Designer Jenjum Gadi on his own clothing label, selling momos in Dilli Haat, and why he grows potatoes and tomatoes in his garden

Last October, for his Spring/ Summer 2013 show in the Capital, Jenjum Gadi took gota — the shiny ribbon that he once considered “cliché” and “tacky” — and fashioned it into something younger and, well, non-cliché. He called the collection “An Ode to Gota”, incorporating into clothes not only the wide ribbon that we consider gota to be, but also the gota dori, inserting the latter in textured honeycomb-pattern shifts and the likes. For three years, the Wigan & Leigh College (Delhi campus) graduate has been one half of the label Koga, which he started with batch-mate Jasleen Kochhar. With the Autumn/ Winter 2012-13 line he showcased last February he launched his own eponymous label (Jenjum Gadi), the above-mentioned Spring/ Summer line being only his second showing as solo designer.

“There’s not much of a difference,” he ponders over a cup of coffee at a rush-hour Costa Coffee outlet in Green Park market. “I think in my label you’ll see more of me. If two people are doing it together there are always two opinions. Now it’s more aggressive in terms of styling and design. It’s carrying forward what I was doing in Koga, but with more of my personality.”

Jenjum’s growing fast — March-April might see the launch of his first store (in India he currently retails from multi-label stores in Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad, and his studio in the Capital), while a project with the Meghalaya Government involving the weavers there is in the pipeline. The lad from Tirbin, Arunachal Pradesh — right now digging into a blueberry muffin — has his fingers in a few pies. (He’s also packing in dance rehearsals as he’s to perform at a friend’s wedding in a few days’ time.)

Seeing Jenjum’s final collection at Wigan & Leigh, for which he won the ‘Best Collection’ prize, Rohit Bal promptly offered him a job. Jenjum took it up, spending seven months at the veteran’s studios.

“I wish I had worked there longer. It was my first job, which I left to start Koga. I was restless, I couldn’t wait. Everybody told me to work for some more time, get some experience. Whatever little experience I had from Rohit Bal made me start Koga,” he says.

As favourites, besides Rohit Bal, Jenjum appreciates how Sabyasachi has shaped his label. “Everyone tries to copy Sabyasachi. There is a certain look he keeps creating again and again, and people are still buying it. Fashion is change, right? Here it’s not change.”

A “foodie with fixed tastes”, Jenjum prefers to stick to Oriental cuisine. Not many are aware that for the last two years he’s had the contract for running the ‘Momo Mia’ stall in Dilli Haat. “Arunachal has a lot of tribes. So the chowmein and momos are from that part of Arunachal that borders Tibet and China… Arunachal Pradesh is where the maximum tribes are located — if you travel five kilometres you’ll find a new tribe. Each has different food habits — you probably can’t tell but I can,” Jenjum explains. While traditional Arunachal Pradesh cuisine uses a lot of bamboo shoots — something he says is common to all North Eastern states — here at Dilli Haat the idea is to cater to popular tastes. “Dilli Haat is a tourist place; everybody comes. So I’m not targeting a particular clientele. But I try to maintain quality, keep it clean and hygienic. It’s not fine-dining, it’s more like fast food.”

Not a big fan of being in the kitchen, he does like watching cookery shows on television. “So my friends tell me, ‘Why are you watching them?’ I love Vicky Ratnani. I like Aditya Bal’s show too. Don’t like Highway on My Plate… I don’t know why. People really like that show, but it just doesn’t interest me. I like Kylie Kwong — all the cutting and throwing things.”

Gardening is another pastime. “I belong to a farming family. When I go home I work in the fields with my mom… If you’re in the village you have to grow your own food.”

So, here he has his own potato and tomato patch. “It’s quite nice — just to look at it. My maid keeps laughing, ‘Bhaiyya, kya hai yeh?’ Sometimes I think if I wasn’t a fashion designer I would have been doing farming, but in a modern way.”