It’s the accessory du jour, more visible, more worn, and more necessary than at any other time in our world’s history. It’s the humble mask that will protect us against the coronavirus, and that is also a subject of debate in many democracies. But for most of us, it’s a choice between staying healthy and getting sick, a choice we happily make. So what’s stopping us from upping the glam game when it comes to our choice of mask? We speak to the founders of three Indian fashion maisons who tell us about their offerings, what makes these unique, and how they represent all that’s sustainable in a fragile fashion ecosystem. We end with a single piece made by one of Hyderabad’s most renowned jewellers, that is a one-of-a-kind statement for a bride on her big day.
Ekaya’s heritage on show
Delhi-based heritage textile label Ekaya, which has been preserving the Banarasi textile legacy for over four generations (it currently supports 8,000 weavers from Banaras) has created three-ply masks from leftover Banarasi fabrics, some silk and some cotton, coming from the Ekaya Thaan (a sub-brand, and a space dedicated to showcasing the craftsmanship of each piece of fabric, in a visually organized manner). “The motifs come from the designs and patterns in our archives,” says Palak Shah, CEO, Ekaya, “Representing pieces that are sold out. It makes these masks one-of-a-kind, but it was important for us to express this creativity in a sensitive and considerate manner. Moreover, the masks are practical, very breathable, and fuss-free. I personally enjoy wearing them.”Palak Shah - CEO & Founder - Ekaya Banaras
Palak tells us that the masks are made from upcycled, repurposed fabrics, from the store; in that the Thaan section of the store always tends to have some leftover pieces. “It was my team’s idea to be so constructive about sustainable and practical usage, by making these masks,” says Palak, who’s looking at upcycling as an effort towards maintaining sustainable operations, as well as ensuring economic sustainability for the weavers.
“On one hand, we’re focusing on reviving timeless classics, as they are, hoping that some tried and tested designs will attract traction as they always have,” says Palak. “On the other, we’re encouraging our weavers to develop creative reinterpretations that don’t compromise on the authenticity of the original weaves. It’s about the dignity of our weavers who have inimitable skills and talents. They’re a national treasure, and we have a duty and responsibility to protect them. It’s important that the weavers feel their skills are and will be as relevant and invaluable as they always have been.”Ekaya dipped into its stock of unused Banarasi fabric from Ekaya Thaan to produce each mask
Palak says that upcycling towards sustainability applies to the consumer too. “At Ekaya, we’ve always strived for a ‘seasonless’ approach to our collections,” she says. “It’s important to take away this psychological restriction that settles upon a garment’s utility, when consciously or unconsciously, there’s a season-specific relevance implied. Every piece is an investment, and it should be cherished, enjoyed, in all its versatile glory, across seasons and occasions.”Each order from Ekaya comes with a free mask
The brand mentions on its Instagram that they are giving away one mask free with every purchase. “We go for the closest approximation, as it’s not easy to make an exact match with the outfit – this is contingent on what we have as leftover fabrics,” says Palak. But a customer is free to order a mask that perfectly matches her saree, made especially for her. There have been brides who have worn Ekaya masks, and this has made Palak and the weavers especially happy. “These fabrics are unique and precious, and we’ve repurposed them as these masks, we’re glad and grateful for the responses we’ve received,” she says. Her favourites are the ones with multicoloured patterns that go with everything, and ones in muted gold tones that gives outfits that special touch.CRIMSON Bright mask by GAYA
Gaga about Gaya
Milaaya Embroideries is a name to be reckoned with in the world of luxury fashion. Supplying to the likes of Louis Vuitton, Balmain, Kenzo, Paco Rabanne, Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Armani, Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang, Jenny Packham, and many more, this manufacturer has been in the business since 2000 when it founded its first office in New York, with a head office in Mumbai. The company expanded globally with offices in Paris, Milan, and London, and today it’s 15,000 sq ft Mumbai factory boasts of state-of-the-art infrastructure, that includes an embroidery and stitching atelier, as well as management departments all under one roof.FOOTBALL FEVER mask by GAYA for children
And now, the company has launched its global fashion label GAYA, which is all about reviving the crafts of India, with sustainability at its core. And keeping the current situation in mind, what they’ve launched is a collection of artisanal, fashion-forward masks for everyday life. “Masks have become an essential part of our daily lives under the current circumstances and will continue to do so to some extent even in the post-Covid world,” says Gayatri Khanna, Creative Director, GAYA. She says that in the early Covid days, only medical masks or the N95s were available. However, when the government said that cloth masks provided adequate protection for daily use, she could not find any masks that would match her outfits or uplift her mood, nor find a high-quality mask to her taste. “I thought of masks, as the next must have accessories,” says Gayatri. “GAYA masks are utilitarian, safe and stylish. These are unique in terms of their design, embellishments and prints and there is something for everyone. The masks are a preview to the rest of the soon to launch GAYA product range – loungewear followed by day dresses, evening dresses, bomber jackets, blouses and tops, to name a few.”SECRET GARDEN mask by GAYA
And the masks promise to be as contemporary and wearable as the clothes. “We wanted to create a brand that is holistic and has something for everyone, irrespective of gender, cultures, or geographical boundaries,” says Gayatri. “So whether it’s delicate floral embroideries, fun motifs like butterflies or cupcakes, elegantly beaded lace or stylish ruffles, trendy denim, classic pleated for men or edgy with the embellished skull and wings or then again playful motifs for children, we have a very wide range of masks. Embroideries, prints, and a vibrant colour palette are the USP of our brand. It is very difficult to show the intricacies and detailing of the embroideries on a small piece of cloth that makes up a mask, but we have successfully managed to capture these in each of our designs using our expertise and experience of 20 years in the world of embroidery. In terms of prints too, each design is well thought of and executed.”
