In Conversation with Mariyam Khatri

Design Head,

Silkwaves

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Mariyam Khatri. I identify myself as a designer who rethinks fashion in relevance to how fashion is ​perceived as of today. I actively work on ways to rethink fashion and slow it down, intertwining it with crafts, activism and art. As a designer I am someone who loves what she does, so I feel I am privileged to be able to do what I love, I think that is an achievement in itself. But being a designer today comes with a lot of responsibilities. When I started out I started as a designer, but today I practice responsible design. 

Which past experiences would you say have shaped your work, design sensibilities, & aesthetic?

So Let me start from where Silk Waves actually came from. So we've been hand block printing for about six to seven decades. This is the fourth generation now that we're taking this further. So we've been into hand block printing and really intricate printing. A few years back because of all the digitalization and screen, the value of printing is fading slowly because people don't really understand the intricacies of block printing. So that's where Silk Waves was born to give it a pathway, a better vision to the people to understand this craft, this handicraft more. So we're a Handicraft oriented brand that does hand block printing largely. 

For my Master's project at Grad school, I worked on textile waste and that gave me a reality check of facts and figures and that was truly shocking. I then went on to work with Adidas and that made me realise that design has the power to change, design is really impactful. It was at Adidas that I saw that each Recycled plastic shoe that was created was made of recycled polyester which is approximately 11 plastic bottles and this initiative was done to reduce marine pollution. This collaboration is called 'Parley for the Oceans'. In 2019, 11 million pairs of recycled shoes were created, so imagine the impact of using that sort of plastic waste in such a fabulous way. 

What is your personal philosophy in life?

My philosophy is to do something with a purpose. So achieving anything in life attached to a purpose gives it a deeper meaning. My ideas of work come from the desire to create a change in the world, of transforming the world through design. 

How would you define your personal style?

I think personal style is always an extension of oneself. I put myself together as a bit of experimental and fun. I enjoy thrift shops as much as I enjoy luxury brands, I like the teeming up of things together that one wouldn’t in conventional fashion. There’s a really funny story about it. So for my interview with Adidas London, I was on my way back from University after giving a presentation. So I was dressed in formals, buttoned-down shirt, black pants, boots, and a chunky neckpiece. When I entered the room I saw everyone was dressed in sneakers and athleisure wear, and I felt so out of place. I remember thinking why I didn’t pack a pair of jeans. But then regardless of my style, I did get the job. 

 

What inspires your work?

I have a really interesting anecdote to share about this as well. People are a huge part of what I do. Different people I’ve crossed paths with have inspired me immensely. for example, my first collection for Silkwaves was a monochrome collection composed of black, white and grey pieces. This came to life while talking to someone who said life is just ‘Black and White’, it’s either right or wrong. This made me realise that life is all about the grey areas and there’s nothing which is an absolute right or absolute wrong. So that collection ‘Monochrome’ had only black, white, and different shades of grey in between. 

What is your vision for your work?

I think the idea eventually and the vision would be first to employ these craftsmen and create a sustainable identity for them. it's a sustainability project, I would rather put it in that way and first and foremost they are the first stakeholders. So our vision will be first to give them a well-sustained livelihood and then take the brand further. It is interlinked in a way but it revolves around them first, the handicraftsmen. So the vision eventually would be to let it be in a space where people can identify with it and they know the value of prints and hand-block prints and are able to distinguish between different crafts, between screen prints and digital prints and a hand block prints. Putting it in a layman's language, the difference between a Sabyasachi Lehenga and a Chandni Chowk Lehenga. You would know the intricacies. So in embroidery, it is still a little dominant but for prints, because there have been largely so many prints all over, it becomes difficult. 

Who are your favourite designers?

Studying at LCF I had a lot of friends who were studying fine arts. A lot of them said that supporting living artists is more important because the dead ones don’t really need it. So I think really resonated with me. So I actively try and support living artists. I am particularly very fond of one of my friends’ work from Central Saint Martins, Lewis Buttery, who does amazing installations on positive affirmations. His work has a feel-good factor to it. He has done big installations outside CSM which says that I am good enough for myself. In the big leagues, I would say I follow Banksy’s work across London. He is like a graffiti superhero. 

What is your favourite travel destination and why?

Last to last year I really liked travelling within UK, so small towns and countrysides. England is really beautiful, so I really enjoyed going to Bath during Christmas last year, so going to Christmas markets and seeing the crafts displayed around that time of the year. So not the big cities like London or Manchester, but the small cities of England are beautiful.

Your favourite book, film, or music, that motivate & inspire you.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne has been a game-changer for me. I read it four to five years ago and it really changed the way I look at life. Then Forty Rules of Love also. I resonate with books that have spirituality running as the central theme, so those sort of books I do enjoy. I really like sketching and stitching, they’re like therapy for me.

For films, I am a love story sucker, so The Notebook is my favourite. For music, I like songs whose lyrics echo deeply with the artists’ life or their soul. So I really like ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, and Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are my favourites. 

Tell us something about your brand.

My grandfather was involved with Silk trading and printing since 1930. My parents took this lineage further and started ‘Silkwaves’ in 2001. It is primarily centred around hand block printing. The idea was to revive and preserve hand block printing as a tradition in India and the world in an era of the digital age. Everything is so fast today, it is time to slow down. I would say in the age of Tinder, instead of swiping left, let’s slow down, retrospect and revive. The craftsmen of this technique are dying out slowly. The ideology behind Silkwaves is to provide adequate funds for these artisans and keep the show running for decades to go. We do a lot of fun prints, a lot of mix and match. The language is very lively, and the customer is fully involved in putting together something for their personality using their prints. So our silhouettes are very basic, they cater to women of all sizes, it’s all about inclusion. 

What value are you trying to create through your work? 

A brand is not one person, there are many people involved in the creation of a brand. So the DNA of the brand lies in creating value or purpose, the purpose of keeping a craft alive, the value for the craftsman creating magnificent prints, the value to the purchaser for buying it, and value to me for facilitating it. So it is a story essentially around all of us as one team, as one purpose, as one brand. So that’s the value that I see for it.