Denims are cool, especially the faded and torn ones! But upcycled denims probably make the coolest fashion statement, by promoting Environmental Awareness.
Padma Raj Keshri, our next pathbreaker, works as a Design Consultant, helping Brands and collaborating with denim mills to up-cycle their post-production waste into wearable garments.
Padma talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking up the multi-pronged challenge of designing aesthetically pleasing garments with a focus on sustainable practices.
For students, creativity is not just about making things look good, but also about blending aesthetics with pragmatic approaches that address environmental and community needs.
Padma Raj, tell us about your background?
Well, I belong to a small town, Ara, Bhojpur District, with a population of 5-8 Lakhs.
I did my schooling at DAV Public School Ara, till my 10th Board and then moved to Sunbeam English School, Varanasi for my 12th Board. In 12th Board, my major was Physics, Chemistry & Mathematics with Fashion & Art as my optional subject.
I was always involved in creative activities that involved Art, Pottery, Painting Collecting Stamps, Matchboxes, Currency. I loved collecting train tickets.
Initially, my interest was to paint the canvas and travel around the globe to keep myself engaged in creative activities.
My father is an ex-Air Force person and currently runs his own business and my mother is a housewife.
My Dad is my hero and always inspired me to become a successful human being, he never forced me to do anything regarding my career. He has always supported my career and provided all possible help to shape my career.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I did my graduation from NIFT (Knitwear Design) in 2009 from Bangalore, a metro city, which was my dream. This is where my dad started his career in the Air Force in 1986 and this city has a lot of positive vibes for young designers & Entrepreneurs. During college, I went to Swiss Textile College for my exchange programme at Zurich, Switzerland which was 100 % sponsored by NIFT. It was a wonderful experience studying the European Market, learning and working with one of the best brands of Switzerland. I got my first job at Bengaluru through Campus Placement and it was a good journey during work. I moved to Ahmedabad for my master’s at NID (Textile Design) in the year 2015 after spending 2 years at Shahi Exports. My company supported my decision and partly sponsored my Education.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?
Initially, it was the runway glamour that excited me to get into this career. But later, the whole ideology changed once I realised the social aspect and the opportunity to help people at different stages.
I also got several opportunities in my design career to learn new cultures, meet people and travel to places, exploring handloom, art, and multilingual design language across the globe.
Some of the key influencers who shaped my career were fashion designers like Manish Arora, John Galiano, Artisans from Bihar and my mentor, Mr. Amit Sinha.
I also loved to watch events such as Lakme Fashion Week, FDCI Show.
Fashion ceased to become a career for me and became a mission to provide livelihood to a lot of needy people around me, i.e. Artisans, Tailors
Tell us about your career path
My career path has been very straightforward. My childhood dream helped me find a direction by choosing Fashion Design as a career which landed me at NIFT and later at NID. It is just that, though I was quite consistent in my career throughout my journey of 10 years. I have seen ups and down in my career. I have always worked on a 90 days plan and maintained my red diary in which I keep updating my meetings, events, shows and project deadlines.
So, for students, I would suggest that you should stick to the career you really want to get into since results may take time to show up. You have to be patient for the results.
At NIFT, i interacted quite a lot with my seniors, because most of our alumni are settled in Bengaluru or nearby towns. From the first year, I started getting multiple projects through my seniors during the weekends.
Working at Tommy Hilfiger was also one of the projects offered by one of my seniors who was working at Tommy Hilfiger as a buyer. She offered me a project to compile videos and pictures for their meetings.
This was a 2 weeks project and I had to compile 4-5 presentations for their meetings. Since I was good with Graphic software, these skills helped me get theses kinds of projects.
Knitwear Design programme at NIFT is centred around the training of the design professionals, who can cater to knitted apparel- an exclusive and unique fashion segment across the globe. The objective of knitwear designing is to provide professionals with creative thinking, strong technical skills and a dynamic market orientation. After completion of the course, profiles such as designers, product developers, fashion stylists, fashion forecasters, creative managers, merchandisers, product managers and entrepreneurs can be pursued.
Knitwear designers are trained to handle the challenges of circular and flat-bed knitting in domestic and export fields. Students study about the topics related to knitted apparel comprising basic pattern making, flat knitting, garment construction, design application for fashion, history of world costumes, and more.
How did you get selected to the Swiss Textile College Zurich?
Well, STC was an exchange programme opportunity, offered by NIFT to all the students in the 4th semester, for which we apply. They select 5 students every year and send them to Zurich for a month to exchange design ideas across the colleges.
NIFT provides an opportunity to students for a customized program at Swiss Textile College during the Summer Break. As per the approved norms of NIFT, one must score a minimum of 7.0 CGPA for applying to this Summer Programme. The system is very transparent where we fill the form and apply at International Linkages. Then, after 10 days, they release a list of students selected for the same.
During the 2011 trip to STC, we were 15 students across all the NIFT centres in multi-disciplinary fields. This was one of the best times for me, interacting with so many creative minds across the country and with the students from STC.
STC classes were conducted at 2 centres in Switzerland i.e. Zurich & Watwill Village.The course included an interactive session on European Market study with industrial visits to multiple manufacturing plants in Switzerland.
The most important part of the course was the fee and It was 100 % sponsored by NIFT . We hardly paid other than shopping.
The best part of the entire trip was, Swiss Chocolates, Appenzeller Cheese, the fresh air of Switzerland and the bell of the Cows across the Country.
Next, working at Shahi Exports was an opportunity from the NIFT Campus Placement in 2013 May. It was my decision to start my career at an Export house to learn all the techniques from fibre to fashion under one roof.
