Ruchika Sachdeva’s award-winning label Bodice heralds a fresh perspective on India Modern, an articulate, intelligent voice of fashion that embraces traditions and cutting-edge technology in equal measures
A man wearing gumboots stands still in a field of grass. A clothesline stretches over a vast meadow with black, freshly dyed fabric drying in the wind. A workman, his arms up to his elbows in a bucket of water, appears to be rinsing some fabric. Scroll through Bodice’s minimalist Instagram feed (@bodicebodice—a label so nice that they named it twice) and you feel like you’re almost intruding into a private visual wonderland. This pertinent introduction to the brand, founded by Ruchika Sachdeva, also its creative director, forms part of a series of images documenting her journey to victory in the womenswear section of the International Woolmark Prize 2018.
With this win, doors have opened to the global market for the Delhi-based label. Bodice will receive AU $200,000 to support business development, along with ongoing industry mentor support and access to prestigious stockists such as Boutique 1, Harvey Nichols and Hudson’s Bay. “It was quite surreal at first. I feel incredibly humbled to have won,” says the young designer.
She confronted the issue of consumer waste by recycling. She used naturally sourced dyes, such as Indian madder. The buttons were made from coconut shells, seashells and wood. Recycled yarn was used for kantha embroidery. The wool-steel blended fabric was amenable to be sculpted into shape.
As the first Indian woman designer to win this prestigious award, Sachdeva holds a great responsibility. The label stands at the cusp of its Indian identity and international demand and there’s a lot to be done. In her acceptance speech, she regretted that “India is known for its textiles, handicraft and tradition, but not fashion.” A story that is soon going to be remade, thoughtfully.
Bodice is a very young label. What expectations have you set for the brand post this win?
It is indeed a great responsibility to win such a prestigious prize. Developing the label over six years in India has allowed me to really understand Bodice’s customer, as well as develop my design aesthetic. It’s a very good place from which to enter the global market.
There are now two branches to Bodice. Bodice’s mainline, which includes two new collections each year based on wardrobe essentials, and Bodice Studio, our premier line, which uses more exquisite fabrics and time-consuming artisanal processes.
Do you believe that for Indian labels creating non-traditional fashion, validation still needs to come from the west, through platforms such as the International Woolmark award, to become mainstream?
Bodice doesn’t exactly produce so-called “western wear”. Bodice creates a distinct point of view, drawing on Indian traditions of dress and craft techniques, blended seamlessly with tailoring and a global sensibility. I could never have won this award without an entrepreneurial and design experience in India first. It’s interesting that Bodice is the third Indian label to win one of the Woolmark awards within the space of four years. So, no, it’s not as simple as validation needing to come first from Western markets. In fact, those markets also need fresh perspectives. It’s fascinating the extent to which non-Western designers have contributed to recent ground-breaking fashion in Paris— Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Vetements, for example, or Japanese designers Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo.
You have described your clothes as ‘functional’ rather than on trend. Is the Indian customer comfortable with going against the tide?
There have always been Indian customers who are looking for something different. When I launched Bodice, they naturally gravitated towards us. These women lead busy lives, juggling multiple roles. They require clothes that are effortless but also stylish, which can be worn for a high-level work meeting and then segue into an ensemble for casual evening drinks. The Bodice woman is someone who wants elevated, classic pieces with subtle, stand-out details.
According to a Business Of Fashion study, in 2018, sustainability is at the centre of innovation in the fashion industry. As a conscious fashion label, how do you balance commercial needs with responsibility?
It’s important to have a holistic approach to sustainability. It can’t be a trend. It has to be integral to producing really beautifully designed clothes that women love. For the Woolmark collection, for instance, I was focussed on Bodice’s philosophy of marrying traditional techniques with cutting-edge technology. So, I incorporated the Kantha stitch detailing using recycled yarn, produced at a cutting-edge facility in India. This approach to design fits in with a niche of luxury consumers who care about where their clothes come from. They perceive luxury as being far more than a logo, and they have a huge interest in processes and techniques that are sustainable.
What lies next for Bodice?
We are ready for the next stage of growth and I’m excited about our plans. The judges felt that the label was at a point in its development where it would benefit from the mentoring, retail platforms and global exposure that the Woolmark prize brought.
We’re going to be stocked by some of the world’s leading boutiques and department stores. Going ahead, I definitely feel that e-commerce will be important for our brand. The AW/18 Bodice Studio collection is going to retail on Mytheresa.com internationally and on Tata CLiQ Luxury in India. We also have plans to launch our own online store.
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