IDA 2024 NOW OPEN -- Early Bird Deadline May 30, 2024

Sheetol Chawla
IDA 2022 Emerging Fashion Designer of the Year


View the Winning Entry by Sheetol Chawla


What do you see as the strengths of your winning project and what does this award mean to you personally?

The main strength of Spiritual Shift is that it’s more than just a fashion collection as it seeks contentment and liberty of the soul from this materialistic world. Additionally, it conveys a story using a rhythmic pattern of repetitive cording, extending proportions of layering from smaller to larger illustrating that the only way forward, obviously, is growth and movement, and that’s something I am trying to poetically weave into the design language.

Achieving the IDA 2022 ‘Emerging Fashion Designer of the Year’ Award came as a huge surprise to me as it allowed me to share my work achieving global recognition. I received lot of attention after winning the award. Spiritual Shift is a practise-based investigation of my curiosity to explore and gain a better understanding of spiritual enlightenment through the creation of this collection, The free-spirit style silhouettes are majorly influenced by a pair of swans (one of the images from my storyboard), which takes me into the mood of contentment and ultimate freedom of movement. By combining the traditional and modern craftsmanship, the collection allows the wearer to effortlessly carry the aesthetics of the attire and gives a sort of sense that a serene and liberated life is breathing inside the garment, which is one of the strongest strengths.

Where does your motivation and inspiration for your work come from?

I believe that my curiosity to study Indian culture and its fascinating history to better understand untold and unseen stories strongly motivates and inspires me. It encourages me to listen to my inner voice and then communicate my ideas from this research. This process supports my design development and execution of those ideas.

Nature is one of my biggest inspirational sources when it comes to fashion, whether it’s a beautiful landscape, all species of animals or humans themselves. They all are part of a phenomenal natural ecosystem. We live in a world where the media and news channels are overwhelmed with what’s happening around the world. Against this backdrop, nature is a perfect way to recharge and offer a fresh and original direction to the design development process. So I always look for abundant and non-identical elements in my surroundings.

Tell us about your definition of design?

I see design as a harmony of silhouettes, rhythm, movement, balance of proportions, texture, contrast, and execution. I believe design is closely linked to having a good plan and strategy.

Do you see design an expression of art?

Since the late nineteenth century, incredible design works by world famous designers have been displayed in museums principally reserved for conventional art exhibitions. It can tell meaningful and significant stories about life during that designer’s inspirational period, as art can do. I personally believe that design is a feeling – when one allows their imagination to go freely and bring that feeling to reality. Art is also a way of expressing ourselves. Created on a canvas precisely and displayed on walls. Although design cannot be framed like an artwork, it can be displayed to the public on catwalks and in museums over the decades. Therefore, fashion is art which is wearable.

Which designer in your field do you most admire and why?

I am deeply inspired by Indian fashion designers Amit Aggarwal, Rahul Mishra, and also Dutch designer Iris Van Harpen. Rahul Mishra works with handmade techniques to empower the craftsmanship. Conversely, Dutch designer Iris Van Harpen, and Indian Designer Amit Aggarwal are known for fusing technology with traditional haute couture craftsmanship. All three designers’ experiment with silhouettes, new materials and design in a thoughtful and collaborative manner which excite me the most. I consider all three designers as my peer group of contemporary designers who work in a similar way as myself. Their work is deeply rooted with nature as is mine. I am amazed whenever I look at their highly crafted and innovative collections – it can induce me to silence for hours!

How do you feel design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?

Fashion design has evolved significantly over past few years. I think consumers are more aware and concerned about what they buy due to social and environmental impacts of mass produced fashion. And things are progressing in this new landscape as there is a stronger emphasis on slow fashion. Clothing was created to address the essential requirement for covering the body and to provide warmth, coolness and maintaining one’s modesty in its original way, but now it has evolved to a more sophisticated and long-lasting form. Clothing is now a medium to express oneself aesthetically, socially as well as environmentally.

