While preparing for the London Fashion Week, what will be one of UK-based designer Sanyukta Shrestha’s grandest shows, WOW spoke to her about her 20-year journey in fashion, changes in the industry, and how she is creating a brand that will be remembered.
To say that Sanyukta Shrestha is one of the hardest designers to pin down for a comment is not an exaggeration; and frankly, it is understandable. She likes to keep herself busy; admitting to often forgoing a much-needed night’s sleep to strike off what she set out to do that day.
Sanyukta is on a focused mission to create the most iconic sustainable brand, and has dedicated two decades of her life to her work overcoming the criticism, self-doubt, personal sacrifices in an endeavour to gain worldwide recognition.
When I ask Sanyukta if she ever envisioned herself as one of the greats, she pauses, laughs, and tells me at the risk of sounding immodest that yes, she did. I am not surprised; it’s an unspoken habit of the successful to visualise themselves in aspirational positions and then constantly push themselves towards the goal.
Sanyukta was 17 years old when she grabbed the opportunity to design outfits for Miss Nepal. That was in 1998. “I was approached for designing outfits for many films as well and I was paid much higher than the industry standard,” recalls Sanyukta. She wasn’t a fashion student then; however as a 20 year old, she already established herself as a well known designer. “I was fully running a fashion boutique in Kupondole with a list of celebrities and movie producers as my clients,” she shares.
Her father would have preferred a different career path, she shares. “He wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer. However, the appreciation that came for my design work melted him. I then moved to London and graduated from the London College of Fashion,” she shares.
While studying fashion, Sanyukta kept a close eye on the fashion industry and recognised early that she did not want to be a part of the fast fashion industry in any way.
“When I started out, there was no incubation [period] for young designers, so I went into fashion purely on instinct. I really had to wade my way through deep waters to figure out what I was supposed to do,” she says.
In 2011, Sanyukta launched her eponymous sustainable luxury bridal label which earned her the name, ‘Green Goddess’. Her designs were created from fabrics made of milk, banana, hemp, wild nettle and organic silk.
“We have been blessed to have a cult following of brides across the world celebrating the luxurious handcrafted timeless sustainable designs that our brand is known for,” she informs.
Today, an extensive range of Sanyukta Shrestha innovative gowns have been providing stylish options to women who care for people as well as the planet. As a pioneer in sustainable bridal and evening wear, the label has won many national and international awards.
In the entire process of being a sustainable brand, Sanyukta’s love for ethical fashion began when she was just 19 while volunteering at WOREC, a women’s rehabilitation center in Nepal. “I was offered my first task to teach deprived women in one of the remote villages in Nepal to turn their gifted skill of hand loomed fibers into desirable fashion. I was mesmerised by the whole organic and intensive process behind it,” she says.
She committed herself to turning this traditional process into one that could be used by designer labels. “After various samplings, in the beginning, I decided to use the hand loomed fibers as lining. This way my commitment and support to deprived women and to provide fairtrade work for marginalised communities,” she shares.
Hand looming in Nepal has over a thousand year of history. The reality is that the small cottage industry and hand looming is actually on the verge of extinction not just in Nepal but in the entire world. “The women of the village have been hand-weaving fabrics for centuries and I am personally very connected with them as these weavers make the most beautiful organic fabrics used in my wedding dress collections. I feel incredibly privileged as a designer to be able to put their inspirational skills to good use while also protecting our environment,” she says.
Sanyukta’s work is seen in the right circles. In the past years, Sanyukta became the first designer of Nepali origin to be documented in the history of the Fashion Museum in Bath in 2012 amongst 100,000 objects in the Fashion Museum collection ranging from Shakespeare era to today’s leading designers – Christian Dior, Vivian Westwood and Alexander McQueen. It is the first and only item identified as ‘Made in Nepal’ till date preserved in one of the greatest museums in the world.
Moving forward, Sanyukta’s work continued to garner acclaim in the fashion and entertainment world worn on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards as well as the Cannes Film Festival.
After two decades of designer collaborations, dressing celebrities, creating couture with vegan fabrics, what is her most important takeaway? “I have learnt two things; you grow if people grow with you, and secondly, I think that every person has a vested interest or a personal reason for which they want to grow their empires or create their business. For me, it was creativity; it was a hobby that translated into a business. The most gratifying thing about being in this business for 20 years is that a) My brand has been been independent, b) I have been able to create opportunities of empowerment for a lot of people working with my brand,” she says.
Sanyukta’s focus for the longest time has been bridal couture. “We have never really taken credit for it but I am happy that in some way or the other, we have created a seismic shift in the way women dress on their wedding” she says. The sustainable luxury gowns made with eco-friendly fabrics comes at a premium price but the bride who wants to look fashionable and sustainable at the same time resonates with Sanyukta’s repertoire.
A mother of two, the younger one being just a year old, we ask how she does it? “Motherhood gives you superpower to manage almost everything,” she responds.
Photographer: Supran Shrestha
MUA: Shradha Maskey
Hair Stylist: Asmita Kandel
Stylist: Markush Tamang
Jewellery: Shree Balaji Diamonds
Wardrobe: Sanyukta Shrestha