Jade Dynasty

Sustainability and empowerment of craftswomen are this Mumbai-based fashion label’s forte. Co-founder Monica Shah tells us about their latest bridal collection, her non-profit Chanakya School of Craft, and their collab with Dior.

JADE's bridalwear finds many NRI customers

She’s been empowering artisans – especially women – with the fashion label she co-founded over a decade ago in Mumbai. Having just opened stores in New Delhi and Los Angeles, designer Monica Shah (co-founder of JADE, with Karishma Swali), tells us about bridal couture’s fresh new look, and her latest collection.

Monica Shah co-founder of JADE

Could you please tell us the philosophy behind your brand JADE?

JADE is founded on three pillars – sustaining arts and crafts, empowering women, and celebrating Indian heritage. Our core philosophy is to sustain not just Indian crafts and techniques but also the crafting communities. We create ensembles that have a modern charm, but are handcrafted using traditional techniques, bringing to light the versatility of Indian artistry. Most importantly, our work is closely tied with The Chanakya School of Craft, where we teach the very techniques we use and much more to women from underprivileged backgrounds, thus empowering them to be masters of their own destiny as well as passing the torch of Indian craft to the future.

A JADE lehenga for your big day is modern and versatile

Your bridalwear is light, fluid and very modern – who is a typical JADE bride?

The typical JADE bride is a modern, well-travelled stylista. She is a global citizen, but stays connected to her roots and heritage. She has discerning tastes and cares deeply about preserving and celebrating our heritage. She’s rooted, yet on-the-go and therefore prefers ensembles that are equally balanced between glamour and versatility.

JADE's store in Los Angeles

You’ve recently opened a store in L.A. – do you have a large NRI clientele and are you offering your signature JADE lehengas there?

Yes, we have a thriving and ever-growing NRI clientele. And, the same quintessential JADE experience – right from our signature lehengas to the store experience is offered to them too!

The interiors of JADE's L.A. store

Do you also do Westernwear for clients who are not necessarily looking for lehengas?

Yes, we have embroidered trousers, skirts and palazzos, which can be paired with our button-downs, crop tops, bralettes and bodysuits. We have glamorous gowns and dresses that can be easily worn on your big day, instead of a lehenga.

The Chanakya School of Craft – when did you begin and how many women are getting trained there at the moment?

We started the Chanakya School of Craft in 2019, on JADE’s tenth anniversary. While our school is currently closed due to the pandemic, we usually have around 200 students under us.

Artisans at the Chanakya School of Craft

What is your goal with the Chanakya School?

Our goal is to empower women from underprivileged backgrounds to have the right kind of opportunities and education, so that they can forge their own paths forward and have viable careers. At the same time, we believe that there’s a strong need for a school like this to pass down the knowledge of India’s artisanal heritage, and also teach the future generation how to adapt these crafts to modern times.

What do you teach them – what specific crafts – and did you get the teachers locally?

The curriculum covers over 700 techniques along with the history of arts, crafts, and fashion. The idea of the curriculum is to offer our students a well-rounded understanding of the work rather than a myopic perspective, so that when they graduate and are ready to enter the workforce, they have multiple opportunities to explore. The teachers are experts in their respective fields.

The set of the Dior Couture AW21, with murals hand-embroidered by the Chanakya School of Craft in collaboration with artist Eva Jospin. Photograph ©Adrien Dirand & Chanakya School of Craft

Can you please tell us about your collab with Dior for the AW 21 show, and how did that happen?

Maria Grazia Chiuri is a friend, a guide and a mentor to us since our early days. She was the one who gave us that much-needed push to open the school. Every time we need to collaborate, there’s always an in-depth discussion on the story we want to say, how it needs to be said, the right artist for it, and exploring how the artist and our students can bring out the best in each other. The process is truly collaborative and immersive. Our students are not just tasked with executing a vision but are also made to understand what it is they’re working on, the true message and impact of their work, which makes them feel like actual stakeholders in the process and truly proud of their work.

Dior's AW 21 collection, with a backdrop that was hand-embroidered by craftspersons from the Chanakya School of Craft. Photograph ©Noemi Ottilia Szabo

What did your craftspersons embroider exactly?

Our students hand-embroidered life-size murals in collaboration with artist Eva Jospin for Dior’s haute couture show.

India needs many such schools! Do you think you can replicate this model in another city?

That is definitely something we would love to do!

Are craftspersons working on each of your collections – and do you work with other clusters elsewhere in India?

We work with artisans under our employ. However, depending on the collection, if it needs something unique or if we’re looking to focus on a special technique, we do collaborate with an artist or a group of artisans.

JADE's lehengas from its Shubhra collection are inspired by silver

What were you inspired by in your latest collection, Shubhra?

Our last released collection was inspired by the feeling of love and hope that a wedding evokes, even during difficult times. We have handcrafted ensembles to echo the spirit of intimate gatherings.

I have noticed the blouse style is almost like a gown’s – are you more influenced by Western designs?

We like to showcase the versatility of Indian techniques. For far too long, our traditional crafts and techniques have been viewed as archaic or within a very limited framework. We set out to make these crafts relevant to every timeline – the present and the future. And one of the ways we do that is by using it to create silhouettes that are modern and resonate with the today’s sensibilities.

What are you working on at present?

We’re working on our upcoming bridal collection, which is a very special and collaborative project! We’re very excited to see how it turns out.

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