This issue, Grace Pickford interviews Manimekala Fuller, a fashion designer striving to make positive change through her work, empowering those involved with her brand as well as those who wear her designs.

Manimekala Fuller is a London-based designer whose self-named brand Manimekala strives to do good, be good, and make good. Aiming to bring people and crafts together from all over the world, Manimekala is passionate about people, their stories, and creating sustainable clothing that reflects the multi-faceted nature of culture, art and fashion.

We had the opportunity to grab some insight from Manimekala Fuller about her influences, inspirations, and current online collection, ‘Zero Waste’.

On how her heritage has influenced her designs

“I am British-Indian. My mother’s side of the family is Indian, and my father’s side is British. I grew up in the UK, but I have always been surrounded by Indian culture. There’s a lot of textile history there.

It’s brightness, It’s bright colours, it’s smells, it’s just liveliness. It’s such a huge country and each area of India is known for a specific craft. Even within textiles, there is a specific type of weaving in this area, a specific colour of dye that they like in another area – there’s just so much richness. I’ve always been surrounded by that growing up. All the women on my Mum’s side of the family know how to sew. Everybody embroiders, draws, paints, and even though I grew up here, our whole house has always been filled with Indian craft and painting and fabrics, bedspreads, clothes everything. It’s just so different to what you find here in the UK.

I grew up connected with the culture, particularly through craft. As I got older, I learnt more about the variations within the different cultures in India, I just wanted to explore that. There are so many ancient traditional techniques that are slowly dying out because people are not learning about the craft and not appreciating it. I really want to be able to tap into that knowledge and skill and bring it to a wider audience, but also modernise it. There are many brands that work with very traditional techniques which is amazing, but I want to reinterpret those within my own aesthetic.

Even in India my style is considered different because it is very colourful, but it’s also a different colour palette. There’s a very typical British colour palette and a typical Indian colour palette and what I try to do is merge them to create something new and different but that still incorporates both and tells the stories of both sides and the influences that come together in my designs.”

On the importance of sustainability and community:

“It’s incredibly important, it’s one of the founding principles of my brand. The funny thing is when I was studying (I graduated two years ago), we were never taught about sustainability, it was not something that we considered, it wasn’t really a conversation. Sustainability wasn’t as big of a topic as it is right now. It was only after I graduated, and I was preparing for my brand that I really questioned myself: ‘What do I want my work to be? What do I want my brand and my name to stand for? What is the impact that I want to have?’ That’s when I realised that I want to have a positive impact overall.

My passion is in creating fashion, creating clothing and beautiful designs, but that’s not really enough in today’s world. I wanted to make sure that I would be putting more good into the world through that work, not just environmentally but the ethical side of it too.

Fashion is such a hidden industry in many ways. A lot of people just don’t realise. And that’s why I think it’s so important to share these stories because once a customer or consumer realises that there are people, and faces, and actual real lives behind these products then they will appreciate it and start to question things.”

On working with the women’s collective Saheli Women, a non-profit that is a part of the larger charity, The Institute for Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development based in Jodhpur, India:

“They work on a number of different programmes all focused around sustainable rural development, specifically women. They sponsor girl’s education, female health clinics, and they run Saheli Women which is a fashion social enterprise manufacturer. They train local village women in sewing and embroidery skills and then employ them. Saheli Women partners with more international fashion brands such as Manimekala and produces fashion and they’ve also recently started with accessories.

The fact that these ladies are able to come into the centre to train, to learn, to socialise with each other, to earn their own income and to become financially and socially independent – it’s absolutely amazing.”

On past collections that have exuded imagination and creativity, combining psychology, dreams, and history into cacophonies of colours and materials:

“I always wonder if people will understand [laughs].

I guess I kind of see my creative process as like an experimental kitchen, I’m just always gathering information and ideas, and looking at art. I sort of collect images and feelings and then let them swirl around in my mind for a while and it just organically comes together into a theme. 

My collections are always very multilayered, there’s always 20 different influences that go into one piece and what I find really exciting is the way that those influences interact with each other. I experiment with that visually as well, I start with a drawing and then scan it in, and then manipulate it, and then put marble on top of it, I just keep trying out different processes and different ways of combining them and that always leads to something new.

So, for me it’s very much collecting visions and then experimenting with them. I also feel like I don’t choose the print or the colour, it chooses me. I’ll explore and experiment and there’s always a moment when it all comes together and looks right. And then I work backwards to figure out what it was that influenced this: ‘Where did this image in my head come from?’ And I will realise: ‘I saw that sculpture, or I watched this film, and this inspired me’. It’s very circular: inspiration keeps feeding in and evolving. It’s a very intuitive and exciting way to work for me.”

On Manimekala’s latest online collection, Zero Waste, and the focus on accessories, from silk eye masks to bags and scrunchies:

“I have done accessories before – when I create a collection, I often create accessories alongside of it, sometimes just for styling a photoshoot. Usually it is leftover bits from the clothes. But I’ve been working hard on that because it is something that customers really like they like the accessibility because it’s still very much in the Manimekala world with my prints and my fabrics but it’s something that is more wearable then a full dress, for someone not as bold in terms of colour. Also because of the lockdown, all of the plans were disrupted. Accessories were going to be done alongside the upcoming clothing collection, but I had to juggle the dates around a bit.”

Zero Waste heavily features silk fabric, is this your favourite material to work with, or is this specific to the latest collection?

“I use a lot of silk and a lot of cotton because they are both very popular traditional fabrics. My absolute favourite is a blend of silk and cotton because then you get the benefits of both.
The Zero Waste collection that is currently online, that’s all made from leftover materials from my very first collections.”

What are your aspirations for your brand moving forwards?

“I would love to grow and be able to partner with more similar organisations like Saheli Women. At the moment we work with them for embroidery and sewing but obviously print is a huge part of my designs and I know a couple of similar social enterprises that work in printing or weaving or dyeing. I would love for the brand to grow big enough to be able to partner with more people and to be able to explore different techniques, not just in India – I would love to go global and work with weavers in Kenya or knitters in Lithuania. I want Manimekala to be known for beautiful fashion, but beautiful fashion that does good. 
Bringing women together all across the world.

On advice for people who are entering the world of design and fashion and dream of following a similar path, and facing obstacles:

“So many obstacles! My main piece of advice would be to find what you’re really passionate about. I’m really passionate about doing good with my work. But more specifically, print. I love print, I’m obsessed with print, I think about it 24/7! That is what I want to do.
I think there are so many fashion brands out there and a lot of them are doing really amazing things, but you’ve got to find that thing that makes your brand or your idea stand out. No one else is going to believe in it if you don’t believe in it yourself. That’s the number one thing: find your niche.”

You can read more of Grace’s work on Twitter @pickford_grace. Follow Manimekala at @manimekalavf

All images are via Manimekala

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