Not many find their life’s calling for the longest time. But Vaishali Shadangule, 41, dared to give up the comforts of her home in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, at a tender age of 18, only to discover her passion in fashion and designing. Have had faced many hurdles while making a mark in the glamourous city of Mumbai, Shadangule gradually found the strength in her voice, and is now giving voice to hundreds of local craftsmen on a global platform through her eponymous label Vaishali S, founded in 2001.
This year, in the first week of March, the label opened doors to its new outlet in Mumbai, in the art and cultural hub of Kala Ghoda. The store has a range of the designer’s signature outfits that display her love for Indian textiles and the knack to shape them into unique art patterns; sheer, light and delicate textures.
The store also houses her new line of sustainable home décor and lighting. With the store’s interiors made from repurposed wood and the light brown walls decorated with floral installations, the label aims to create the ambience of a countryside, which would take the visitors back to the weaving villages, where Shadangule’s fashion journey began.
Starting from scratch Born to homemaker Meena Talankar, Vaishali’s innate passion for art and design comes from her father, who, before taking up a government job, was an artist. Unsure about the fashion business, Vaishali first studied Computer Science at the Barkatullah University in Bhopal before moving to Mumbai in 1999.
Her journey demanded a lot from her. For beginners, she struggled with the English language while trying to adjust with the dizzyingly fast pace of Mumbai. After a few jobs, as an office assistant and at an export house, her brief stint as a gym instructor brought out the designer in her. She would often give styling tips and ideas to her clients. Seeing Vaishali’s interest in fashion, a close friend suggested that she venture into the business of style. Vaishali didn’t hesitate and took a loan of Rs50,000 to open her first boutique in Malad.
But, Shadangule still had many miles to go. Her big aspirations to make it in the fashion industry pushed her to pursue Fashion Designing at the Pearl Academy in Delhi, from 2009-2011. Soon after, she flew to the fashion capital Milan to study Master’s in Fashion Design in 2013.
Discovering heirloom weaves A devoted Indian textile revivalist, Shadangule recalls that before getting her formal training in fashion, she had set out to discover the weaves of India in far-off villages of the North East, West Bengal and Karnataka. Back home, the historical town Chanderi, three hours away from Vidisha, left a lasting mark on her memory; she was fascinated with the beauty of the delicately hand-woven Chanderi fabric. Although she did not know where and how to begin, she knew that she wanted to give these weaves a home and the deserved exposure; that’s how Mumbai became Shadangule’s new abode.
With two grand outlets of Vaishali S, one in the posh suburb of Juhu and the newest one in Kala Ghoda, the heart of the brand is its large fraction of the workforce, the weavers. “There weren’t many Khun weavers willing to work in handloom when I ventured out to seek weaving communities. Barely 40 of them even practised the craft. Now, over 900 weavers across the country work with me.” She strongly believes in the irreplaceable contribution of these artisans, and every time she visits a weaving village, it is an eye opening experience.
“In 2012, when I travelled to a small village Guledagudda in Karnataka, many weavers had quit their heritage craft of Khun weave to do manual labour. I could sense an instant connection with the beautiful weave, so, I soon convinced the remaining 40 weavers to work with me.” But, getting them on-board was a hurdle too. She explains that the financial instability in handloom weaving forced them to switch to alternate labour work and hence, it was important that their intrinsic weaving knowledge and the long hours they put in to create a fabric are valued.
Wearable art It would be safe to say that Shadangule’s expertise lies in creating wearable art from century old handloom weaves, patiently gathered from around the country. Initially, for her, it was a challenge to appeal to the new generation, but, she soon won them over by mixing Indian and western styles.
“My focus is to modernise the silhouette with handloom weaves and give it an urban crispness while also retaining the inherent elegance in the revival of the textile.” The power play of visual art and unconventional patterns in all of Vaishali S’s collections stands out from the typical run-of-the-mill garments and exude a new design language to millennial women who love to experiment.
For her, crafting such art forms is an organic process. She draws inspiration from nature and uses smart techniques of draping which requires a minimum amount of fabrics and cording and knotting to create rich textured surfaces. The label’s latest bridal wear collection Madanottsava, presented at the Lakmé Fashion Week S/R 2020 is a fancy departure from the basic, traditional designs. In a romantic union of weaves from various Indian states, featuring Chanderi from MP’s Chanderi, Khun from Karnataka, Maheshwari silk from Maheshwar near Indore, Banarasi brocade from Varanasi and Kanchipuram silk from Tamil Nadu, the fabrics have been seamlessly moulded into accordion style blouses, crafty tops and futuristic drapes and bottoms. Shadangule’s design language is supremely aesthetic and flows from one art form to the other impeccably. The accordion-style, creaseless pleats, floral motifs and ultra-fine gossamer fabric canvas defines her artistic approach to making clothes.
Although the designer loves experimenting with colours in her collections, she feels that the natural palette like the copper and green of Khun and the soft pastels of Chanderi bring out the realness of the fabrics.
Looking closely, the bigger inspiration for Shadangule has always been in the depth of heirloom, local aesthetics and what it means to the weavers who have been practising the art for generations. She says that each weave is different and often the weave itself becomes an inspiration. “I make sure that each collection has its unique touch to reflect the craftsmanship, written strongly within the thread narrative.”
Rooted in the Indian culture The process of dyeing, washing and drying a fabric naturally has been practised in the Indian villages for centuries. The textiles from different parts of the country boast of a rich heritage and deep-rooted cultural history. “Take a tour around at least one village in India and you will notice the attention to detail every craft holds. It is surreal and inspiring.”
A loyalist of her art, Shadangule has showcased her collections four times at the New York Fashion Week, consecutively from 2016 to 2019. “Today the story of Indian weaves is still a fable for most of the international world, while many are finally beginning to recognise the potential of our heirlooms.” She adds that when one returns to his/her roots, one realises that sustainability too is a byproduct of the country’s textile craft; all of it is truly organic.
Scaling up While working in the fashion industry for two decades, Shadangule gradually realised that it is natural to reuse the leftovers. “I couldn’t let the discarded materials we get out of making apparels go to waste. And, that’s how I began working on interior products and accessories.” In 2017, she displayed lamp and textile installations at ID Satellite and soon after decided to expand after seeing the immense potential for sustainable décor in the domestic and international markets. “Today, this process has become second nature to me. It keeps everything we do in a circle of giving back.”
For someone who describes her personal style as extremely simple and majorly ingrained in Indian weaves and sarees, Shadangule’s biggest milestone in her career has evidently been reviving authentic textiles and showing them on a global platform. “I think the Indian design fraternity has done some great work internationally. However, I think, our incredible potential including the rich weaves, crafts and the quality of loom is still not tapped into. We have time and again underestimated ourselves.” She sees India as a profound fashionable country and believes that by giving the age-old textiles and crafts a contemporary touch, the country can dominate the global fashion narrative.
In the difficult times of the global pandemic Covid-19, the label’s flagship store is shut for the safety of its employees, production team and customers. All the work is being done from home and remotely, whenever possible.