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With a Zen face and an honest smile, 29-year-old Jenjum Gadi doesn't have the airs of a hotshot designer. But he's well on the way to becoming one with with his edgy and wearable "tribal collection" getting good reviews at the recent Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WLIFW).
Today he is the only Arunachali name on the Indian fashion scene and his first solo reflected his tribal roots. Arunachalis wear simple wrap-arounds with bold colours and patterns that are different for each tribe. Heavy jewellery is also part of their attire - all these Gadi imbibed in his pieces. He also used raw material sourced from his hometown.
Though he maintains that he does not deliberately design clothes to reflect his ethnicity, some "colour, shape or accessory" from back home ends up surfacing in his collections. His chic urban style invariably ends up with a tribal twist. He says he dislikes plain surfaces and always tries to add a new dimension to his clothes either with embroidery or draping. A flattering body form is what he aims for and the camouflage effect his clothes offer is greatly appreciated by his clients.
Gadi's story is as fascinating as his garments. It starts in the small village of Tirbin in Arunachal. Son of a Congress MLA and part of an unbelievably large extended family, Jenjum was sent to a boarding school early like many other Arunachali kids with means to decent education.
He didn't really excel at academics but was passionately fond of creative activities like clay-modelling, tailoring and gardening. His first introduction to the world of fashion came from the few copies of Femina and Cosmopolitan that he could lay his hands on. The fact that he wasn't good at maths and science meant he couldn't qualify for the National Institute of Fashion Technology. But he landed up in Delhi anyway and enrolled himself in a graduate degree at Shivaji College.
After a desultory year in college, Gadi learnt of the design course at the UK-affiliated Wigan & Leigh College. He got in, topped the class and landed his first job with Rohit Bal. In a hurry to discover his own style, Gadi lasted with Bal for a mere seven months. But he describes the stint as a great learning experience.
He then joined forces with a WLC batchmate Jasleen Kochhar and launched the label 'Koga' (the first two letters of their surnames conjoined). With similar design aesthetics and experimental attitudes, they displayed several collections at the Lakme fashion weeks and also won the award in the Gen Next category for promising designers in 2008. Then Jasleen moved on to join her family business of organising weddings.
"I couldn't imagine doing anything but making clothes, " says Gadi. He now calls his label 'Jenjum Gadi. ' "I had my years of struggle. But now I am finally comfortable and at a place where I can experiment without worry, " says Gadi, whose clan back home still has no idea of the niche he has carved himself in the world of designing. His dad still thinks he is not doing enough with his life. Gadi plans to open a store in Arunachal as well. He believes that there is a good market for fashion there. Youngsters in his state are quite hip and heavily influenced by fashion trends in China and Korea. Movies from these countries are very popular in Arunachal. Working out of his Shahpur Jat studio, Gadi has built a sizeable international and local clientele. The Indian market, he says, is still wary of new names. But he is not discouraged. He understands the potential of the Indian market and is trying to modify his designs without compromising on his individual style. He hopes to start a men's line someday. "I do a decent job, " he says of his clothes and adds that clients are encouraging. Says Rajshree Pathy, founder India Design Forum, who often wears Gadi: "He has a very refined sense of style - very pure cuts that drape beautifully on a body and his design language is eclectic ranging from bold colours and applique techniques to the simple and elegant gowns. Most impressive are his attention to detail and craftsmanship. " she says. Gadi is also enjoying running his other enterprise - the Arunachal Pradesh food stall at Dilli Haat.
"It's good money but my heart is in my clothes, " he insists.
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