South Asian New York Fashion Week should do better to promote marginalized cultures and designers within its own community
On September 7, I flew to New York City for what seemed like the most amazing opportunity of my fashion career so far: I was selected to show at the first ever South Asian New York Fashion Week (SANYFW). Up to this point, South Asian fashion has only been given a small section in New York Fashion Week. This was the first time that the South Asian fashion community was able to hold an entire week of shows and events dedicated exclusively to South Asian fashion. As a college student with little experience, I was given the opportunity to participate in a revolutionary project. SNYFW was as busy, fast-paced and luxurious as one would imagine. From attending Wall Street and Chelsea Factory to meeting Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Versha Sharma and other influencers I’ve followed over the years, it felt like more than just dipping my toes into the contemporary fashion pool.
How did I get involved?
I believe I got this opportunity because I came from the South Asian community, a community I was inspired to reach out to. By connecting with SANYFW on all their platforms, sending emails with my resume, cover letter and portfolio, I soon met with Hetal Patel, COO of SaNYFW. Then I created a sample portfolio of decorating the CEO and COO. I spent three days extensively preparing the portfolio, and the morning after I submitted it, I received an email from Hetal Patel, saying that she thought I had captured their personal style perfectly and that they would like to bring me on. During the week I worked with different individuals such as designers, models and makeup artists. My role was fluid and autonomous; I went where I wanted and where I thought I would get better service.
The issue of diversity
Many of my opportunities, such as my internships and writing experiences, were because the South Asian community provided me with the experiences and resources I needed. But it is this community that suffers more than those outside the South Asian diaspora, with identities marginalized from activism and empowerment. While the fashion industry as a whole remains far from where it needs to be, the South Asian fashion community is even more so. We are still conditioned by beauty norms such as unrealistic body standards and color standards. Many subcultures are underrepresented by promoting to people outside our community that South Asian culture is North Indian culture and nothing more.
Remnants of colonialism create this tension in our society. Western fashion, especially in the last two years, has been able to take more initiative to create practical changes in terms of body inclusivity and inclusion of marginalized communities due to greater discussion and media exposure in Western societies, but this language is not so much in it. South Asian regions.
How can we expect colonized countries not to engage in a very Eurocentric representation of beauty? However, it is the responsibility of the South Asian community to do the internal work to decolonize fashion and root out the effects of post-colonial rule. SANYFW is a platform to do just that, debunk inaccurate representations of our society through the lens of fashion. SNYFW infused South Asian culture with mainstream fashion, but in many ways, that’s all it did. The complexities of South Asian society were not properly reflected in this year’s fashion week.
Working behind the scenes from morning till night, I was able to take the most part in terms of being a fly on the wall and observing the industry. While I was inhaling the lehengas and wearing the models, everything kept buzzing around me – including the whispers.
While working backstage for Mayur Jirotra’s show, I felt that the band was working with a version of “Devil Wears Prada” from Miranda Priestly from North India. While this trope worked well for the film and the mainstream fashion designer in the early 2000s when our society was less socially conscious, the persona of the “diva designer” does not bode well for this current age of awareness and inclusivity. I spoke to a model who said that Meiyur Jirotra didn’t like to see his models eat for the entire day. A stylist I worked with said she should model, but Girotra only wanted tall and thin models. Another model was told she was too skinny and too muscular.
The sad thing is that this is not shocking; This is the industry as a whole. If runways have more curvy or shorter models, it will be scattered between tall and skinny models. Inclusivity isn’t just about hitting a quota for good publicity, but that’s exactly what we’re getting at fashion week with many luxury and couture brands.
As the luxury fashion industry continues to make anything outside of this standard of beauty a minority for the masses, the norm continues to show the value of being thin and tall. There were curvy, short, dark-skinned models in the smaller runway shows at SANYFW, but they were considered worthy models for these smaller brands. Big couture designers like Nomi Ansari and Mayur Girotra chose to choose very Euro-oriented models when smaller designers didn’t have the “opportunity” to do so. Many people I spoke to at SANYFW asked, “What should we do?” They wiped it with air. Or “That’s the industry.
from top to bottom
In a sense, there is truth to these statements. The fashion industry is a place of extreme capitalism, nowadays it seems like a luxury for designers to break out of systems that oppress marginalized communities and spend all their resources on bettering them. Many who are starting out in the industry don’t have the scale or capital to make decisions that encourage incremental growth because they are forced to play within the existing space to get off the ground.
SNYFW gets backlash on TikTok about inclusion rates. During an Instagram Live broadcast, SANYFW CEO Shipra Sharma briefly addressed the controversy. She explained that most model applications are received from individuals who have one standard of beauty over another, and that they do their best with the applications they receive, as most of their applications adhere to the Eurocentric standards of beauty that pervade the industry. .
I believe this statement is honest and speaks to what the executive team is working on. However, realizing that I am not part of the executive decision, I still need to be critical of what I see and hear, it gives me a social responsibility to bear as someone who enters this industry.
Fronting the first-ever SNYFW means working with limited resources and wearing many hats. However, there were many things that could have been done in the early stages. The executive team of SANYFW consists primarily of North Indians and may only have a North Indian or non-resident Indian perspective on the South Asian experience. South Asia is not equal to India or North India. In the future, I would like to see other South Asian communities like South India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Indo-Caribbean communities more fully represented on the executive team.
I believe that having this inclusion at the highest level where major decisions are made about models, designers and cultural events truly represents the South Asian diaspora. I saw only one aspect of South Asian fashion at SANYFW, mostly North Indian, with only one major Pakistani designer and one South Indian designer. As a South Indian Tamil individual, I don’t feel that my culture and many other marginalized South Asian cultures are given the representation we generally want in South Asian fashion.
The future of South Asian fashion
On the fashion scene as a whole, SNYFW should be commended for presenting the first fashion week that gave the South Asian fashion industry a platform to be included in the Western fashion discourse. In this space our community has worked hard to hold, there is more we can do. Now we have a voice that can highlight our people and their artists even more. I hope SNYFW can use this energy for greater representation in the future.