With the first creation in her design career winning a ‘Best Design Award’ when she was just 17 in Nepal, Sanyukta Shrestha made her international debut designing couture gowns for Miss World 1998 and Miss Asia Pacific 1998 beauty pageants. UK based Sanyukta is a pioneer in sustainable bridal and eveningwear. In an email interview with WOW’s Ankita Jain, Sanyukta talks about her advocacy for slow fashion, her journey as the first designer of Nepali origin to be documented in the history of the Fashion Museum in Bath, handlooming in Nepal and more. Excerpts:
Photos: Mathhew Hubbert
What were your first steps into the world of fashion and what keeps you going?
My pure love for ethical fashion began when I was 19 while volunteering at WOREC, 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 and there has been no looking back since.
After the launch of our first international sustainable bridal collection in 2011 made out of ground breaking eco-friendly fibres such as milk, banana, hemp, wild nettle and organic silk, 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, we have been blessed to have won many national and international awards and a cult following of brides across the world celebrating the luxurious handcrafted timeless sustainable designs that our brand is known for. The commitment to sourcing eco-friendly materials sustainably along with my desire to support deprived women and provide fairtrade work for marginalised communities created a strong community and gave an innovative depth to what my brand represents and that keeps us moving forward.
Does couture have what it takes to be sustainable?
To some extent, yes due to its slow and intensive creative input that comes from various artisans into making couture pieces. It helps keeping the crafts alive for generations and builds a sense of responsibility in the designer and a sense of pride for the wearer to treasure the longevity of design and quality of craftsmanship.
As an advocate for the slow fashion movement, what are some of the things you love about the fashion industry, and the things you want to change?
I love the fact that I have been able to express my vision through fashion and translate my innovative ideas through the business I created. The things I wish to see change in fashion is making compulsory legislation that allows only fairtrade work and the use of materials in the most sustainable way which will create a strong community and give a positive depth for healthier fashion.
What are the key elements in your designs?
Handmade fibers are the soul of our brand. Our signature sustainable fabrics are handspun and handloomed in Nepal and are sourced from local villagers – mainly women weavers – through sustainable projects run by a certified Fair Trade Group in Nepal and WFTO Guaranteed Member.
One of your designs was preserved in the Fashion Museum in Bath in 2012, tell us about this…
I felt so honoured to be 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. The first and only item identified as ‘Made in Nepal’ till date preserved in one of the greatest museums in the world has made me feel ecstatic. I am very grateful.
How important is it for the designer to be transparent with consumers in their sustainable fashion practices?
Transparency plays an enormous role in the eco-friendly business. Brand transparency is all about being open and honest when it comes to your products, your values, and how you do your business overall. Traceability is connected with the ability of our brand to track the product’s lifecycle down to where the raw materials came from, who makes them, how they make them and what factories/studios were involved in producing it. For the past 10 years, we are continuously tracing our supply chain; our producers and suppliers are carefully selected. The supply chain of a fabric is the foundation of the entire supply chain and the transparency of its life cycle plays a significant role in the sustainable approach of the business. It is vital for us to know where from and how our fabrics reached us, not just for monitoring our carbon footprint but for protecting our planet and taking care of people as well.
What are some of the achievements you cherish about your journey so far?
There are so many little moments that make the whole journey worthwhile. I am very grateful for all the international awards we received and the recognition from media and celebrities. But bringing smiles to women weavers in villages and seeing them gratified with their skill and ability to earn a living and their sense of independence makes me happy and proud.
Hand looming in Nepal has 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.
How do you overcome failure in life?
Embrace it and be grateful for every little thing around you.
What are some of the fashion trends international designers will have an eye for in the coming year?
Bright colours, volume, layers and undoubtedly, sustainable fashion.
How important is it to dress international celebrities for the red carpet?
The purpose of a red carpet moment is to make a statement. A moment in the spotlight on the red carpet not only means all eyes around the world are focused on the celebrity but also can help to drive up demand for more sustainable and ethical clothing choices.
What are your other interests?
Painting and travelling.
What have been your life lessons in your fashion career?
Learning is a constant journey.
How would you define a Sanyukta Shrestha bride?
Sanyukta Shrestha bride is a contemporary muse who doesn’t follow trends, but rather prefers to make her statement while staying true to her personality. She respects the world around her and lives with compassion.