V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
Indian designer Nikasha Khemka, whose clothes are often worn by Bollywood celebrities, is one of the five finalists of Singapore Stories 2021, an initiative by non-profit Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) and the Government to develop the local fashion industry.
Selected Singapore-based talents have to create a six-look capsule collection themed Fashion and Technology: A New Era to win the competition, which has several prizes, including a debut at Paris Fashion Week 2022 and being featured at the Asian Civilisations Museum's (ACM) special exhibition #SGFASHIONNOW in 2023.
The winner will be announced at the end of this month.
Nikasha, who moved permanently to Singapore in 2011 to join her architect husband Gaurang Khemka, who is an adjunct associate professor at the National University of Singapore and designed the Indian Heritage Centre on Campbell Lane, came up with a new collection called Nika in January.
It was inspired by the prints found in the various exhibits and motifs seen on ceramic bowls at the ACM.
The clothes are now on sale at integrated retail and incubation space Design Orchard at prices ranging from $50 to $400.
"Nika actually happened in 2020 because suddenly there was the pandemic and I had a lot of time," said Nikasha, 45. "In 2019 I had gone for a spiritual overhaul as I felt that I wasn't doing very much with my life, though I was a successful designer.
"So, right on cue, in 2020 my factories (in New Delhi) and my (three) stores (in New Delhi and Mumbai) shut down and I didn't have anything to do.
"I then started thinking about this new brand and how I would actually mix passion and purpose together. And that's when the Singapore Stories 2021 call came."
The inspiration to design the Nika range also came from Nikasha's keenness to employ weavers in India. "For long I had been wanting to work with weavers in India," she said. "They are actually the most talented weavers in the world.
"I decided to work with India's National Association For The Blind because the girls it supports are very adept and talented. They can do amazing work with their hands. They are not able to see but can do a lot of things much better than we can.
"Basically my goal was to look at sustainability in a different way, not just rely on organic cotton or hand-block printed. Nika is totally hand woven."
The Nika tops, dresses and skirts for women are meant for everyday wear.
"We have created small things like scarves with fish motifs," said Nikasha. "It comes through a process which I would call evolved essentials."
"Weavers and social enterprise is basically the DNA of the brand. The entire collection is inspired by Singapore, about my life here and how I've been able to interpret it."
Nikasha, who is half-Maharashtrian and half-Bengali and studied psychology at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in New Delhi, used to shuttle between Mumbai, where her business was based, and Singapore after she got married in 2011. She became a Singapore citizen after the birth of her daughter Navisha in 2015.
"I'm not a trained designer," she said. "I learnt on the ground by observing how master designers work and watching how tailoring is done. I was lucky that I met a lot of people who helped me a lot."
Several Bollywood stars, such as Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Kajol and Kareena Kapoor, wear her clothes. "They like what I do," said Nikasha. "When you communicate your vision right and if you are authentic, they will come to you."
The designer, who established her own brand Nikasha in 2006, has carved a niche in Indian high fashion over the years by offering contemporary, luxurious pret and couture with a distinct house signature and an inherent Indianness that celebrates handcrafted traditions.
The house has showcased its seasonal lines at several noted fashion platforms such as Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, Lakme Fashion Week, Shanghai Fashion Week and Coterie New York.
The label has also been featured in Indian and international publications such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, International Herald Tribune and The Daily Telegraph.
Recently, Nikasha launched Tara, a new collection for Deepavali and the festive season. The dresses are priced below $400 and available at www.nikasha.com.