The story begins over five years ago, when House of Wandering Silk began making clothing and we couldn’t bear to throw away even the tiniest scraps of our beautiful fabric. Over the years we collected every remnant, just waiting for the right opportunity to give them a second life.
Around the same time, a young student named Ashita started design school and was having a similar intuition around the byproducts of the fashion industry. Over the following years, Ashita would meet Wajahat, a teacher at her school by day and a painter by night. Eventually he’d become her business partner and creative collaborator on her new business, Paiwand Studio.
In early 2019 we began our collaboration with Paiwand by dropping several car loads of our scrap fabric, representing many different textile obsessions, to their studio. Under Ashita’s guidance, every piece was sorted by fibre into cohesive color families; painstakingly cut into strips and crafted into longer lengths of flat yarn; and then hand woven on simple wooden looms according to a very intuitive color mapping sequence envisioned by Ashita.
No two pieces of fabric are, or ever will be, the same, just as nature favours. With one meter of fabric taking roughly a day to weave, it’s no wonder this project has extended over eight months. The result of this laborious process is far more beautiful and captivating than one could imagine.
It’s a story of of rebirth. Of imagination. And the textile as the point at which they meet.
On a humid day mid-monsoon I took a trip to Noida, a sprawling industrial suburb of Delhi, to visit Ashita and Wajahat at their studio. Over steaming mugs of Kashmiri kahwa, we talked about the genesis of Paiwand, the creativity of craftsmen, and working as collaborators in the fashion industry.
House of Wandering Silk (HOWS) — So how did you get started with Paiwand?
Ashita/Paiwand Studio — I’ve always enjoyed working with limited resource materials and that’s been a point of motivation for me. I started studying design and when any assignment required material, I would ask what is the easiest thing that’s available? And the easiest thing that was always available to us, living in Delhi, was trash. The first material I tried weaving was polythene plastic bags. This was the first iteration of Paiwand.
I remember in design school, we had a lot of students who weren’t from Delhi, and in conversations they would talk about the mountains, the beaches, about beauty. About growing up in a forest. And I used to think, what stories do I have to share with them and I would think about going to the malls. They would say, ‘oh we used to take baths in the river,’ and I used to think, ‘I’ve never had that sense in my life of being close to nature’. I had to ask myself what am I really close to? It’s garbage. Delhi is surrounded by garbage. You see it, you see the pollution.
And that really started to make me anxious about things. I started to think this is not the life I want to be in. It really upset me and I kept thinking this shouldn’t be my story, I don’t belong here. As I was studying design, I started questioning myself, asking ‘why am I doing this?’ So whenever we came up with a new design - no matter how aesthetically pleasing it was - I’d always have to ask, ‘what is the reason behind this and what’s the cause?’ It felt like there were so many designers in the market and I decided I didn’t want to be another of the same, so I started to look for the answers to the questions that troubled me - ‘what am I doing? What is my contribution as a designer? As a Delhi-ite?’
At the same time, textiles started interesting me a lot. Because fabric and textiles are the basis of fashion, I began noticing I’d base all my projects in school around textile and art. I started working on very basic and classic elements but redefining it in my own language. Giving it my own expression.
HOWS — Your sense of self-awareness is really compelling and very inspiring to hear you questioning the ideas you were being presented with in school.
Paiwand — We were really encouraged to ask questions.
I think it’s good to be confused at times. And to be in self doubt. Not everything can be answered in one moment. But if you’re going back and reflecting on those questions and thoughts, I think that’s how you grow in life and you start finding the path you want to be on.
I’m also a business graduate and we were taught about maximising profit - if you want to compete in the market at the current price level you either mass produce or reduce the cost of production. And suddenly I started to ask, ‘do I really want to be doing this after seeing what really happens to the people working behind the scenes in the fashion industry?’
My answer was no. No, this is not the way I want to build a business for myself. I think whatever you’re doing, if you’re doing it for a cause, it makes you feel better and it helps you grow. Maybe there is less money, but then there is so much more satisfaction and happiness. A lot of people are making beautiful clothes. So we had to ask how can we set ourselves apart from this model.
