Though her work is rooted in India, Rina Singh does not subscribe to the notion of ‘maximized’ Indian aesthetics. “There are many Indias within India,” says the fashion designer, who designs for personality types and not ethnicity or regional identity.
Mostly, she makes things she herself could wear, comfortable, not too body hugging, something that reflects her unique character and not just the season’s trends. And that’s how the 42-year-old has managed to rewrite Indian fashion in her own way.
Born into an agricultural family in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Rina studied in a boarding school near Mohali, Punjab. She spent her summers learning to cut, sew and embroider, and became the go-to fashion expert for her cousins.
She was married young into the royal family in Jodhpur, and overnight her lifestyle became far more opulent. She had a child. Then she realized a life of “chained aesthetics” was not one she wanted to lead, and left her marriage.
She moved to Delhi and joined Wigan & Leigh College on a scholarship. Introduced to the Indian crafts movement under her mentor Archana Shah, and along with her college-mate Sandeep, she began travelling across the west coast of Gujarat, meeting master craftsmen in the villages and documenting their work.
She got a chance to present her final collection in the UK, where she picked up the nuances of styling and presenting.
Over the next decade, she worked with an export house, then with NIFT Gandhinagar as faculty, and finally with ITC Wills where she worked between India and Italy and got interested in international retail. Along the way, she married Sandeep, and had her second son.
And it was then time to stop and take stock.
Rina gave up her job and began working with Sandeep in the crafts sector. In 2010, she made a small collection, and headed to UK for a show. After four days, she still hadn’t got any orders. Then someone told her about an avant-garde store, Egg.
By a quirk of fate, she met its founder Maureen Doherty, who asked to see Rina’s designs. The next day, Rina went back with her suitcase full of clothes, and got her first order. “The benchmark was set; I never had to compromise on my aesthetics after that,” reminisces Rina.
Naming her new label Eka, which means one, Rina began showing her line internationally, in New York and Paris, besides London, and launched in India in 2014. They now retail from all major multi-designer stores across all metros in India, and through 150 stores worldwide.
Soft, fluid and moving, Rina Singh’s creations are guided by ideals of comfort and sustainability. The brand is reflective of Rina’s personal ethos of simple living, connected to her upbringing in a family of agriculturalists.
The label uses only handwoven natural fibres such as cotton and wool, and offers silhouettes that are versatile and globally relevant.
With over 100 full-time employees, her brand works in collaboration with about 200 weavers across the country. Rina has a deep relationship with her craftspersons, developing new prints, weaves and blends with them.
“Despite the challenges of working with a rural workforce, we’ve largely been able to deliver top-quality products even in large quantities,” Rina says modestly. “We’ve learnt from failure.”