Fearlessly experimental

Anjali Jhangiani
Thursday, 24 August 2017

Bhutanese fashion designer Chimmi Choden, who is participating in the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Thimphu, shares how she contributes to sustainable growth of the textile industry in her country

Two things about Chimmi Choden that are integral to her brand, Chimmi House of Design — she is a self-taught designer, which means that she learnt the art and craft behind fashion through a lot of trial and error and has knowledge out of experience as she built her brand, and the second is the idea behind establishing her brand was to provide salaried employment to local weavers, tailors and artisans to encourage sustainable growth of the textile industry. This October, she will be taking her designs to the runways at Paris and New York fashion weeks.

But before that, she will be speaking at the eighth edition of the three-day Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, an initiative of the India Bhutan Foundation, in association with Indian literary agency, which kicked off today (August 24). About the event, Chimmi says, “It provides a platform that fuses artistic modalities to give the audience a more multi-dimensional experience and create new opportunities for creative expression, whether it’s on the page or the runway.”

Modernising Bhutanese textiles
There are four master weavers at Chimmi House of Design, who have developed their craft over a lifetime of on-the-loom training. “The idea of modernising Bhutanese textiles is built upon traditional techniques to create new motifs and designs, and experiment with various fibers, patterns and colour combinations that give a more contemporary vibe,” says Chimmi.

She describes how the designs and construction of the garments transform traditional artwork into relevant, wearable, unique pieces. “In order to create awareness of traditions and modernise designs, it is important to not be afraid of experimenting and to not limit yourself with preconceived boundaries about what is possible in textile innovation,” says the designer who believes that the limitations of being in an uncharted industry in Bhutan were transformed into an advantage for her brand. “You have to be willing to take risks, and it’s essential to be able to clearly communicate ideas to the weavers — and quickly adapt when things don’t quite turn out as you envisioned. It helps to have an eye for conceptualising the textiles on the loom and translating them into a style that honours both the past and present,” she says.

Going international
From a home-based business to showcasing your designs on international runways, it must’ve been quite a journey! Chimmi claims that it hasn’t been an easy one. “But all the hurdles we overcame, ultimately made the brand stronger. And the successes along the way continued to motivate and help us push through the next challenge. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love and share my passion with others,” says she. The brand has grown at a rapid pace for the last two years and Chimmi has been receiving invites to new fashion-related events across the world. “At the beginning I said ‘yes’ to every offer that came my way, but I’ve learnt now that balance is key. First and foremost, I’m a mother, so as much as I would love to fly around the world to different fashion shows, my son needs me at home. This gives me time to reflect on the progress we’ve made and strategise about how I want to grow the brand from here to ensure that it evolves in a way that’s sustainable for the long term,” shares Chimmi.

Creative expression
“Mountain Echoes has built a loyal following over the years so we’re excited to present our designs to their broad audience. I’m especially excited for the Bhutanese youth to see this production — perhaps it will spark a renewed interest in learning to weave!” hopes Chimmi, who will be presenting a collection at the festival. She informs that she will be showcasing a fusion of Indian handloom khadi with Bhutanese textiles woven on a traditional back-strap loom. “The garments are inspired by the traditional Bhutanese dress. We’ve reworked the classically square tego jacket and wonju blouse that women wear. We’re using very traditional patterns on the textiles, but the cuts and construction are modern and wearable,” says Chimmi, adding, “It’s important for them to see examples of creative entrepreneurs — particularly female entrepreneurs, so they understand that doors are beginning to open that may offer them new opportunities to earn a living — whether that’s in fashion, film, audio/visual, writing, production, or any other creative pursuit.”

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