Amisha Ghadiali – Ethical Fashion and Politics

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| April 30, 2010

With strong ethical and social motivations and an awe-inspiring work schedule, Amisha Ghadiali is a Jewellery Designer working in London. Alongside running her own label Amisha: Elegance.Rebellion, Amisha is also the Associate Director of the Ethical Fashion Forum and Founder of political fashion campaign, Think Act Vote. We caught up with Amisha this week to find out exactly what she’s up to.

Notes on Design: Can you give us a brief insight into who you are and what you do?

Amisha: I am one of those people that doesn’t easily fit into a box. I am an activist for positive social change, a designer, a campaigner, an entrepreneur, a writer, and a connector. My favourite eco-fashion designer Mark Liu recently did a “Unicorn” collection, which is inspired by the idea that, in an unpredictable world, attempting the seemingly impossible is not only the most exciting, but also the safest thing to do. Liu says that the key to the future lies with those who have the imagination, courage, and will to chase seemingly impossible “unicorn” ideas. I like to think that I am one of those people.

Notes on Design: So, how did your career start?

Amisha: I studied Politics at Leeds University. It was really interesting to have that time and space to learn about the world and theories of change and growth. I worked in Politics and International Development for a while including for Congressman Cardin in DC, John Battle MP and on the Make Poverty History campaign.

I had a crazy accident in the midst of all that, I got run over by a four wheel drive pick up truck in Honduras six years ago. It was in many ways the most amazing thing that has happened to me, as it led to my creative revolution and taught me to be brave and do the work I love. In my recovery I started painting, writing, making clothes, making jewellery, and playing the guitar again. I hadn’t done anything like that for about eight years before that, after having a very creative childhood. All of this had happened before I left University in 2006, so when I graduated I knew that I wanted to do my own thing.

“Salient Assuage” – bracelet from Amisha Ghadiali’s ‘Elegant Rebellion’ collection.

Notes on Design: How and why did you choose a career in Jewellery/Fashion Design?

Amisha: The jewellery design just stuck, I had made some things and given them to friends and they wore them all the time. So I decided that was what I was going to do. I stayed in Leeds so that I could get my collection together, and travelled to India to set up a supply chain as ethically as I could. It was only ever meant to be a little side project, but it turned into a real label. Whilst working on my first real collection, I realised that I had a natural ability to design, and without formal training had the freedom to create without rules.

I was interested in the power of consumption, as I had written my dissertation on “Youth Engagement in Politics: The Consumer Citizen”. It explored the interrelation between two features of the neo-liberal British political landscape: the rise of consumerism and the demise of youth participation.

I saw the potential in fashion to really effect peoples lives. My jewellery design carefully combines the colours and properties of the stones and crystals used to produce jewellery that complements and enhances the natural beauty of the wearer. It is about creating fashionable timeless pieces in the spirit of vitality and radiant positivity, at the same time raising awareness of the work of important charities that work with both a UK and Global focus.

“Moon Fall” – Silver earrings from Amisha Ghadiali’s ‘Elegant Rebellion’ collection.

Notes on Design: You mentioned you travelled to India to set up an ethical supply chain. How did you go about doing this?

Amisha: Although I was born in England, my family are from India. So, it was always important for me to spend time there and learn about the culture. I spend time with family there, but to work there without that protection is totally different! I travelled around and asked questions. One person leads you to another, and then I found my workshop, Silverline in Delhi. They get really great quality Gemstones and are a family business. I felt that I had found a place where I was happy to work, and have learnt a great deal from working with them.

Notes on Design: There has been a lot of controversy about international brands setting up supply chains in countries like India. What makes your supply chain different/ethical?

Amisha: This is a difficult topic. People do make assumptions about producing in countries like India and China, but we live in a very global world now. It is sad what is happening to manufacture in the UK, and I think we should be more about this. That said, it is also important to recognise the growing industries in the East, and the amazing traditional skills when it comes to things like hand made jewellery.