On Sustainability & Handloom
HOWS — It feels important to me that new brands are asking and leading with questions about their values and ethics. Like Paiwand, starting from wanting to address the problems that you don’t like - in this case fabric wastage - and inventing a solution for it.
Paiwand — Sustainability is a term that has been over exploited nowadays. It’s thrown around because that’s what suppliers think the consumer wants to hear. But also the problem is that the definition of sustainability is so complex to understand and even more difficult to trace what the process has been, starting from the raw material to the finished garment hanging in a store. Sustainability is about the ethics of the people running the brand. If they’re ethical then the products have a better chance at being ethical, and in turn sustainable.
I think the best part about starting Paiwand is reviving handloom weaving. A lot of people told us it would be very difficult to create the kind of business we wanted: there are many weaving colonies in Delhi that have shut down. The looms are lying in shambles. Piles of dust and debris. And most of the weavers have shifted to other jobs - maybe selling fruit, working in restaurants - because they can make a better wage doing that. The weavers we have right now were either not working or had been forced to shift to other lines of work.
I remember when I initially went to the weaver’s colonies to ask them to do this work, they would treat me as if I was a crazy lady who had just come up with a hobby job and someone who didn’t take herself very seriously. As if I didn’t have anything to do. They wouldn’t take me seriously. And I’d just be like okay just do it. It’s okay if it takes a day. I’ll pay, I just really want to see what happen. It requires a lot of patience for a weaver to weave this fabric.
HOWS — So you found it hard to convince the weavers of this idea?
Paiwand — Well that’s one aspect, but for the longest time there’s always been the middle man. Weavers want to innovate, they are creative people, but they’re not usually given creative space. They’re treated like labourers rather than creators.
The weavers will now tell us when ideas we have aren’t working and share their ideas for new colour selections. We take their suggestions and often times it turns out to be great for us. Our brief is always whatever you’re creating, just remember you have to use textile waste.
We are satisfied because everyone who works here says it’s a happy place to work. You can see it, they’re smiling when they walk in in the morning. They’ll come up with ideas and say, ‘what if we did this?’ We always encourage it - we think why not try it, let’s see how it goes. And some of those ideas have been brilliant. Like last week one of our weavers came up with an idea to make the fabric stronger, sturdier and we said try it. We said you’re the master. We’re learning from you. It’s a participatory approach rather than us sitting on a pedestal dictating orders to them.
It’s energising rather than depleting. We are not empowering them, they are empowering us. If they weren’t here, Paiwand wouldn’t be here. I think they are the backbone.
HOWS — There is so much beauty contained in these textiles. After the weaving, do you ever have waste?
Paiwand — We do actually. We’ve been thinking of what else to do with the smaller bits that can’t be woven. We want Paiwand to be one studio, a place where we won’t just have one idea about up-cycling but a place that has multiple techniques for recycling scrap. One of them so far, is shredding the smaller bits into yarn.
The Artistic Vision
HOWS — When you’re composing the scraps is the process intellectual and calculated, or intuitive and compulsive?
Paiwand — Both. I haven’t studied art professionally. You may not believe it but there was a time when I used to fear colour. I felt I was not good with it. That’s why my initial work was purely black and white. It felt safe. So I started there, and eventually I even started seeing colour in black and white. I think I’ve metamorphosed, in that now I can easily work with colour.
Initially, since we collaborate with other designers and weave their scraps, we wanted to work with fashion labels whose taste in colour and aesthetics we liked. But now what happens, and it’s very surprising, is that we may not like some textile but when we finish weaving their scraps, a lot of times they’re so excited, they say ‘something like this has come out of our waste’.
HOWS — There’s something about your process of transforming scraps that could almost make even what one may subjectively feel is an “ugly” textile and make it beautiful. Part of it is certainly your skill for colour mapping, but I almost wonder if the form - the warp being a mathematically determined grid and the weft being the abstraction, the mosaic of colour - grounds the variation, the abstraction into something everyone can recognise and appreciate for it’s intrinsic beauty.
