Designer Priya Ahluwalia uses recycled, repurposed and vintage materials to create her colorful and at the same time casual, cool designs. The young British designer with Indian and Nigerian roots wants to encourage people to buy clothes that they can keep forever and that they really cherish. SI talked to her about the challenges her young, eponymous label faces, the aspects of sustainable production and what inspires her.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to create your own brand?
I was born and raised in London, and have always been into design and art. When I was growing up I knew I wanted to be a designer. Throughout my education, I targeted it towards being a designer. I launched Ahluwalia after graduating from my MA in Menswear at the University of Westminster.
What challenges does a young label like you face? What experiences have you had there?
I really enjoy the fast pace of having my own label but I think a huge challenge of it is having to do 10 jobs in one. In one day I can be answering interview questions, paying invoices, organizing the production of collections and working on collaborative projects, all whilst managing a small team.
Why are the aspects of responsible sourcing and manufacturing techniques important to you?
The world is full of clothes because nearly everyone on the planet wears them. I want to make sure if I am adding to the clothes that exist, I am doing it in the most positive way I can. I do this by using recycled, repurposed and vintage materials. I want to encourage people buying my clothes to keep them forever and to really cherish them.
What influences your sense of fashion and style? Where do you get your inspiration?
A lot of the inspiration comes from my heritage. I am Indian and Nigerian so I am often visiting these countries a lot, and collecting lots of research, including taking my own photos or looking at family photos. I’m also inspired by art, music and interiors.
Not really, it’s not something I consciously consider whilst designing. That’s because I don’t want Ahluwalia to be a trend, but a world of its own.
We are currently experiencing a time of social upheaval. The Black Live Matters movement has also brought the issue of racism in the fashion industry to the surface again. What are your experiences in this respect as a BPoC?
This is a huge question; I’m not really sure where to even begin. I have had many negative experiences in my life because of my heritage, and lots of them have happened in spaces to do with fashion, such as in job interviews. I am vocal about my heritage and inspirations because I think it is important for POC voices to be heard and listened to over POC issues. For so many years, Paris and Milan were full of shows that were about “China” or “India” which were essentially costume, beautifully done, but completely inauthentic. Now it is important for authenticity to be seen. I also hope that it is not only POC creatives being asked these questions because I have lived with systemic racism my whole life, I obviously have deep-rooted opinions and feelings about it, but I am also not the one benefitting from it or the one who really has the power to change it. It is important that people who are not used to experiencing systemic racism are also being asked to consider what they are doing to be not only un-racist, but anti-racist.
How has the Corona crisis affected you and your brand?
It put a few projects on hold and really forced me to have a break. I was so anxious at the beginning but once I got used to the idea that I could not control it, I started to calm down. Luckily, because I am not a huge business, I did not have to let anyone go or anything like that.
You have just published a photo book about yourself and your work. What motivated you to do so?
Jalebi is about an area in London called Southall, it is one of the oldest and biggest Punjabi communities in the UK. I used to go all the time as a child and it holds very special memories for me. When the idea for the book first came up, the UK had just voted for Brexit and there was a huge scandal about the UK government’s treatment of Caribbean people in the UK. I wanted to do a project that celebrates diversity and multiculturism but also highlights that it is not always easy for people who move around the world just for a better life.