Issue 5 / From Toronto To Mumbai: Fashion Label NorBlack NorWhite Stealing Hearts of Mumbai's Millennials

From Toronto To Mumbai: Fashion Label NorBlack NorWhite Stealing Hearts of Mumbai’s Millennials

Jul 07, 2015

Life Created in Full Colour: NorBlack NorWhite
 
You can’t deny that India has made a global cultural splash with its vibrant fashion aesthetic through Bollywood. We can see this cultural appropriation on celebrities and in everyday fashions. But while the Bollywood aesthetic booms, today it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find traditional Indian textile-making practices that yield wearable pieces.

Enter the dynamic design duo of Toronto-raised Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar and the birth of their label, NorBlack NorWhite. NorBlack NorWhite is dedicated to honouring India’s ancient practices of textile design and infusing them with a dash of urban contemporary flare to keep them relevant and appealing for the modern woman and man.

L-R: Designers Amrit Kumar and Mriga Kapadiya 


But fashion and design weren’t initially the pursuit of Kapadiya and Kumar’s careers. They shared an educational background in business and were both successfully employed in advertising in Toronto. Both women’s curiosity and appreciation for Indian fashion started at a young age. “We both loved looking and playing with our mothers' shawls and sarees and still love looking at family and friends photos from the ‘80s and ‘90s,” they explain. This fascination led the women to realize their shared passion for Indian fashion.

Together, they took a leap of faith in 2009 by moving to Mumbai to pursue a life in clothing design. “Growing up as Indians in Toronto, yet not from India, we were hungry to learn more. To explore the country while informing ourselves of the art forms, culture, literature, to experience it all first-hand. We were exhausted with the non-resident Indian versions of what India represented and we wanted to immerse ourselves in it fully,” the designers recall. Mumbai, with its magnetic pull of diverse artisans and youthful energy, seemed to be a perfect place to set up a home base to imagine and create NorBlack NorWhite. The pair say the city is “energetic, crowded, always bustling and in a way, very welcoming.”

 

NorBlack NorWhite's Holi Jouvert Spring 2015 


Kapadiya and Kumar immersed themselves so that they could learn as much as they could about traditional Indian textile design. This process started with online research and books, but quickly the duo realized that the best way to absorb this knowledge was to observe and help create these garments in local communities. “Especially in the first few years of the business, we made it a point to travel to meet artisans who were experts in a particular art form or style of weaving, and to learn with them while also documenting the process,” they explain. Kapadiya and Kumar find producing pieces that demonstrate classic handmade textile techniques important, and they also have made keeping records and documentation of these crafts part of their mission. They hope to help preserve India’s rich cultural heritage.
 
They observe, “We've been blessed with meeting some truly special artists while sourcing for our collections, especially in Kachchh. It's here that we met Judy Frater, an extraordinary woman and mentor who has dedicated her life to the preservation of crafts and art forms in Gujarat. She introduced us to our bandhani family — the Khatris, with whom we produce all of our tie-dye.” It’s through developing meaningful relationships and working with the same artists again and again that NorBlack NorWhite has been able to create its collections so cohesively. You can see this approach in the Spring 2015 collection, Holi Jouvert.

 NorBlack NorWhite's Holi Jouvert Spring 2015 


Kapadiya and Kumar remark, “This series is a pure celebration of colour, combining inspirations from Trinidad's Carnival J’ouvert sunrise mornings and India's Holi days. With the texture, we wanted it to be 100 per cent pristine white cotton for that purity and soft comfort.” When asked to describe the latest collection in three words, the designers chose “Celebration, classic and cotton.” The motivation behind this series is to keep the pieces accessible and wearable in all sizes by creating a silhouette that flatters all body types. The designers remark that the design’s simplicity lends its focus to the seamless transition of colours that marks each piece’s uniqueness through handmade dyeing. “We are thrilled at the comfort and flow of these pieces that brighten up any room,” they say.

 NorBlack NorWhite's Holi Jouvert Spring 2015 


NorBlack NorWhite remains committed to its design platform as a vehicle of sharing both histories and stories. The designers explain, “Our main source of inspiration is people — whether it’s the style of people we see on the street in our daily lives, or the amazing artist friends that we know across the world, doing beautiful work. Travel is always an eye-opener and moving between space is inspiring and fuels the creative process.”
 
In fact, after spending five inspiring years in Bombay, NorBlack NorWhite has decided to pursue a new adventure by departing the city and travelling globally to places yet to be determined. Kapadiya and Kumar seem to remain committed to keeping their brand a fresh and versatile mash-up of ancient India and the modern world. It only remains to be seen how the cultures they explore next will influence their creative direction.

Photography courtesy of NorBlack NorWhite 

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