Tell us a little about your background. How did you develop a passion for design?

I was born and consequently returned my hometown in India, and therefore have always found myself surrounded by colours, multiculturalism and traditions. India is vastly rich in culture – with handwoven textiles, strong craftsmanship and bright colours which are not only fascinating for me, but I believe has universal appeal. So I think it was natural for me to be influenced and adopt that creative part of Indian culture. My interest always been about expressing myself through the creation of beautiful things i.e. oil paintings, wall hangings and sewing. Sometimes in my most early years as I was raised seeing my mother mastering the art of transforming old Indian saris into many essential items. As I grew, I engaged my creativity by directing small design projects in my school summer breaks. It wasn’t hard for me to have a clear vision and to choose fashion design as my pathway at university as I was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about it.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?

While working on variety of projects and self-assessing over and over, I often have difficulty finding the resources I need. It can be quite challenging to source the desired raw materials, and dealing with the problem of being short staffed, and a lack of skilled manufacturers. Also, my local consumer (in New Zealand) can be less adventurous and experimental with new trends and colours. They make very conservative purchases while holding their traditional and social values by way of comparison to the overseas market sector. To overcome this issue, I need to acquire more market knowledge and be come more aware of their traditional preferences. Many fashion brands are entering into the new trajectory of planning and designs decisions. They are shifting towards the business model of ‘less is more’ based on the guidance of slow fashion.

What do you see as the future of design?

There is so much to explore in the design sector. I think sustainability and usage of advanced technologies are closely linked to one another. While studying fashion design, I saw over-consumption and lot of fabric waste from sampling and development of several toiles, which has encouraged me to use 3D design-based sampling to see the fit and design rather than wasting fabric on developing samples. Also, the fusion of technology and craft are a unique combination working together to build a new kind of creativity, while evolving and adapting the use of traditional techniques.

Can you explain what was most important for you when planning the IDA winning project ‘Spiritual Shift’ and what were the biggest challenges you faced?

For Spiritual Shift, I intended to create something meditative, something that draws you in. My focus was on drape, silhouette, the mood and layers with strong movement. Magical, liberated, a shift from small scale to bigger scale were important elements to portray in the collection. These elements give a sense of ultimate liberation of a soul and an expression of joy – of a state of being, beyond the wearer. Though, looking to the silhouettes and fabric, I wanted to continue my research and critical analysis to dig deeper into finding the most suitable materials, the right techniques and silhouettes to liberate the movement with free spirit style characteristics. Every small decision was crucial and daring for me with this project.

Developing my own textile by using cording or pin tucks was the biggest challenge to accomplish, and then dying multiple layers individually. The mission was to create a sort of hypnotic effect using multiple layers and this was my very first experiment with dying the fabric. However, I was quite satisfied with the final outcome seeing that my investigation and ideas during the critical analysis and research phase supported the design development and the final execution. I believe I have been quite successful in achieving the desired free spirited style aesthetics into the collection in a rhythmic way.

How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?

If I look at back, I always see myself surrounded by colour, multiculturalism, tradition and highly talented artisans, which strongly influence my imagination and creative vision. My designs condense the harmony between hand, material and emerging new technologies. Through considered, intuitive design and intricacy of artisanal craftsmanship with a futuristic approach of technologies, I aim to create a new luxury. I take inspiration from abundant, unique, unseen and untold narratives of underserved indigenous groups of people from India.

What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?

My process includes relevant research that addresses the contextual framework of my designs. Areas of research that I use to link back to my concepts includes ethics, fabric stories, silhouettes, market sectors, unique perspectives, contemporary cultures, history and environmental concerns. These are the areas which help provide a framework or ‘contextual position’ from which I design a fashion collection. For drawing and collaging the line-up I often use illustrator and photoshop. I create my collections by developing and defining my own parameters to work within so that I am positioned to conceptualise and develop new products and experiences that respond to who I am, where I am situated and the changes taking place in the fashion industry, and our environmental structure. Also, I believe in creating less.