Fashion Week Brings South Asian Design Into Vancouver’s Mainstream

Vancouver is an international fashion destination for South Asian wedding wear, but these designers have so much more to offer.


Reported by by Desirée Garcia

Vancouver’s South Asian population is providing a platform for other cultures to embrace their clothing and design through a fashion showcase.

South Asian Fashion Week, hosted last weekend at Coquitlam’s Hard Rock Casino, was created with the goal of making South Asian fashion accessible to wider audience, featuring over 10 local designers.

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South Asian Fashion lacks representation

Cindy Khella, one of the show’s producers, said the concept started as one extravagant fashion show before turning into a multi-day event to give South Asian design the representation it currently lacks in mainstream fashion.

According to Khella, Vancouver is an international fashion destination for South Asian wedding wear, with some customers flying in from Europe.

“It’s the same designers, so why not also make a platform for other clothing that they’re designing,” Khella said of how the show was created.

Raman Johal-Chauhan, owner of clothing store House of Raina, was excited when she was approached by the SAFW team because she felt the show fits with her store’s mission statement of South Asian fashion inclusivity.

“There’s interracial marriages and people who are going to South Asian weddings,” Johal-Chauhan said. “[We’re] making sure people that weren’t necessarily Indian would want to come in and feel comfortable shopping.”

Breaking traditions

Johal-Chauhan said her designers have created clothing with less embroidery, different shapes and darker colours to break away from tradition because the younger generation wants a modern touch.

“We used crop tops with a harem pant instead of a traditional salwar,” Johal-Chauhan said, referring to one of her fashion week designs that changed how the traditional Indian baggy trouser is worn.

Usually a saree, a South Asian female garment that is draped around the waist and shoulder, has a blouse underneath. But Johal-Chauhan chose to make the saree look like a top and a skirt to appeal to modern tastes without losing a connection to tradition.

Blending fashion, blending cultures

Bindu Khatri, who attended South Asian Fashion Week, said fashion has something for everyone and that South Asians are proud to see people from other cultures wearing their clothing.

“We, as Indian, wear Western clothes all the time, we wear Pakistani clothes, we wear even Chinese and we love to wear Kimonos,” she said. “When we see people from other cultures too, wearing the clothing that designed by Indians and it’s a part of theirs, it’s very good.”

“Fashion is one of the places where we can again, blend together and be one,” Khatri said. “Anything that unites us is amazing, fashion is one of those platforms, all the discrimination goes away and you’re just one.”

Respect religious symbols

But several designers at South Asian Fashion Week specify the difference between sharing fashion and appropriating religion.

For example, when Gucci unveiled a turban design at a Milan’s fashion week last month, accusations of cultural appropriation were made.

Clothing designer Dave Singh said that because of its association with religion, Gucci’s use of the turban was more for attention then respectful representation.

“I have seen a lot of Hollywood celebrities supporting an Indian saree…and I feel proud that they are liking what we create,” Singh said. “A turban represents Sikhism, so I did not like that part.”

“But if it’s done in a tasteful and a respectful manner, then I think that there’s no harm in that,”

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