Many would consider the term ‘gundi’ as an offensive one but India-born New York-based designer Natasha Sumant has turned it into a fashion statement. She recently launched Gundi Studios, a slow fashion, progressive media brand, which specialises in jackets, dresses, T-shirts, pants and sweatshirts. The Gundi Jacket is the bomber silhouette, originally used for Air Force uniforms and later as an important symbol in the punk movement, the cuts of ‘She wears the Pants’ (a pair of bottoms) is inspired by the salwar worn by women as part of traditional South-Asian ensemble, the green of the Suffragette Sweatshirts mirrors one of the brand colours of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the radical movement that mounted the first organised campaign for women’s suffrage.
Explaining why Gundi is called a slow fashion progressive media brand, Sumant says, “We say slow fashion because a lot of fashion brands are seasonal. They put out their collections every season, maybe once or even four times a year. Our whole thing is about slower production because the fashion industry produces a lot of waste, so we like to take it carefully. Also, we work with small units and make sure everyone gets paid equally.”
Gundi Studios made their debut at the Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2019 as part of their StreetFeat segment. They showcased their collection on August 21 and rap artist Raja Kumari, a Gundi Studios loyalist, was the showstopper. Later, they will be showcasing their collection in Mumbai as part of a three continent tour which also includes New York City and London.
Talking about the collection, Sumant says that from their first season itself, they would like to keep the designs basic with embroidery, using traditional zardozi techniques. “There are jackets, jumpsuits, sweatshirts, T-shirts with silhouettes of chic wear and also some girly elements like dresses,” says the designer.
She adds that the collection started out with patches she put on vintage jackets and later felt like making clothes. “Like we made the sweatshirt-jackets last year, and now we have expanded into a range,” she quips.
She says that while designing, she gets inspired by “utility and using clothes to make a commentary on feminism and larger issues.”
Her collection has been flaunted by celebrities like Monica Dongra, Shibani Dandekar, hip-hop artist Deepa Unnikrishnan (Dee MC) and others.
Coming to the name of her brand – Gundi, which means different things in Hindi and South Indian languages, Sumant says, “I am from Kerela. ‘Gundi’ in Telugu means button, but in Malayalam it's a bad word. In Hindi, ‘gundi’ means thug or bandit. In colloquial terms, it means someone who is misbehaved and I think being rebellious is healthy. I used that term because Indian women are not taught to be rebels and stand up for things as much.”
Considering her brand is for independent and strong women, how does she define feminism? Sumant replies, “It’s all about equality.”
While her brand is based in New York, her garments are produced in India. How does she manage? “That’s why I moved back to India for a year to manage the supply chain and make sure there are women at every level, from weaving our garments to management. I am a freelancer, so right now, I am based in Mumbai,” she says, adding, “Technology is great and once you make the clothes, it’s all about putting systems in place.”
After having launched her brand, Sumant says that now it’s about growing a community. “So, we have a pop up next week at a gallery in Kala Ghoda. We have a lot of art work centred around our designs. We are going to have a panel discussion. While it’s about our clothes and fashion, which is a reflection of all that is going on in the world, we also want to create a platform for women.
Whether it’s our supply chain, our collections or the events that we do, the focus is on women and their issues,” she says.
As for what will be in vogue this coming season, the designer says, “Big sleeves, more athleisure and street wear will be in vogue. Low cut jeans will make a comeback,” says the designer whose personal style is a fusion between the East and the West. “I really love Indian textiles and all of our craft traditions but I also love the tailoring tradition from the West. I do wear Indian accessories and textiles but many of my cuts are quite fitted or loosened intentionally,” she says before signing off.