Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Uma Prajapati, and I come from Bihar. I graduated from NIFT, Delhi and for the last 24 years, I have lived in this community called Auroville near Pondicherry in the Southern part of India. I run a brand called Upasana and also head many social projects. I have been active in women empowerment, farmers protection and support after farmer suicide in India, and weavers support. I have been active with a lot of women groups and NGOs. My interest is to make fashion sustainable and people and planet friendly.
Can you tell us a little bit about your brand?
Upasana is a twenty-year-old brand. It is a very courageous and radical company that started in Auroville and heads many social projects. We are a very clean, cool design company that does fashion with a huge commitment towards sustainability. While sustainability has become fashionable today, we have struggled with this concept for the last one and a half decade. There was a time when we were struggling financially because we wanted to be sustainable and refused to do fashion the way everybody else was doing. So our commitment to our value system has been very deep.
Which past experiences would you say have shaped your work, design sensibilities, & aesthetic?
The aesthetic of my thoughts and decisions has been framed when I began to work with the weavers' community in Banaras. It was a social project and it was devastating to know that weavers were committing suicide in 2006, something BBC had broadcasted globally, that almost 50,000 weavers were on the streets looking for jobs and livelihood. I couldn’t believe that this was happening in my country. The second experience that shaped my aesthetic was when I had begun to work with cotton farmers as an NGO and again saw the extent to which the farmers were vulnerable. In the last 20 years, more than 200,000 farmers had committed suicide and we were not even bothered about it.
That opened my eyes to these real problems and I couldn’t be proud of being a fashion designer at that time. I started questioning whether I should close down my brand or do something about the situation. So it had been a journey for us to seriously look at what fashion can do vis a vis what fashion is doing. We are the most creative industry of the planet and in the search for beauty we have created a lot of ugliness and we don’t even want to take responsibility for it. More than the visual aesthetics of Upasana, I’m concerned about the process and what it does for the people and the planet, the aesthetics of thoughts. That’s more important to me.
What’s your personal style?
We are cool, we are chic, and we are meaningful. Our fashion has transformed somebody else’s life behind our process of making this beautiful cloth. It is cool and conscious.
What is your vision for your craft?
Make Upasana as a brand available to people as conscious clothing. Work on the distribution and retail part of it. It is high time that we should do that. I have been very focused on the social part of the brand, so distribution is going to be my next focus. And also, continue to do community projects. So that fashion can work for people, people who make them and not only people who wear them.
Who is your favorite creative?
As a creative I admire Steve Jobbs, so being radical. I don’t admire Apple for its business ethics, but I admire the man for his creativity.
Your favorite travel destination & why?
I like cities and countries with historical background. Because there are stories behind these places, either natural or cultural, which is always attractive to me. And I learn from these places and backgrounds as I travel and it seeps into my thoughts and knowledge.
Your favorite book, film, or music that motivate & inspire you?
I love hearing music that quietens me down. I’m a very active person. The chant from India does a lot of good to me, and the Tibetan chants I love they do magic to me. So when I’m quiet I like to hear chants.
My favorite book would be Savitri by Sri Aurobindo. I don’t watch films, I live in a community where this is not a lifestyle, but I watch a lot of documentaries and TED Talks.