Twice a year, for the last 80 years, designers take to the runway to showcase their latest creations in a celebration of fashion weeks across the globe, with the start of New York Fashion Week (NYFW). While the roster of designers on the NYFW calendar continues to get increasingly diverse as the years go on, there continues to be a gap in representation for the rich landscape of fashion and design coming out of South Asia. Shipra Sharma and Hetal Patel, co-founders of South Asian New York Fashion Week (SANYFW), sought to change that. “We wanted to introduce the world to the finest of South Asian fashion,” the pair say about the endeavor.
After a whirlwind debut in 2022 featuring noteworthy designers Mayyur Girotra and Nomi Ansari headlining the five-day event, SANYFW returned to New York last week for its second year, with the brand Always Raas spotlighted as the headliner. Established designers Maison Tai, Jamil by MD, and Aakriti by Shakun are also among the brands highlighted at this year’s events.
Based in Chicago but inspired by the Indian state of Gujarat, Always Raas seeks to dress the “global desi,” namely South Asians who live outside of the region itself, but cherish the traditions and aesthetics of their ethnic heritage. The brand debuted their collection titled EZORA at SANYFW with an elegant runway show at The Refectory in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. The collection featured a variety of pieces that offered either a more traditional silhouette or a western-inspired fusion style. Each outfit was rooted in two key heritage crafts of Gujarat: bandani, a traditional tie-dye technique, and abla embroidery, the stitching of small mirrors into clothing. Closing the show was Richa Moorjani of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever wearing a show stopping silk lehenga.
SANYFW goes beyond major productions when it comes to platforming creators—this year’s calendar includes a multi-designer runway show, as well as a showroom featuring presentations of various emerging designers across all stages. One such designer is Maheen of the brand Baboujie, a label that employs the traditional heritage craft of block printing on pure silk fabrics. “I want people across the world, but also in our own community, to be aware of the art of block printing,” Maheen says. “When you go into a clothing store, it’s not uncommon to see prints that are inspired by South Asian block prints, but you probably wouldn’t know the origin.” Babougie employs craftspeople in Pakistan and stitches their pieces in Los Angeles.
Another emerging designer highlighted at this year’s SANYFW is Sheel Yerneni, whose brand Svarini is being showcased for the first time. Founded in Texas with textiles sustainably sourced in New Delhi, Svarini’s namesake is the Sanksrit word “svairini,” meaning free. Over time, the word was used with a negative connotation to describe women who were unmarried and unchaste, Yerneni says, but she was emboldened to reclaim the word by embracing its original meaning for brown women who wanted to express their sexuality through clothing. “I wanted to see my culture in a way that felt like me, and the women I know,” she explains. “So Svarini is traditional, but it’s also sexy.” Yerneni's vision comes to life with a collection defined by traditional textiles and prints carefully crafted into corsets and halter tops. When it comes to being a part of SANYFW, the designer watched the inception of the event in 2022 just as she was beginning to create her brand. “I didn’t know that a space like this could even exist for me, so being a part of it this year is a dream come true.”
And while there continues to be a long way to go when it comes to carving out a space for South Asian fashion on the global stage, SANYFW is making major strides towards bridging these gaps.
Published on September 13, 2023
Words by Vandana Pawa
Vandana Pawa is a New York based culture and fashion writer, currently working as a programs curator at the Asian American Writers' Workshop. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @vandanaiscool.