Milaaya has been in the embroidery business for over 20 years and the company’s talented team of embroidery designers has designed a whopping 50,000 embroidery samples for its archive. “While working with luxury clients has definitely acquainted us with global style and design aesthetics as well as helped us achieve world-class quality, our designs for GAYA are the culmination of months of research and brainstorming,” says Gayatri. “The particular designs with the lips and finger are called Hush Tones. A part of our design process was to create a collection where there’s something for everyone, while still keeping the essence of our brand philosophy.”HUSH TONES mask by GAYA
Gayatri tells us that her embroiderers are mainly from Mumbai and Kolkata. “The fashion industry has become more conscious about its environmental impact, and the necessity of having a transparent supply chain,” she says. “Milaaya has always been at the forefront of this cause. We try to use recycled embroidery materials and base fabrics wherever possible. Recycled materials such as sequins made from PET plastic, beads made from recycled metal, and wooden beads, on are incorporated in the embroidery. We also provide the option of using fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles to our clients.”
But sustainability in fashion can’t just be limited to using natural or recycled materials. It needs to be sustainable in its very ethos – which translates into an ethical and sustainable manufacturing process. “Milaaya Embroideries is a vertically integrated factory where each step of the production from the inception of the idea to design to its execution from the embroidery to the stitching and packaging – all happen under one roof,” says Gayatri. “This not only ensures the quality of the product, but also helps maintain complete transparency. Milaaya is a duly audited company by Intertek, and provides the same benefits to the beaders, as we do to our other employees. They are working in hygienic and comfortable working premises, they clock in eight hours a day, are given salaries and EPF benefits; they attend training workshops and seminars, and are respected for their talent and their job. Their skills are valued and their opinions on technicalities of the embroideries are taken into consideration. This has opened their eyes to a more systematic and corporate way of working.”DENIM DELIGHT mask by GAYA
And back to GAYA’s colourful array of masks. What are the best occasions to sport one, we aver? “Now that people are slowly getting back into their routine, while still following safety norms, this is the best time to wear our masks while visiting family or friends, or for a small socially distanced gathering,” says Gayatri. “We have a wide range of masks that are designed to be dressed down for the day or dressed up for the evening. For instance, the denim ones or the ones embroidered with scenery or the beautifully printed ones can be worn in the day, while the ones with ombré sequins or beaded hearts would complete your eveningwear. Then there are some like the masks with the butterfly motif in sequins or beaded lace or the Hush Tones which can be styled in the day or for an evening out.”
Gayatri’s personal favourites are the denim ones, which she finds trendy, casual chic, and yet so easy to wear every day. And the most expensive and elaborately embroidered one in the collection would have to be the ‘Showstopper’ as the name suggests – with intricate 3D floral embroidery in ribbon that has taken 20 human hours by skilled artisans to come to life.Light it up mask by GAYA
Where a GAYA mask is found, a generous initiative is never far behind. “As the lockdown started, we wanted to put our resources to better use and help those less fortunate than us,” says Gayatri. “We started making and donating masks to the BMC. When we launched GAYA, we still wanted to continue making our contribution and thought of making our shoppers a part of this cause as well. We got in touch with Madhavi Goenka; one of the founders of the Helping Hands Foundation and with her support came up with this wonderful idea that for every purchase made, we will contribute one mask to the underprivileged on behalf of the shopper.” And thus was born GAYA’s #BuyOneGiveOne initiative.
