How did it feel to see Guneet Monga wear the Rouka saree to the Oscar Luncheon 2023?
It came as a pleasant surprise! We knew there was a month long promotion planned and that Guneet would be wearing our product to one of the events but to see her sporting the saree for the Oscar luncheon was heartening. The fact that she won the Academy award makes it even more special as we know how hard she has worked to get to the top. It is great to have someone like her wear Rouka as she symbolises modern day women who are intellectual, independent and empowered – everything the brand stands for.

What was it like designing for Guneet Monga?
Guneet’s stylist Manisha Melwani was very clear that she wanted to use our elephant motif saree in its true form so we made sure it is hand woven cotton from Kerala. It had to be symbolic and rooted in Indian tradition. Since we do nature inspired narratives, we already had a saree from our collection that fit the bill but we just needed to tweak it a bit and design the blouse to glam it up for the Oscars. The product was designed and shipped out in just three days.

Rouka is turning ten this year. What do you think has been your biggest learning?
Over the years, we have done fashion weeks, sustainable prêt, Indian wear, Indian fusion and when the floods hit us, we trained and worked closely with handloom weavers to promote the Kerala Kasavu and Kerala handloom. The traditional Kerala Kasavu saree besides being beautiful is also seasonal. We felt the need to address this issue by diversifying the scope of what weavers can do. Post the floods, it took us some time to make the weavers understand that unless we evolve and be relevant, the craft would eventually die. Our growth has been very organic and we have learnt that being relevant and going with the flow is the key.

How hard is it to embrace sustainable fashion?
Sustainability is a broad term. I think my early years in NID has instilled in me a love for handcrafted art and hand processes but the fact is anything you do with textiles is disruptive. It is not possible to be hundred percent sustainable in fashion. Like for example, even when you use natural dyes, there are chemicals involved. The key to sustainability is awareness, conscious consumption, repurposing/up cycling. With fast fashion, mass consumption and wastage is what drains our resources and adds to the pollution. With so much competition, what is your survival mantra? I realised that as a business, one needs to be flexible or it becomes hard to survive but when it comes to the brand, there is no room for flexibility because your brand philosophy defines you. People remember what the brand stands for and that shouldn’t change. Even through times of turmoil such as floods or Covid, we have stuck to our brand philosophy while staying relevant and flexible with the products we designed.

You have styled so many celebrities, how easy or hard is it to be working around deadlines and requirements?
It has been amazing working with celebrities and majority of them have been very kind and supportive. We mostly work with their stylists and they clearly lay out a brief. Fashion has become more about communication and the clothes have to speak out loud. While the pace is fast, we have been fortunate to be a part of many such promotional campaigns with some of the best names in the country.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for ‘Rouka’?
Being in Kerala has helped us to stick to our fashion philosophy and we have been perceived as a label that is rooted in our work but it also keeps us away from the ground zero of fashion. That has been a challenge but we are equally grateful to be home. There are some days we complain that labels that are based in its hometown should become part of national conversations more often but we don’t do that everyday either.

Balancing creativity and business is never easy, how do you rejuvenate yourself?
I am a very spiritual person. Besides that, music and travel always help me to unwind but ever since Covid happened, travel had reduced considerably. I have always been drawn to structure and I think organising/reorganising and making lists gives me clarity to move forward. So sometimes just redecorating my home by moving things around or just decluttering my wardrobe helps! Clarity is my best friend!

What’s up next in Rouka?
Since fashion in India doesn’t really align with the summer winter seasons, we have moved our collections from seasons to relevance. So next up we have the Vishu collection which is the Kerala New Year. It will have a lot of Kerala Kasavu as is the tradition but we would be adding a little bit of color too. We are also gearing up for the monsoons and then the Big Indian festive months from August this year.