The Fashion Outsider Vaishali Shadangule’s Making waves in Milan and New York
When she had to design her new flagship store in Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda, designer Vaishali Shadangule turned to the city’s dumping yards for inspiration. From Jogeshwari in the north to Chor Bazaar in the south, Shadangule scoured the city’s antique vendors: not for full pieces of furniture like so many of us do to lend our homes and offices that antique-but-cool vibe but rather for discarded doors.
“Every door has a story, right?” Shadangule asks rhetorically, “The grihapraveshs, the poojas, the weddings, the new births: The door is a silent witness to all of this and more. It’s symbolic of new beginnings and I wanted to include that as part of my store’s design narrative.” But this was just one of the reasons why Shadnagule went scouring through the junkyards in the city’s second-hand markets.
Long before sustainability became a thing in the fashion industry, Shadnagule had been incorporating it in her design philosophy. Shadangule who works under her eponymous label, Vaishali S, has been, for several years now, collaborating with local weavers around the country. For her, being sustainable wasn’t just a media release schtick but a serious attempt of going back to the roots.
Her most recent work with the weavers of a fabric called Khunn, native to the town of Guledgudda in Karnataka, has won her accolades in Milan and New York where she showed her khunn-inspired line at the fashion weeks. It was her work with weavers of fabrics such as khunn and chanderi that made Shadangule sensitive to wastage in her business.
“I realised traditional Indian clothes and forms of weaving have a very small carbon footprint. They also have the least amount of wastage,” she says. It was this philosophy of minimal waste that has guided her design narrative for the store itself. The main door, for instance, is made out of multiple old doors discarded by their original owners, presumably, for something modern.
Panels of the doors have been taken out and replaced with a small grille that lends it a retro rural look. Walk inside and you’ll see that the pattern has been followed for other doors too — from changing rooms to storage units and washrooms. Each door frame is some 12 feet tall. “I couldn’t get doors that large,” she says, “So I had to bring together two different doors and make them into one large door.”
Since all the wood was sourced from junkyards, Shadangule ensured it was disinfected and treated for termites. “But aside from that, I didn’t do anything at all. I haven’t even given it a fresh coat of paint,” she says. The distressed look that you see throughout the store is, according to Shadangule, the original worn out colour. You may not realise this as everything seamlessly complements each other.
Parts of the other doors she collected have been upcycled as hangers and a display table, included in the cashiers till or simply hung from the ceiling with tiny lights trickling down making it look like a starlit sky in the nights. The French windows which occupy most of the two walls, bathing the interiors in bright sunlight, get an additional antique framing too.
Vaishali Shadangule started out in 2001 with a tiny store in suburban Mumbai. Having run away from her home in Vidisha, a town in Madhya Pradesh, she did odd jobs — first in Bhopal (the biggest city she’d known growing up) and then in Mumbai — before she discovered she had a knack for designing. When she was working as a trainer at a local gym, Shadnagule used her spare time to create an amateur portfolio which she shared with her female clients and began designing outfits for them.
It would be another decade before she’d realise her dream of, first, getting a formal education in fashion and then showing at the Lakme Fashion Week — the biggest fashion even she had known of back then. Eventually, Shadangule would show at fashion weeks in New York and Milan, taking her work to international markets before returning to Mumbai.
In an industry that’s cruel to outsiders and where fashion funds are granted on the basis of how well you speak English, how cool you are, or what your postal code is, Vaishali has been an outsider. The easy, almost spiritual, the vibe of her store, located in the same neighbourhood as some of the top designers of the country, reminds you that she’ll always be an outlier.