Paiwand — Yeah, I think so. When you were talking about art being an influence, I would say Mondrian has been a huge influence. As well as Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Monet. Having a more post-impressionistic mindset towards the weaving.
I think painting has been one of the major influences actually. And most early on, I think it was a process, an evolution, I don’t think we really had an idea what we were doing. Slowly, everything started making sense. When we started weaving we said okay let’s try using a flat strip, let’s try to keep a sense of the textile waste alive.
For us aesthetics play a major role. We understand that following a sustainable business model is not going to help if, at the end of the day, the final textile is not exciting or beautiful. We’re a team of weavers, artisans, artists, designers working in synergy. I think the biggest challenge is being an artist and then having to do the business side of it.
HOWS — What have you learned about that? How do you keep your creativity intact while managing all the logistics?
Paiwand — It’s only been eight months, I think that question would be better answered five or six years down the line. We are on a continuous journey of learning. Learning from partners like House of Wandering Silk. I think it’s been a wonderful journey so far.
Every time we collaborate with a designer there is a new set of aesthetics that we learn about. We have to learn about their brand philosophy and sensitise ourselves to the techniques they use. Again we aren’t the ones who know all about the textile crafts in India, we haven’t worked with all of them. But there could be one designer specialising in ikat, or another specialising in weaves, or like House of Wandering Silk which works so closely with kantha.
There’s a lot of excitement to understanding and learning about the textile.
Paiwand means “to connect"
Paiwand — Sometimes people ask me why I’m collaborating with the designers instead of having my own label and even though I have a fashion design degree. They want to know why we collaborate and share our ideas. That’s been one of the biggest discussions for us. Why do we want to be a collaborator in the industry? When it comes to business, fashion is very competitive and in some way I wanted to break that scene.
Paiwand, the word, means ‘to connect’. We’re trying to connect to as many people as we can who share an appreciation for slow fashion and recycling.
It never made sense to us to participate in the fashion industry as a competitor. The aim is to get more people, more artisans on board. Paiwand wouldn’t be able to survive the independent production demand that comes out of so many looms, we wanted to bring people on board with us, where they can meet their own sustainable dreams for their own clientele and maybe see how it works for them.
When we first started Paiwand, we had our own apprehensions about whether designers would want to collaborate with us. We needed designers to believe in the idea. Like House of Wandering Silk, to say, ‘hey, I’ll support it. Let’s do it’. We’re very thankful to all the people who’ve been a part of it and shown their trust in us.
HOWS — It feels good to challenge the current business models in fashion and continue to questions why it has to work in just that one way? Ask why there can’t be multiple ways to be “successful”. To challenge those old business models from a successful standpoint is about the most creative thing I can think of.
Paiwand — I believe the happiest part is when we give the yardage back to the designer and they’ll recognise all the textiles from past collections woven together. For them it’s nostalgic to see the fabric. Because it speaks to their journey, how they’ve grown or changed as designers and played with different fabrics. It becomes very exciting to go back to the designer and show them the final cloth.
HOWS — I know it really excites us; every time I spot fabrics I recognise it feels really satisfying and good to see it again.
Paiwand — And who says designers can’t work in collaboration, that they have to be competitors? We can always learn from our peers instead of competing with them. If someone is thinking at that level of long term value, it challenges you to become better in your own work. And as a society also. If we’re sharing our ideas, we’re building a larger ecosystem. With every collaboration we’re growing. No one can believe its only been 8 months.
HOWS — It’s amazing! You guys are amazing!
Paiwand — It makes me so happy that people are understanding the value of what we’re doing. People are appreciating our work for its aesthetics. For its cause.
The philosophy we follow is to not necessarily buy clothes because they’re sustainable or because they’re art. You don’t have to buy something just because it’s sustainable, especially if you’re not in love with it aesthetically. You have to fall in love with a piece; and this helps our clothing last longer because it is worn for a longer time, worn with confidence and treated with love.