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Slow Fashion: Daniel Syiem’s Ethnic Fashion House

Posted by
on November 03, 2015 at 01:54 PM

Following up on the feature on Eri Silk and Khneng Embroidery, a profile on the Slow Fashion movement in the North East, spearheaded by Ethnic Fashion House by Daniel Syiem - who considers himself lucky to be able to marry his love for fashion and his passion to put ryndia and Meghalaya on the map of not just India but the world!

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Slow Fashion Movement

Following up on the feature on Eri Silk and Khneng Embroidery, a profile on the Slow Fashion movement in the North East, spearheaded by Ethnic Fashion House by Daniel Syiem - who considers himself lucky to be able to marry his love for fashion and his passion to put ryndia and Meghalaya on the map of not just India but the world!

The Fabric

Besides being organic, Eri or ryndia is known an “ahimsa” silk processed from cocoons without killing the larvae inside, and is mostly used to make shawls and stoles. Syiem’s initial challenges included convincing weavers to supply the fabric in new dimensions, but he adds that since the fabric is dyed naturally, it severely limits the brand’s colour palette to shades of white and natural earthy tones. To compliment the handlooms, he avoids using machine-made embellishments or fasteners and relies instead on drawstrings, knots and buttons made from natural materials.

Daniel Syiem

The story of how Syiem landed up having a career in fashion is interesting in itself. As young boys, he and his brother would spend their time sketching. His brother would sketch houses, and Daniel, dresses. While his brother grew up to pursue architecture, Daniel failed to convince his parents to send him to fashion school. Shillong may seem modern to the eye, but, his parents encouraged him to go to college. After jumping from job to job, he eventually met Denny, an officer in Meghalaya’s ericulture department, who’d become a close friend and enabler of Daniel’s lifelong dream to become a fashion designer. He introduced Daniel to weavers from Ri-Bhoi district, one of Mehalaya’s poorest districts, where only half of its largely Khasi population is literate. Here, women weavers were gradually beginning to abandon the traditional Ryndia handloom. When Daniel met the weavers from Bhoi, his dreams suddenly fell into place. He says, “I fell in love with the fabric; at the same time, it also became like a calling.” Both Daniel’s father and grandfather are social activists. When Daniel decided he was going to get into fashion, he also wanted to make sure he gave back equally to the community. “I wanted to work exclusively with Ri-bhoi weavers, and that’s when I met Janessaline [Pyngrope, now Business Head of the company] who worked for an organisation that helped these weavers. I find myself very lucky to be able to marry my love for fashion and my passion to put ryndia and Meghalaya on the map of not just India but the world,” says Syiem.

Right now, Daniel’s focus is on tapping into Meghalaya’s traditional skills and resources, like Garo pattern weavers. For the last seven seasons, he has worked with Ryndia from Ri-bhoi, proving critics of his work wrong time and time again. “They say my work will be limited. But I have a special connection with Ryndia, so I always try something innovative.” "Natural fabrics of the region—Eri silk and Muga—are hand-woven mostly in traditional loin looms. We want to highlight the traditional fabrics of the northeast," adds the designer, known for making northeast's traditional apparel chic. He has showcased his work - ensembles for women in natural fabrics - in various fashion weeks in places like Rome, New York, London, Toronto, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Jaipur. His collections have featured in top fashion magazines like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Elle. He signs off by saying "The unique use of natural, hand-woven and organic textiles like eri silk, in a colour palette of ivory, pastel greens and yellows, earthy browns in this collection, celebrates the triumph of spirit and the freedom to be your true self".

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