With such an exciting (and noble) debut, what can one expect from the label in the future? “The masks are just a preview into the varied product range that GAYA has to offer,” says Gayatri. “GAYA is a thoughtful, holistic brand. Next we are launching our luxury loungewear collection in rich soft fabrics, refreshing prints, and comfortable yet modern silhouettes – coordinated sets, pyjama sets, dresses, T-shirts, tops, and skirts that give a new twist to athleisure without compromising on comfort.”Handwoven khun mask by Vaishali S
Vaishali’s handwoven visions
When the pandemic struck, one of the first designers to wear a matching maroon mask with her trademark saree, from a photo she posted on Facebook, was Mumbai-based Vaishali Shadangule. Using the same handwoven fabrics with which she fabricates her clothes – namely cotton and silk – this designer who’s showcased her label Vaishali S at New York Fashion Week consecutively and became the talk of the town with her mousse-like floaty creations – Vaishali got cracking on her masks as early as May. “My weavers weave the fabrics of course, and then my karigars do the rest of the production,” she says. “It started as a way for them to be able to work and earn.”Khun striped mask by Vaishali S
There are masks, like the maroon one in Vaishali’s Facebook photo, made out of khun – the traditional, motif-strewn fabric (mostly worn as a blouse) from Maharashtra, which had been languishing, almost forgotten in the landscape of discarded handlooms that made way for powerlooms. There are also masks made out of khadi and some with bark, coral, and leaf textures, in bright green, sand, striped, and black and white. Most are made from leftovers of collections past, while some are specially designed – to go with a specific Vaishali S jacket or shirt.Corded silk mask by Vaishali S
As a designer who’s always been very conscious about the economic hardships faced by weavers in India, Vaishali admits that they are getting far less work during the pandemic. “Handloom and sustainability are not a trend, but the need of the moment,” she says. “I strongly believe they will be the leitmotif of future times. I’m working on a collection with more masks, more shirts, more accessories. And I’m also focusing on online sales with the changing times.” The masks are available at her Kala Ghoda store as well as online (Vaishali-s.com/shop), and range in price from Rs 500-3,500 depending on the design.Bark texture two way mask by Vaishali S
One of her current favourites is a hand-embroidered bark texture mask, which she loves to match with one of the pieces from her latest collection.The Bejewelled Tara Mask for the bride is a masterpiece
A bijou to covet
For a bride, no effort is great enough to make her look the best that she can be. This applies to what’s most obvious up to the tiniest detail. And with a number of brides tying the knot despite the pandemic, it makes sense that she’s prepared with one of her most important accessories, the mask. But not just any mask, as Hyderabad-based family owned jeweller Tara Sri – Tibarumal Gems & Jewels – would attest to, having just launched its Bejewelled Tara Mask made especially for a bride’s big day.The Bejewelled Tara Mask was especially designed by Anand Gupta of Tara Sri
In the current Covid-19 scenario, with its precautionary tale for all to follow, gemmologist and Jewelista Anand Gupta, who is Managing Partner, Tara Sri, searched for an innovative solution to a humdrum mask for the bride, and came up with the intricate, diamond-strewn handcrafted Bejewelled Tara Mask. This ornamental mask is fashioned out of 18 k yellow gold and is embellished with a mix of regular-shaped diamonds (1.24 carats) and polki (flat diamonds, 55.24 carats). The total number of carats of diamonds on the mask is an eye-watering 57 carats. Tara Sri says that the design is unique and will not be replicated for another bride, making it even more special. (Each Bejewelled Tara Mask will be specially curated by Anand Gupta himself, keeping in mind the preference of the bride.) Priced at Rs 30 lakh, it has taken almost 440 human-hours to create this masterpiece. The jeweller says that 25 percent of the profits from the Bejewelled Tara Mask will be donated for a social cause to ‘Sri Shanti Ashram – Andhra Pradesh’ and other organizations.A total of 57 carats of diamonds adorn the Tara Sri bridal mask
Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.
Lifestyle Insider is a showcase of all that is beautiful and luxe. Behind every creation, is a designer, chef, entrepreneur, or a design maison. I have delved into my own appreciation for objetsde luxe that I have admired over the years – be it a love of fashion from the world’s top Parisian and Italian fashion maisons and their ’90s muses, or the care that goes into sari and Indian textile collections in my own family. Growing up on four continents, as the daughter of a former Indian Ambassador, I’ve seen a remarkable array of historic places and met a myriad people. My aim is to bring my world view into this website, a curation of what I find particularly stunning, unique, and newsworthy.
It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.
A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.
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