From its humble origins, the family-owned company has grown to become India’s largest apparel manufacturer and exporter. We now operate 65 state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities across 9 Indian states with a diverse workforce of over 100,000 people. Our vertically integrated operations, diversified product range, and a strong commitment to ethical operations and environmental sustainability have established Shahi as one of the most preferred garment manufacturers in the world.
All these facilities helped me focus on the work and deliver the requirement of clients. My major client was PVH and under the PVH, I was catering mainly to Calvin Klein & Tommy Hilfiger.
Next, at Looms of Ladakh, I worked as full time as a designer cum trainer and helped 200+ women of Ladakh to upgrade their skills in weaving, knitting & natural dyeing.
Looms of Ladakh women cooperative is the fruit of a skill development initiative, Project Laksal which aims to bring together unemployed women artisans from remote villages of Ladakh. The women are trained by designers to produce trend setting knitted and woven products. The best raw materials are sourced locally from nomads and frontier livestock rearing communities of Ladakh who are the exclusive source of the world famous Changthangi Pashmina, Bactrian Camel wool, Yak wool and Sheep wool. It is an association encouraging women empowerment by allowing unemployed women from remote villages to develop their skills in making organic and designer products to sustain themselves in the near future. Looms of Ladakh was an enriching experience with genuine handmade products made by women artisans with perseverance and love.
My 2nd innings at Shahi was a HOD (Head of Department) position at their innovation Lab and it was great opportunity to cater to international clients and provide design solutions to global issues faced by the international retailers.
How did you get your first break?
It was through NIFT Bengaluru, campus placement, I cracked my first job at Shahi Exports Private Limited, Knits Division, Bengaluru. This was a great opportunity to get into the export business.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Deadline is one of the major challenges in the export business. If you don’t deliver the design on time, you won’t get the business.
Addressing the Challenge: I started working on my calendar and it took 3 months for me to plan my calendar and I started working beforehand.
Challenge 2: Dealing with Non-Executive staff. The garment industry mainly comprises non-executive staff who are less educated and it’s tough to manage them.
Addressing the Challenge: I started interacting with them time-to-time and this helped me understand them and their basic requirements, and with my small efforts, they started trusting me and I was able to deal with them in a trouble-free way with 100 % productivity.
Apart from this, the credit granted to designers is less and somehow the credits are hijacked by the one who is running the society.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do
Currently, I am working as an independent Design Consultant working from my hometown, and am open for full time opportunities working with design houses, export or fashion retail houses in India or Abroad.
Work from home involves working with brands, Exporters & Fashion retailers in helping them achieve their sustainability goals.
Apart from this, I am teaching online, providing design education to Design Institutes & Colleges as guest lecturer & participating as External Jury Member. I have taught more than 5000+ students on the Sustainability topic and the Sustainable practices in design.
I also am running a fashion label where I am collaborating with denim mills and up-cycling their post-production waste into wearable garments. I have converted more than 1 ton of waste into 230+ wearable garments.
I Follow the D philosophy
Duty > Devotion > Discipline > Design > Dream > Denim
I am the mentor for the INIFD Campuses in Gujrat & J D institute South Zone for their Award show and help students for their final year show.
What problems do you solve?
The major problems identified with most of the domestic brands are what will sell in the market. As a designer, I map the possibilities with the help of Fashion trends & forecasts to bring products with a 85-90 % hit in the market which becomes a great success story for retailers.
What skills are needed for the job? How did you acquire the skills?
The major skills required are creative thinking with a futuristic approach. Well, I read a lot and sharpen my visual memory which really helps me from time to time to bring uniqueness into the project.
What’s a typical day like?
The typical day starts early morning at 4 am with yoga at home with a half an hour morning walk without any gadget. Then I use my time from 6- 8 am in the morning for reading which really helps me update myself from time to time.
Post breakfast, I start my day on my working table and video call with a lot of approvals as well as updating new styles and Ideas, and coordinating with the factories.
Post lunch is utilized for routine follow-ups with vendors.
What is it you love about this job?
I love the new learnings I get from every project I take up. I connect with people which really helps me to connect with the multi-disciplinary community. My travel experiences help me interact with multilingual communication across different cultures.
How does your work benefit society?
Well, as a designer, we make things look aesthetically good and provide a solution to the challenges faced by society.
Considering Indian society, where art & design are somewhat invisible and the impact is mild, we designers are facing challenges to contribute fully. But some of the projects done in the past have helped many artisans expand their business which helped them with their livelihood.
My work has contributed directly to the livelihood of the artisans, tailors & workers for their upliftment in the society.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
The most memorable time I have spent was in Ladakh when I was there for my graduation project at NID. It’s very close to me because it was a life-changing moment for me.
I was there to work with a women cooperative dealing with pashmina products and my contribution was to help them to bring change through their products and develop a new range for their business growth to support their livelihood.
When it comes to their livelihood, I was surprised to see their lifestyle and their simplicity. The project duration was for 6 months and every single day was a good memory for me.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
During these tough times, students must be patient and look for opportunities wisely as well as expand their careers into higher education. This is a good time for them to really pursue their dreams and try all possible ways to plan it out.
I am looking for the opportunity to join a corporate and work with their goals for a sustainable future. Apart from this, I will enrol myself into a part-time Ph.D. programme from an esteemed design college in India to continue my research activity for application in the fashion & textile mills.
Online Portfolio Links
Looms of Ladakh
Blender’s Fashion Pride
JADA A 2019
Wills Lifestyle Debut
The Siasat Daily
Feronia Fashion Nights
Guil Designer Awards