‘I come to your country and steal all your jobs’ – Interview with Krishma Sabbarwal

The significance of fashion has shifted in recent years, mostly thanks to the rapid expansion of social media, influencing our lives, our style, our beliefs and – very importantly – our choices, including our fashion ones. More often than not our outfit is a sort of statement of not just our personal preference, but our financial status, political stance or even mental health. Krishma Sabbarwal is a young, emerging designer based in London, who is a member of young generation creators, being not afraid to stand for her beliefs, and clearly showing it through her thought provoking designs. We talked about activism, post-covid hardship, and her plans for the future.

Hi Krishma! Can you introduce yourself to our readers in a few sentences? 

Hey, I’m Krishma Sabbarwal, an emerging fashion designer from England. I graduated with a first-class degree in Fashion Textiles in 2018 and since have been working on my namesake brand. My designs focus on my Indian ethnicity and British nationality and highlight personal experiences.

When did you develop an interest in political activism? Do you think, as a young designer, you have a social responsibility to highlight today’s problems?

I feel it’s everyone’s responsibility to create the world they want to live in. It’s so easy to act like it’s not ‘your job’ to fix it but we desperately need change makers, progressives and people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. People respond to creativity, so I figured: why can’t people “wear their politics”? As a generation, we’re becoming more comfortable and open to discuss politics whereas older generations, particularly in Britain have been told to keep it to themselves. This type of thinking aids the oppressors, the wealthy and the privileged. Everyone should be comfortable talking about politics as it affects us all. I think if I didn’t pursue fashion I would have started a career in either law or politics. Working towards justice has been an interest of mine since I was a child.

Photo: instagram.com/krishmasabbarwal

One of your collections is titled Come to your country. I presume it’s a stand against immigrant phobia, with the most common misconception that we are trying to steal jobs. I am an immigrant myself, so I can relate to this issue. Did you have any negative experience related to this topic?

Yes, you’re right! I come to your country and steal all your jobs is a collection that is so personal and important to me. I am a British Indian, a brown  women of colour, I have experienced many forms of racism, xenophobia and abuse. As an ethnic minority, a third-generation immigrant, I grew up in a racist town full of narrow-minded people. At school I was racially abused by my white peers and heard racial slurs and commentary such as ‘immigrants should go back to their own country”. This collection is a response to my experiences. It started as a creative project for my degree, became healing for me and the support I have had shown me that I am not alone. Something that affected me turned into a healing process for myself and many others who experienced the same. I strongly believe the education systems particularly in Britain (but also in Western countries) are failing people, students are never taught the full extent of colonialism and imperialism. Taught about this vital era of history, they might be kinder and more understanding to minorities. They’d realise we’re not here to ‘steal jobs’, many people were BROUGHT here to rebuild the country after the world wars and settled and naturalised here. People would understand immigration benefits everyone and adds value to any country.

How do you think it shapes consumer opinion?

I have received such positive feedback and reactions from consumers and the press about my collections and concepts! I think it’s refreshing for consumers to see social justice be at the forefront, influencing and informing designs. Fashion is political, where clothes are made, who makes them, how much the garment workers are paid, where waste textiles are disposed of are all political issues. The more people start to understand injustices going on in the world, the more awareness can be raised to influence and create change. Staying silent or apolitical ‘not to risk’ losing consumers or sales only aides the oppressors. Anyone who does not support the concepts or movements I’m inspired by are people who I don’t want as consumers, to be honest. I see fashion as a platform to speak about issues that I relate to, we all have to wear clothing, so why can’t our clothing educate and influence people while raising awareness? When consumers purchase a product, they are supporting the beliefs, values and practices of that company or brand. Whether a consumer does that consciously or subconsciously is another thing. It’s no surprise that during the first lockdown there was a movement of people actively supporting small businesses rather than large corporations, many of which mistreated or dismissed their employees during the initial stages of the pandemic. I feel the stories and concept behind my collections will always be relevant. They may not always be trending on social media, however, the issues will always be happening. A jumper or t-shirt with the statement ‘I come to your country and steal all your jobs’ stays in your mind a lot longer than any social media post about the treatment of immigrants, sense of belonging and xenophobia. It’s time to start talking about real issues, I hope it informs and shapes consumers opinions and reevaluate their buying habits, the people who make the garments, and how they behave towards POC, immigrants and marginalised groups.