I don’t feel that my supply chain is a role-model one. Actually there have been significant developments in ethical jewellery over the years since I started with the work of people like Cred, Leblas and Fifi Bijoux. It is now possible to get accredited fair trade silver, gold and gemstones. I am talking to all of these designers about working with some of their suppliers on my next collections.

At the same time, I don’t want to just leave the workshop I have been partnering with and building a relationship with over the years. When I found my workshop, I felt that I trusted the people I was working with, and enjoy working there, especially with Atul who overseas my collection, and Kishan who actually makes my jewellery. But your ethics and supply chain are something that you should always look at going further with, step by step.

At present, my work is made from silver that is 70% recycled, and obviously I know exactly who makes it and have a personal relationship with them. I also give 10% of my profits to charity. However I don’t currently know enough about where my stones comes from, but as I said before it is about perfecting this bit by bit. It is also important to create the collection that you want. For example, I could just not use gem stones, but I think the energy created by the stones is really important. You also need to be economically sustainable as if you don’t sell anything, you are not doing good for anyone, yourself, the market or your suppliers!

Notes on Design: What has been the pivotal piece of work you are most proud of?

Amisha: This is a difficult question to answer as I feel proud of every piece of work I have done mainly due to all I have learnt along the way. Nevertheless if I had to pick one, I think it would have to be my first collection “Elegant Rebellion” as I really surprised myself with what I had created.

I also did a special collection in January this year for a project called ‘Pavement to Catwalk’, which is about inspiring homeless people to be creative and raising awareness of their experience. I was asked to design three show pieces on the themes of Homelessness, Mental Health and Substance Misuse. I tried to get in the mindset of each of these conditions and think about how they felt and what they needed. I only had two days to do the pieces as I had to fit it into the time in my workshop in India. The challenge was to make them interesting fashion pieces that would stand out on the catwalk. The show and exhibition will take place later this year.

My Homeless piece is a necklace that is more like body armour, many lines of chain cover the body, with a big piece of Labradorite to protect the wearer. My Mental Health piece is a glamorous head piece, to signify your head being in a cage. My Substance Misuse piece is a beautiful long necklace that turns into hand cuffs, to show the restrictions on the wearer. It was really interesting to take jewellery to that next level, and use it to really show emotion and difficult circumstances that millions of people around the world experience.

Notes on Design: How do you go about designing each collection? Can you tell us a little about your design process. Do you draw? What inspires the theme of a collection? How do your ideas translate into real products?

Amisha: To tell you the truth, I can’t really draw. I changed schools at 14, and ended up not even doing Art GCSE, and with Maths, History and Economics as my A-Levels. But I think creative ideas can come into your head, and you can express them without perfect life drawings.

As I said, I work without rules. Some collections have been more thought through, for example when I studied the Five Elements, I knew I had to do a collection around it to help raise awareness. Other collections have been more organic. I look at the materials in front of me, think about what I want to create, what stones I want to use due to their energy, and then set about explaining it to my makers. This is always pretty funny, as their English isn’t great, and my Hindi is pretty much non existence. I draw line diagrams, and then measure out the pieces of chain, string, and we lay it out and build it as we go. It sounds like a comedy sketch, but it works!

Notes on Design: Can you tell us a little about The Ethical Fashion Forum and your involvement with the initiative?

Amisha: I got involved with the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) in 2008. I started as production manager for the RE:Fashion Awards which was the first ever award ceremony held to celebrate the achievements of Ethical Fashion. Following that I started working as a Project Manager for the Ethical Fashion Forum, where I am now Associate Director. The EFF is the industry body for Ethical Fashion. We promote and celebrate social and environmental responsibility. We are the source for inspiration and collaboration for ethical fashion.

It is great to be in the centre of a growing industry, through my role at EFF I get to work with farmers and suppliers on the ground all over the world, right through to designers and consumers. It is such an important industry as we are all part of it, we all wear clothes. Fashion is also such a global industry, that covers agriculture, manufacture, design and retail, so many people are affected along the way. Our aim is that within a decade there will be no such thing as ethical fashion, but instead things will be marked as unethical if there are any.

