Your brand might be global but seems to have a heart firmly placed in India?
Yes, I am a Sikh American with Punjabi and Thai heritage. Although I grew up in the United States, I spent almost every summer as a child in my parents’ home country of Thailand. My Punjabi culture was a huge part of my childhood, just as fashion was. After making a trip to India for my brother’s wedding shopping, I saw a gap in the marketplace for versatile and ethically produced Indo-Western clothing. A lot of my friends and family felt the same way and I knew I had a unique perspective to offer with my diverse upbringing and background.
You source fabric from all across the world — is there a market for such niche fabrics?
I firmly believe that our choice of fabrics is one of the factors that set us apart from other more traditional Indian clothing brands and solely Western brands. I am always looking for that perfect blend of fine quality, versatility and comfort. We work with print houses to design prints that are reflective of this same ethos as well — most of which are exclusive to our brand and can’t be found elsewhere. I am also a sucker for metallic jacquard fabrics, as they create a similarly luxurious look and feel as rich as intricately embroidered fabrics, but are much more lightweight and comfortable to wear. Ethical production of fabrics is very important to me as well and increasingly important to today’s consumers.
A store in New York and a market in India — how does that work?
We are so fortunate that today’s technology and the increased connectivity of our world allows us to reach customers all around the globe. There are so many different channels for potential customers to find us regardless of where they are based — whether it is through our website, one of our many social media handles, blogs, or even word of mouth. Although our showroom is in the garment district in NYC, we ship globally so that anyone can have access to our clothing. We have customers from countries all over the world, from the UK, to India, to Australia and more.
What defines the Harleen Kaur aesthetic?
The Harleen Kaur aesthetic transcends cultural boundaries by combining traditional South Asian clothing with modern eclectic, western concepts. Inclusivity is inherent not only to our mission as a brand but also to the styles themselves. We want people — regardless of age, gender, or race — to be able to identify with the mixed and versatile nature of our clothing and feel proud of where they come from.
Are you taking Indian design and fashion to the world or bringing influences from the world to India?
Both! Growing up in the United States and spending summers in Thailand, I learned to appreciate and embrace a variety of cultures, religions and traditions. One of the beauties of being American is that we get to experience so much of the world in one country; we are all threads of this unique fabric and I wanted this brand to be a reflection of that. It is important to me to express the different sides of my heritage equally while maintaining a global perspective.
How has your brand developed over the years?
In the three years since I’ve started my company, I’ve gone from having a full-time job while starting this company from my apartment, to having a dedicated team behind me and opening a showroom in the heart of Manhattan. It has been so rewarding to watch the brand grow and have Harleen Kaur clothing be a part of so many peoples’ lives for so many occasions from weddings and red carpet events to sangeets and dinners with friends.
Could you tell us more about the brand and where you draw inspirations from?
Inspiration for me isn’t always cut and dry. Sometimes I fall in love with a fabric that inspires silhouettes in my next collection, or I come across a bouquet of flowers that inspires a print idea. I’ve been inspired by people, places, and even objects or scenery in the past. Traveling always helps to kick start my creativity too.
How do you ensure that your brand is eco-friendly and sustainable?
I hate that the fashion industry creates so much wealth inequality and waste, but I will always love the art of clothing… so finding the right balance between ethical, eco-conscious and practical clothing is paramount to our brand. I am committed to eventually finding 100% eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives, and with every season we’ve started to include more of those options — not only for our clothing, but for our packaging as well. In our most recent collection for example, we introduced Oeko-Tex certified fabrics and sustainable fabrics like viscose as well. We include thank you cards in each order that are made of plantable seed paper so that our customers can grow something beautiful instead of throwing something away. Thankfully, there are some extremely innovative companies that are changing the textile industry very quickly and I’m always eager to see what’s going to be available for us to use next. Versatility is also inherent to our designs. I want these to be pieces that people can restyle and reimagine to wear again and again throughout their lives.
What excites you most about fashion?
The innovation that’s happening right now is so exciting. In the last few years, we’ve seen fabric made from orange peels, and packaging made of mushrooms! There are so many people pioneering the new frontier of sustainability in the fashion industry and this is truly the only way forward if we want to minimize the damage we’re doing to this world. We all have to be more conscious about the decisions we make when purchasing clothing, and having more unique, sustainable options is really exciting.
Where do you see your brand in 10 years?
In an ideal world, we would solely be using 100% recycled or sustainable fabrics — from the cotton in the kurtas to the sequins in our lehengas. We will have welcomed some more creative people to our team by that time, and have a larger showroom space in Manhattan that is 100% solar-power operated. I would also love to have an arts program by then to help South Asian artistes from around the world succeed in this industry — especially children who don’t have the luxury of being exposed to creative careers growing up.