Roopa Pemmaraju’s Namesake Label is a love letter to Indian artisans
Skilled artisans in India have long been unsung heroes in the fashion industry. We’ve seen their impressive embroidery and beadwork on the runways, on the red carpet and on shelves at luxury retail stores – but the sparkle and sparkle can’t be deceiving: Quality though of this craft is extremely high, but it reported the treatment of the workers responsible for it not like. Designer Roopa Pemmaraju want to change that.
She founded the eponymous brand in 2012 as a love letter to Indian artisans who are often forgotten or cast aside in the global supply chain. A slow-fashion luxury label, Roopa Pemmaraju specializes in flowing, dreamy and secluded gowns with traditional sarees-inspired prints, updating them in new color palettes each season. (More moody thinking, introspective colors for fall, bold and vibrant tones for spring.) In September, Pemmaraju launched its latest collection with whimsical prints and delicate flowers inspired by British gardens in India and hand-set Swarovski crystals throughout, at New York Fashion Week in September.
Born and raised in Bangalore, India, Pemmaraju inherited her hobby of making clothes from her grandparents: “They never go into the store, but they make their own,” she told me over the phone.
“My grandmother would make her own flower sarees. She would cut flowers from her garden, pick out colors and then give them to her textile friends who were there in the community. Then the money goes back to the person whose hard work has been done.”
This passion for this harmonious exchange with the artisan community encouraged Pemmaraju to study fine art in university and pursue a career in fashion, working at companies like Tommy Hilfiger. Then, in 2005, Pemmaraju moved to Australia and earned a master’s degree in fashion and textiles; while researching supply chains, she realized that while many fashion brands see India as a manufacturing hub, they don’t acknowledge the power of the artisans responsible for it. It soon became her main aim, diverting attention to the communities that make up the backbone of India’s apparel supply chain. Plus, she wants to make clothes that respect people as well as the planet.
Pemmaraju’s first collection was born at Sydney Fashion Week in 2012, where she worked closely with Australian artists to design a collection of 26 pieces inspired by Indigenous art. Then she called on Indian craftsmen to print, cut and sew each piece.
“Everything is made of 100 per cent sustainable fibres, so cotton and linen,” she says. “I’ve had that vision since I started that I wouldn’t use any unnatural yarns or any unnatural weaves and try to aid hand skills, especially with the artisans can weave the fabric themselves, which is a luxury.”
Pemmaraju has no trouble building her network of artisans as she speaks all the local languages. Plus, her mother (who is also her business partner) has established relationships with many handwriting people. “We have 50 weaving houses – it’s not like a fixed factory, because the weavers stay in their homes, so they don’t have to get out of their own safe lives,” she said. me. “They work from their own home and their own atmosphere, and then they ship whatever is made, back to my workshop in Bangalore.”
That opening line was an instant hit, with a local department store called David Jones – “Neiman Marcus of Australia” – the brand’s first order. A year later, Anthropologie come together.
“We’ve been working with them since 2013,” says Pemmaraju. “Recently, we just do a lot of different categories for them just because I can keep the people in India back and give them jobs.”
Due to the handmade nature of the clothes and the high quality of the fabric, most of Roopa Pemmaraju’s products sell for luxury prices, ranging from around $400 to $2,000; accessories slightly lower, with a richly textured, saree-inspired bag with a retail price of hand-beaded for $580 and a hand-woven bucket hat for $280. The Anthropologie line is more affordable, suitable for the market and accommodates large orders: items start at $60 for one embellished knotted headband and up to $430 for a beaded organza silk maxi dress.
Pemmaraju says of the Anthropologie line: “It’s still made of 100% natural fibres, it’s still my own people who are making it.
As the pandemic hit, Pemmaraju tapped the resources of the Philidelphia-based company to make nearly 80,000 masks using some of her vibrant prints. This project has helped her business maintain more than 200 jobs for people.
Pemmaraju is looking to further support her artisans, as well as communities in Vietnam, Mexico and Africa, as she plans to enter the hometown category early next year. Her goal with home appliances is the same as clothing and accessories: “Collaborate and give back to people.”
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