Crafting Narratives In Fashion – Sreejith Jeevan

The cool young fashion designer, curator of the label, ROUKA talks of his passion!

One day three students were summoned to the Principal’s office. They were sure they hadn’t been upto any mischief, never the less, they were anxious! As they entered the office, the principal greets them warmly. She explains that they must find out more about this college called NID and that, she wants them to take the entrance exam. Though relieved, they were not sure what it meant but since the principal had personally advised, they decided to do some research. One among them cleared the exam and joined NID Ahmedabad. He opted for textile design, worked with designers and crafts before joining the Swedish brand, Ikea. But deep down, he knew he wanted to return to his hometown, Kochi, and start a label of his own. And that’s exactly what he did! RITZ is in conversation with cool young fashion designer, Sreejith Jeevan, curator of the Indian label, ROUKA that is creating waves across the country!

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

Photography: Anoop 

In just 3 years, Rouka has created a niche of its own in the realm of fashion. How has the journey been?

When we decided to start a label, we were clear that we wanted to create a brand that we believed in and stood for; instead of just creating a product to sell. It was also the time when the first Biennale had happened and that had already set the stage for art and its expression. A lot of my work revolves around narratives and I believe that there is a ‘connect’ between art and fashion. So, as an experiment, we decided to hold our first exhibition in Kochi at the David Hall Art gallery. Since the collection titled weather forecast was inspired by rain, we decided to hang the clothes from the ceiling to symbolise it! And people immediately noticed us! Soon we got selected to the Lakme Fashion week! We were a group of five ‘Gen Next’ fashion designers with my mentor being Anita Dongre. Once you get to exhibit your creation at a platform of that magnitude, things completely change. I had my clothes finding their way to top boutiques in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkatta, Chennai and Bengaluru.

How was the experience as the Lakme Fashion week?

We have showcased at the Lakme fashion week for about 4 seasons now and it is an amazing experience! Having been able to start showcasing at a national fashion as a Gen-next designer is a matter of great pride because it’s a platform that has created and nurtured some of the best fashion talent in the country. Being a label from Kochi, it was indeed what catapulted us onto a national platform. I realised that I was privileged to have been the first designer from Kerala to have had the opportunity and Rouka was seen as a ‘Label from the biennale City’, which was very encouraging. Kochi is becoming popular and people want to come and experience the city now more than ever before.

You have designed costumes in the blockbuster movie, Bangalore days….

That was very accidental. It was the time I had just started the brand. I had made the decision to quit Ikea and return to Kochi. Out of deep admiration for director, Anjali Menon and her movie ‘Ustad Hotel’, which had touched me in more ways than one, I happened to share my first collection with her. She was more than happy to support our work and offered to use them for one of the characters in the film she was working on then – which was Bangalore days. I was super thrilled to have been able to see clothes from my very first collection on Parvathy who I felt totally embodied what we stood for as a brand.

How would you describe Rouka as a brand?

We are Indian, tropical, Kochi, modern, minimal, ambassadors of everyday living, fun, eclectic and timeless!

How did the Kochi market respond to your collection?

The growth of the label was rather organic. Our focus has always been about being original and true to our roots. I feel people have embraced us for that inspite of the fact that we’ve done almost zero marketing. Our store in Kochi responds to the way people perceive the label. Our racks grew many more and so did the people who supported us. We have had many celebrities who have supported us as we grew and continue to wear what we make, including names like Rima Kallingal, Amala Paul, Parvathy, Srinda, Ann Augustine, Tilottama Shome, Lakshmi Manchu, Regina Cassandra, Anumol and Sai Tamhankar to name a few. People of Kochi love to travel, experiment and the Kochi of today is one that supports new endeavours.

Yours is a brand that supports sustainable fashion, how popular is the concept?

Considering the amount of waste that goes into creating fast fashion, sustainable brands are very popular now. Rouka predominantly focuses on using natural fabrics and hand skills. The word sustainable earlier meant only handwoven clothing. But now, it has become a larger canvas of ‘clothes with value’ or ‘clothes with a heart’. It could be recycled or upcycled clothes, clothes made out of waste or clothes that help artisans or encourage skill development much like education. We, at Rouka are helping a group of artisans to improve their skill and quality of work. The challenge lies in making sustainable fashion that’s affordable to the customer.

What are your biggest challenges?

The designing bit is the best and the easiest of the lot but having to run and look at every aspect of a label is a challenge in itself. I love every bit of it but yes its easily said than done. A lot of people think that being a designer is all just glamour but the work that goes into it is tremendous.

What inspires Rouka?

Everything around! Nature, festivals, seasons, weather, people. Considering the pace at which we are evolving, I think it’s a luxury to feel close to nature now- to sort of slow down and look at the things that we took for granted. My narratives are all about things I see everyday.

Price Points?

Starting from 1000 to over 15,000.

How would you describe the Rouka Woman and HYMN – your new menswear line.

I’m constantly trying to understand the woman of today, who embraces tradition just as she lives a modern life. She is as much about the old and the new alike. She multitasks, works towards things she loves and loves to dress while doing all of that. HYMN is similar to the Rouka Woman in terms of philosophy, the men’s line is a reflection of me. Every piece in that collection is something that I would wear.

How do you think social media affects fashion?

Big time! I think social media has a strong influence on fashion and trends. The Fashion cycle itself has changed. The moment you do a show, the collection is out there at the stores immediately else it becomes outdated. I think fashion bloggers, fashion portals, social media – everything affects fashion today.

What’s next?

We don’t want to stop at being just a clothing brand. We started Menswear recently which has had a good response, we’ve just worked on a capsule range of home décor. Now we are planning to introduce a kidswear line as well. We want to be about products that find relevance and are meant to be lived in.

Rapid Fire:

  • Favourite Colour: Navy, Black, white
  • Favourite Fabric: Ivory muslins of Kerala
  • Must have Fashion Accessory: A classic watch (must have) Brooches (favourite)
  • Favourite Designer: Rajesh Pratap Singh
  • Showstopper: The clothes and their craftsmen.
  • Fashion Philosophy: In wearing clothes that understand you