Khunn on the NYFW runway

Mumbai-based designer Vaishali Shadangule introduces the colourful handwoven fabric from a small town in Karnataka to an international audience

Published - October 04, 2019 03:10 pm IST

Vaishali Shadangule was in a small village in Karnataka in 2012, when she stumbled upon a colourful woven fabric worn by the women vendors. “I was so taken by it that I researched and discovered Guledgudda, the exact village where it is handwoven,” she recalls. She found that the centuries-old weave, called khunn, was almost dying, as most weavers had switched to power looms. Since then, the Mumbai-based designer has been working with the fabric, and has given it a glocal twist in her latest collection, which was showcased at New York Fashion Week earlier this month.

“The fabric is woven from cotton and silk, and is usually used only for blouse materials. So when I wanted to use it in dresses and jackets, we had to resort to joints. We are now working on making bigger looms,” says Shadangule.

While other weavers create khunn fabric on the power loom, there are tell-tale signs to identifying the original: “The power looms need synthetic yarn, which feels significantly different. As for the motifs (which largely feature faces of goddesses), they will be bigger and less detailed,” she explains.

Taking her eponymous label to the Big Apple for the fifth time, she says it has always been an incredible experience. “I have always believed that our handloom culture needs to be promoted and put out there so that the world can appreciate and enjoy it. Our weavers deserve all that and more for the skill and passion that they display in their work,” says Shadangule, who works with around 50 weavers in the village who still use the handloom. She’s also working on securing a GI tag for the fabric.

On her new collection, Umber, meaning threshold, she says it is “young, displaying an experimental bent of mind”. The handwoven fabrics have been treated using techniques such as knotting, cording and hand embroidery to create textured surfaces. “We choose a vibrant colour scheme with hints of white, creating contrasts with fabrics, using sheers with pops of geometry and corded elements.”

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08:  Designer Vaishali Shadangule and model walk the runway for Vaishali S SS2018 - Runway - New York Fashion Week: First Stage at The Gallery at The Dream Downtown Hotel on September 8, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Vaishali S)

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Designer Vaishali Shadangule and model walk the runway for Vaishali S SS2018 - Runway - New York Fashion Week: First Stage at The Gallery at The Dream Downtown Hotel on September 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Vaishali S)

From NYC, Shadangule took her work to a trade show in Milan, and is now off to Los Angeles for a few shows. “We have a lot of things planned for the end of the year, including a bridal collection and a capsule collection for the holiday season. We are also working on a couple of collaborations to bring my weavers some more attention,” she says.

They’re also going beyond fashion, and working on sustainable textured surfaces, luxury interior lighting and collaborations within the art and design community. “I want to show the world how sustainability can become a way of life without too much effort on our part, and how versatile our handwoven crafts are.”

Visit vaishali-s.com for details.

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