Keith Haring × UT
- Rina Singh
- Born in 1976 in Saharanpur, India. After graduating from fashion school, she studied abroad in the UK and worked at the National Institute of Fashion Technology. In 2011, she established her own label, Eka. Her collections, which feature a selection of traditional Indian handwoven fabrics, dyes, block prints and embroidery, are presented twice a year, in Paris and New York.
Kurta: The Evolution of a Traditional Garment
Rows of sewing machines pack the space, and the sound of working needles fills the air. In the city of Gurugram, not far from the capital of New Delhi, you’ll find Orient Fashion, a sewing factory whose 5000 employees produce some of the world’s most celebrated brands. The word factory conjures a somewhat impersonal image, but this place is different. The colorful, eye-catching sari and kurta worn by the women who occupy about half of the factory floor brighten the room, and everyone emanates a sense of passionate engagement with their work. We asked a few young women, who happened to be on break, “What are your thoughts on this kurta you’ll be making [for UNIQLO]?” They said that “the design really speaks to how we feel. I’d totally wear this going out on a day off.” We heard this kind of thing again and again.
The kurta Rina Singh designed for us has such a contemporary feel that you could easily mistake it for a dress, if you didn’t know it came from India. When these women say they’d wear this “on a day off,” they speak to the expanding possibilities of what is seen as “traditional clothing.”
“The earliest kurta consisted of a tunic-style top with a thin stand collar, front placket, and slits going down the sides, paired with a matching bottom,” Rina explains. “It was introduced to India by people from Afghanistan, but back then it was worn exclusively by men. Today, though, men only wear kurta on special occasions. In contrast, women wear kurta on a daily basis. The kurta has become their article of choice.” Just as Rina says, if you take a look around town, you’ll notice far more women wearing kurta than sari. For years, Indian women upheld the sari as synonymous with traditional attire. In what ways are their attitudes toward everyday clothing changing? According to Rina, things shifted in the 1970s. “Picking up on what was happening in the U.S., women in India also started achieving higher positions at work. Working outside the home also meant wearing more comfortable and easy clothes, more functional than a sari. I was still a little kid, so this is just a guess, but it must have been quite the statement for women to wear kurta, which at the time was pretty much men's attire.”
Stirred by feminist activism, the kurta was liberated from tradition. The story of this garment has only just begun.
Making the Kurta Global with UNIQLO
“Traditional Indian clothing makes the most out of a piece of fabric,” Rina says. “Unlike European clothing, there is very little cutting to be done, which means no wastage. You could say this makes the design sustainable.” The small number of seams gives kurta a plain profile. To complement these simple lines, it’s common to style a sari and a kurta with a stole loosely draped around the neck, for a cascade effect. It would be fair to say most Indian women favor the soft effect created by the folds of fabric. You can tell from the styling on the models pictured here how much care must have been taken when arranging the stole.
“India spent a significant portion of its history under the control of other nations. To maintain a sense of identity, people developed a rich tradition of weaving and needlework. The feel and fit of our clothing is deeply meaningful. It’s how we express our originality. This is why picking the right textiles was the first thing that I mentioned when I started talking with UNIQLO about doing a kurta collection.”
Thus began the collaboration. Over the course of numerous trials, UNIQLO leveraged its technology to the utmost, eventually producing a textile of exceptional softness with a character and durability hitherto unseen in kurta.
“Traditionally, Kurta always had side slits, to allow for ease of movement when walking or sitting on the floor, and to accommodate different body types, but by lengthening the garment and using UNIQLO stretchy fabric, we were able to create a kurta that is easy to move around in, even without slits.” If functionality can be maintained through technological advances, the kurta can thrive without its slits and placket, characteristic as they may be. That said, Rina mentioned one feature of the kurta that would be best to leave as-is: its length. “By pairing the kurta with jeans or other bottoms, you can have a lot of fun playing around with different styles, but in India, it’s still not considered customary for women to show their legs. While this kurta was primarily designed to be worn as a top, we wanted to make sure that it was long enough that women in other countries would feel like they could wear it as a dress. For me, this kurta collection has been an eye-opening adventure through tradition. We’ve created a kurta that can serve as a bridge between India and the world.”
①UNIQLO Ambience Mall Vasant Kunj
No. 2, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi
UNIQLO comes to India. Starting this fall, we will be opening three new stores in the three largest shopping malls in Gurugram and New Delhi, the center of fashion in India. The selection will include UNIQLO’s standard line of products alongside the kurta collection.
②UNIQLO DLF Place Saket
DLF Place Sacket, Saket District Center, New Delhi
③UNIQLO DLF Cyber Hub
DLF CyberHub, DLF Phase 2, Gurugram, Haryana
Photography by Mai Kise, Styling&Coordination by Jahnvi Bansal,
Hair&Makeup by Bishu Sinha, Illustration by Adrian Hogan, Text by Eri Ishida