In the fast-paced, cutthroat and dare we say it, materialistic global fashion industry, designer Soham Dave is spearheading something of a quiet revolution.  Drawing on the best of age-old traditional methods from his native India combined with a cutting-edge urban style for which New York is renowned, Soham Dave aims to create clothes with a conscience.  While aesthetics are obviously fundamental, at the heart of Soham Dave’s brand is also an earnest social and environmental philosophy which drives his company’s products and practices.  I spoke to Soham Dave earlier this week to learn a bit more about the various aspects of this philosophy and how it influences his creative and production processes.

The story of Soham Dave begins back in his home state of Gujarat, India.  Dave recalls that it was through his experience travelling to remote villages in his state and other parts of the country that he was able to see firsthand India’s “rich handcrafts and hand-textile industry”.  “I had a chance to work with women artisans through an NGO called SEWA – Self-Employed Women’s Association; it was this coupled with my later studies in New York at the Fashion Institute of Technology which made me realize I wanted to create my own designs while also keeping traditional crafts in my hometown alive.”

Dave explains that, “all materials are handcrafted by local artisans, creating a market for them and keeping their traditional skills alive, including a hand-spun and hand-woven fabric called Khadi, which was revolutionized by Mahatma Gandhi.  We also teach local women artisans to work from home and do their own accounting, empowering them to create sustainable lives for themselves and their families.”

Indeed Soham Dave’s efforts in social responsibility and providing fair incomes for their skilled artisan workers have not gone unnoticed.  This year Soham Dave was awarded the prestigious Innovation USA by the Ethical Fashion Forum, an influential industry body set-up to promote sustainable fashion.  Nevertheless, Dave’s focus is not limited solely to the social sphere as important as this is.  “We also ensure that we only use 100% bio-degradable materials, natural dyes and techniques such as hand block printing so that our lines are 100% eco-friendly”.  The fact that Soham Dave’s clothing is environmentally responsible as well as socially responsible is perhaps unsurprising given that these two goals seem to go hand-in-hand.  The traditional way of doing things not only promotes the use of natural materials, but also leads to far less waste as quality materials are highly-prized and each woman must keep track of her own expenses.

 

The ethical practices of Soham Dave are obviously to be admired, but I also asked him to what extent he sees a similar approach being adopted by the fashion industry at large.  “I see more and more brands launching organic lines and focusing on their carbon footprint reduction.  While mainstream fashion still has some way to go, I believe that in the coming years eco-fashion or what I call slow fashion could be a big trend”.

For Soham Dave in particular the future looks bright.  The brand plans to continue to ride the wave of a new ethical fashion culture, taking hold not just in the United States but overseas too.  “After the success of our recent runway show in New York, we would also love to see our collections featured in Canada, Europe, Turkey and many other places”.  Dave argues that despite the global economic crisis, consumers today are much more intrigued by the story behind the products they purchase – the materials, processes employed and yes, the workers who manufacture the products.  He believes that this trend is bound to continue as the world becomes more interconnected through fashion.

And finally, as India itself becomes yet more prosperous is there any chance we could see Soham Dave’s products returning to be shown there?  “We would love to show at India Fashion Week in New Delhi, and we plan to do so as soon as we have the opportunity”.

– Interview conducted by Alex Levin

(Alex Levin is a writer for RAG New York, a NYC clothing store offering cheap hoodies, cardigans, & coats for the fall season at discount prices.)