Tell me about the sustainable practices in your business. Why do you think it’s important?

I create garments from waste textiles, upcycle donated or found garments and repurpose yarn donations. This allows me to minimise my brand’s impact on the environment while extending the life of textiles and materials. We must save what natural resources we have left and protect our environment. When donating garments to charities, what people don’t realise is that any pieces that aren’t sellable are then processed and eventually sold to markets in the global South. Not only does this impact the local economy, but tonnes of garments that aren’t in good condition are also either burned or buried in the landfill. So many resources are being wasted; the material to create the garments, the water to produce the fabric, the labour costs, etc. It’s overwhelming to think about, but we need to take action urgently. It’s important that creators like myself as well as consumers and retailers take responsibility for this. As I said before, we are all responsible to create a world we want to live in.

I am keen to reduce water waste too. Last year during lockdown I experimented with natural dyes (and reused the water for the garden) this process was fulfilling and a fun experiment. I recommend everyone to try dyeing with avocado pits, turmeric or onion skins – the result will surprise you!

Your brand was shown at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia in 2019. Can you tell me a little bit about this experience?

The Russian Fashion Council and MBFW Russia have been very supportive, I produced two shows with them, one in 2019 in Moscow and a digital film in 2020. The experience in 2019 was so incredible, a group of 10 designers were selected to have their own sponsored show during the fashion week. It was an eight-day cultural experience, we visited Pavlovsky Road, Kolomna and had a print workshop, among other experiences. It’s great to see international platforms for young emerging designers such as this. I am so grateful for these experiences and hope I can visit Moscow again soon.

What are you most proud of?

There have been a few moments that I am very proud of, I prompted a graduate platform to create a space for BAME/POC designers after speaking of my personal experiences. I also take pride in the shows and opportunities I have participated in. I hope I will have more rejoice about in the future!

Who is your ideal client, and who would you like to dress the most?

Doja Cat, Halsey, Charli xcx, M.I.A, I would love any of these inspiring people to wear my garments. My ideal client has style and beliefs similar to mine.

Photo: facebook.com/krishmasabbarwal

What are the hardships you have to deal with as a young designer, especially in the post-covid era? How did it affect you?

I feel it’s difficult to balance between developing my brand and working in a regular job. I want to get into a position where my brand financially supports me and can be my focus. Dealing with impostor syndrome is hard, sometimes I have moments of “I will never move on” or “I’ve had my moment and it’s gone now”, but  I am working hard to stamp those thoughts out. It’s so easy to compare myself to other creators and where they’re at but I am always mindful that everything happens as it’s supposed to. I was scheduled to do a couple of international shows in 2020 but they were cancelled due to the pandemic. I hope I can participate once the situation is more stable but it’s hard to tell. Like with everyone, covid has affected me, mainly my mental health and motivation. It’s been difficult to keep the momentum going as at times it feels like there is no end in sight.

How do you think designers can survive in today’s economic climate? What is your experience?

E-commerce and social media are the future! Traditional bricks and mortar business models are struggling, and have been so for some time. The internet  is the key for the survival of designers. I am currently working on launching my website and online shop, which has been a work in progress for a very (very) long time and I am finally in the headspace to launch it. I think showing your work as much as possible, collaborating with other creatives, getting involved in events are the key ways to network, meet people and make yourself known. It’s always nice to hear feedback from people and gives an idea of what potential consumers are interested in.

Photo: instagram.com/krishmasabbarwal

Where do you see your brand in the future? What is the next step for you?

I want all the hot people wearing my clothes, that’s where I see my brand in the future! 🙂

I hope to grow my brand, get more involved in shows and events, and hopefully be able to focus solely on my brand in the future. I have a couple of projects going on at the moment and I am excited to see the outcomes. I am in the process of launching my website and online shop, speaking to stockists which are all exciting! My fingers are crossed that I get to do international shows again in the near or distant future. I miss meeting new people at these events. Digital fashion weeks are fun but it’ll never beat the buzz of a catwalk show.

Author: Rita Tamás, head photo: @iamkrutova/Instagram

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