It is great to work with pioneering small designers and producers, right through to giant retailers who are all showing an interest in cleaning up their supply chains. The challenge is not only in making this happen, but in making consumers see the importance of buying more slowly and carefully. In addition to making people really see being green as sexy!

Notes on Design: What are you working on at the moment?

Amisha: Right now, my focus is Think Act Vote. It is a campaign I started mid February because of a frustration about the negative view of politics held by so many people in the UK today, and an ambition to do something about it – to create a community around our relationship with the political system and the choices we make for our future.

Think Act Vote artwork by Holly Berry

Politics isn’t just something that happens in the Houses of Parliament and voting doesn’t just happen every four years. Everyday we make choices that shape our world. Think Act Vote is a campaign to inspire us to think positively about our future and the votes we cast, today, tomorrow and forever.

The idea behind Think Act Vote is to use creative energy to challenge the negative perception about politics held by so many people today. It’s a ‘Rock the Vote’ for personal agency, politics with a small ‘p’ if you like, focusing on the future we choose (and can create) through the daily decisions we make. The focus of the campaign is to create a beautiful lifestyle book to give to the Prime Minister and party leaders in June, which is a creative anthology of “The Future I Choose…”

I launched a design competition that was judged by a panel including including ethical hero Katharine Hamnett, celebrated illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve and the original ‘anti-preneur’, Cyndi Rhoades. The winning design was turned into an eco t-shirt, and we are launching limited edition underwear too. The winner Jesson Yip, turned each word into a symbol, and then we added the words inside in different fonts to represent different voices.

To really make this a fashion campaign, I then got 14 ethical designers including Ada Zandition, Junky Styling and Beautiful Soul to create show pieces from a t-shirt and off cuts from their current collections. The point of this is to show people how you can be creative with what you have, or make your Think Act Vote t-shirt unique. The book will consist of fashion photography of people wearing the t-shirts, the show pieces, and the underwear! We are holding open photo shoots, so members of the public can come and take part too.

Then for the words, we are asking people to answer the question “What Future Do You Choose?” You can do this online. We are also taking our Think Act Vote ballot box to different events and public spaces, asking people to fill in our ballot cards with their answers. We are also holding a poetry competition on the same “What Future Do You Choose” theme, and then we will be celebrating “Our Future” on the evening of May 5th, the night before the general election.

Notes on Design: Do you have any other self-led projects you’d like to tell us about?

Amisha: My new jewellery collection is coming out in the summer, and is inspired by something so natural and part of our life that we are almost unaware of it. The world is unthinkable without Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space, which together are the Five Elements. The balance of these elements both within ourselves and in the world shape our lives and our world. The deeper we contemplate each Element, the more we can relate to each other and understand our place in this world.



A sneak preview of two of Amisha’s Five Element collection.

 

Notes on Design: And, you are writing a book too!?

Amisha: I have ideas for books all the time, but this one I am determined to make happen. I have written the story, but need to find a publisher, and have it illustrated and edited for the correct age range. It is a children’s book, without telling you the whole story, it is about a courageous cow. It is about following your dreams when everyone is telling you that you are crazy, and how we can treat the same thing so differently in different spaces, places and countries around the world.

Notes on Design: What are your plans for the future?

Amisha: I don’t really make plans, life just always throws too much at me that I wasn’t expecting. But I have ideas, so many ideas! With work, it’s all about finding new ways to express the ideas of sustainable living, self expression, and a type of politics that we can engage with. With life stuff, I want to travel more, and have a family that I move to the seaside or the countryside with. I am going to East Timor in May with my brother, he is a film maker. I guess that is one definitive plan for the future!


To find out more about Amisha Ghadiali and her jewellery collections, visit www.amisha.co.uk, and to follow the Think Act Vote campaign visit www.thinkactvote.org. You can also follow Amisha’s tweets @amishaghadiali.

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