern look is what my goal has always been. Simultaneously, I experimented with tiger and peacock prints. I made a collection on Benaras as well which has a touch of Indian music, through the unique designs.
Q) You wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and then got through a hotel management course. Later, you went on to enrol yourself in the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi, and then there was no looking back for you. So, what suddenly sparked your interest in the fashion industry and led you here? Was it luck by chance or your dream job?
A) Being born and brought up in Bokaro, it was initially a bit difficult for me to choose the right path as back in 1997 there was very little awareness about fashion among the people. After 12, I applied and got selected for aeronautical engineering but my interest lied in arts and fashion designing as I loved flaunting my outfits. I got selected for hotel management but I was a tad bit confused about my career. In Ahmedabad, I was about to start a course in hotel management but decided to take up fashion designing instead. I have always been a fan of paintings and drawings and I really wanted to show my creativity somewhere. Initially, my parents were a bit shocked as it took them by surprise. But my mother encouraged me throughout to study fashion designing. Also, the two women who have supported me wholeheartedly throughout my journey is my wife and my mother. My wife always used to say “sky is the limit” and encouraged me. They both made sure that my dream was fulfilled.
Q) The concept of fashion has changed over the past few decades and is still evolving. The fashion industry is now open to varieties of designs and experiments. Fashion in India is now following a global approach, which has given designers a new outlook. Do you agree?
A) Yes, I do agree that the global approach has given designers a new outlook. Every country has its own culture and style of clothing. The new thing is that people have started travelling all around the world and are embracing different cultures. They have different concepts and ideas for designing. Rising designers have contemporary ideas. In terms of our fashion design industry, change has been constant and amateur designers are coming up with contemporary ideas. When I started my own brand, I was sure of not going absolutely ethnic because in order to experiment with that, it needs a different kind of mindset and design sensibilities. My only way to keep our heritage alive was to mix and match style with culture.
Q) In reaction to increased mass-production of commodities clothing at lower prices and global reach, sustainability has become an urgent issue among politicians, brands, and consumers. Very recently, you launched your sustainable collection called “Bhu-svah” at IBFW taking the fashion week to a whole new level. How did you come up with the idea? What is the concept of sustainable fashion and why do you think we need to promote more sustainable fashion among youth?
A) We have created Bhu-svah sustainable collection which has been spread widely and massively among the youth. Sustainability not only means sustainable fashion but sustaining livelihoods as well. I started the sustainable collection with very less waste because everything is printed according to one’s body. The extra pieces or leftovers of the fabric are turned into handkerchiefs, bows and masks.
Q) Even in the 21st century, there are a lot of frozen ideas as to how a woman should dress up and how a man should dress up. However, people like you are coming up to break the glass wall and create equality in terms of clothing in a society that still has lots of taboos regarding womenswear. As a renowned designer, what are your observations that we, as a society, should cater to so that we can create a free space for everybody to wear whatever they like?
A) Art and fashion are such areas where there is no discrepancy. Fashion is a very different kind of zone where people respect your creativity. I always feel that everyone should dress up well. According to me, fashion is a choice of making one look better in every way. Flaunting dresses does not mean one is provoking the other. Nowadays, women have a lot of options when it comes to clothing and trying new styles which is absolutely acceptable. I don’t think anybody should be judged on their choice of clothing. I have always encouraged everyone to wear what they like because that kind of gives an idea about what’s going on in that person’s mind. The more you see the more you learn and improvise your technical skills in fashion.
Q) Your recent collection included prints made out of photo collages and some kaleidoscope images that are rare to be imprinted on clothes. But your designs surely created a stir among experts. What inspired you to experiment with something as unique as a kaleidoscope?
A) I am not into the traditional design which is why I decided to incorporate abstract art which has been accepted and respected. Kaleidoscope is ‘my genre’ and I believe it gives a nice and different vibe to the one wearing it since it’s colourful and happy in every way. By not being a traditional design person kind of gives me a different outlook on abstract prints. I always search for designs that are absolutely ‘unfit’. Only when I feel there is a buzz going on around my designs I feel elated and happy!
Q) What is the secret behind your flamingo red jacket that you are seen to be wearing often?
A) Personally, I never hide behind anything and I have always loved playing with colours though I have a dark tone. The flamingo jacket is just to show my love for vibrant colours. When I don’t wear colours, I don’t feel nice at all. Colours and dressing up go hand-in-hand for me. I want people to stare at me whenever I dress up and this motivates me to design unique clothes and prints.
Q) What challenges did you face while growing in this business?
A) In the initial days, it was quite difficult for me to put the idea on the plate as I was concerned as to how clients would react to my innovation in prints and designs. But gradually, I overcame the challenges and firmly dealt with them. Hard work has paid off, I must say.
Q) How do you plan to reach out to the youth who are taking baby steps into the world of fashion?
A) I want more people to know my creation, and appreciate the effort. Fashion is a wide area that needs to be covered and must be flaunted. It gives a different personality to a person. Good attire gives you the confidence to deal with anything. My advice to the youth is to wear anything you like, carry it properly because carrying any attire reflects how you handle yourself, so it’s a must.