Hut Mentality took wings on the soul of a restless college sophomore with a deep longing to find purpose. How else can life be led? What are the different ways in which humans find purpose? What is the common thread that binds us despite our differences?
These questions fueled a restless desire to travel to the remote corners of India, like the tribal villages in the Raan of Kutch where despite utter poverty, people delighted in painting their mud huts with artwork. They adorned themselves from head to toe in colorful, exquisitely embroidered clothes which they had painstakingly embroidered themselves. Every day looked like a festival! They reveled in creating.
Life is it’s own purpose. Simply expressing our innate creative potential may be our purpose. We are, after all, supposed to be made in the image of the creator. So, we must create!
Unfortunately, in the hundreds of years of colonial rule that India endured, Indian artisans and weavers were suppressed from pursuing their creativity. In the interest of bolstering their own profits, the British colonial rulers passed laws that essentially disempowered the weavers and artisans. They were forced to sell their products only to the British at prices their colonial masters set. This exploitation led to hordes of artisans and weavers suffering huge losses, eventually being forced to give us their craft. Handloom industries were replaced by machines and mass production of textiles and fast fashion became the norm.
The mission of Hut Mentality is to bring back the artisan and the art into textiles and fashion. After all, fashion is nothing, if not a form of creative expression. Their customers are women who are people lovers, not people pleasers. They are independent thinking, intelligent, educated women who care about the world and choose to make an impact. They are the change makers, the thinkers, the ones who appreciate diversity, the ones who stand by their convictions, the ones you will admire, the ones you will remember, the one you will perhaps read about, the ones who are indelible.
Their clothes are handmade in small shops by tailors whose names we know and not in large factories by machines. Their textiles showcase a craft of weaving, dyeing, embroidering, or pattern making that has been passed down through generations of artisans. There may be slight imperfections in our clothes that is the beauty of the human imprint. Hut Mentality has limited quantities of products though they will try to replenish what is in demand if it can be procured. If not, they will provide another equally interesting piece.
So, if you like something, you best buy it, cause chances are… there’s not plenty more where that came from – https://www.hutmentality.com.
FOCUS ON: HUT MENTALITY, A CHAT WITH ISHA PUNJA
KREEP: How did your passion for design start and how your creative process work?
I always put together my own clothes in a way that was very different from what others around me were wearing. I think I was inspired by my frequent travels to India, where my roots lie. I think growing up in America, wearing Levi jeans and neutral colored clothes, and then a plane flight later..being surrounded by bright and vibrant saris, was eye-opening. It fueled my out-of-the-box thinking. I used to often return to America and have my own style of wearing clothes. This personal style was Western and American, but had something unique, and different about it. I would possibly pair jeans with a top that was embroidered with mirrors, which I had picked up on the roadsides in India. I think in my head, I see a fabric and I think of a silhouette for it that is totally different than how others would’ve used it. Why can’t a beautiful tapestry be repurposed into a crop top? My creative process is about using something in a way that’s very different than how it was intended. My passion for design started as a hobby and grew to become a brand when I was in college. I quickly realized that my designs are very relevant to those seeking unique and totally unexpected fashion.
KREEP: How fashion nowadays helps and motivate you to become a fashion designer?
Fashion these days has become very broad and inclusive. Going to music festivals and seeing the fashion that people wore to these events helped motivate me. People wore bohemian clothes, and very chunky, tribal-esque jewelry. A lot of clothing one would see being worn traditionally in India, has become the inspiration for festival fashion. I saw that people are actually willing to experiment with fashion and go radically out of the box. Fashion these days isn’t as fixed or narrow as it used to be. People are more open to non-neutral or monochromatic colors. Particularly with the growth of social media and Instagram, people want to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. And for that, you need to be creative in the way you dress and express yourself. That is very motivating for a budding fashion designer.
KREEP: Can you tell us a little bit about your references for the last collection?
The silhouettes of my last collection were inspired largely by the flare of the 70s and 80s: the large puffy sleeves, the dramatic bell bottoms. Our NYFW collection was an integration of bohemian and retro. The textiles that we used in these pieces were all created by tribals living in a remote part of India. These textiles are not available in bulk or in meters of fabric; they are only available as one-of-a-kind patches, since they’re hand-embroidered by tribals. We sourced these fabrics directly from the artisans themselves, and designed retro silhouettes around them. Some of our fabrics – including a minidress with animal motifs, as well as a top embroidered with a sunrise on it – were actually reconstructed from tapestries and wall-hangings. Another black jumpsuit incorporates a vintage tribal blouse. We also used a woolen shawl that was embroidered by indigenous artisans, to create a baby-doll dress with dramatic sheer sleeves. So, in this way, many of the pieces in our last collection were designed to showcase the breathtaking and beautiful work of tribal artisans. We just hope that by doing this, we can work towards sustaining these communities and their crafts.
KREEP: Are you sick of people talking about millennials? Do you see yourself as a designer for young people, a new generation?
Haha, I’m not really sick of it. Every generation has their share of being stereotyped, I guess. Like it or not, we’re here. And we will play our part in shaping the culture – hopefully in a good way. I think we are aware of social issues and we question the status quo, which is a good thing! I used to see myself as a designer for younger people, but I will not box myself in that category anymore, simply because that is where I started and that’s the demographic I most relate to. I have had a lot of interest from older people, who have stated that they love the concept of our brand, but would like to see a few styles that are more suited to their tastes. I intend on taking this seriously and incorporating this awareness some of my future designs so that my brand is more inclusive.
KREEP: How fashion competitions can change the business industry? Will you apply at some in the future?
Fashion competitions give many young people an avenue to break into the fashion industry. It also gives businesses an opportunity to source fashion from talent which may otherwise have gone unnoticed. At this point, I haven’t thought about entering a competition, but if we find one that resonates with our brand, aesthetic, and mission, I would definitely be open to it.
KREEP: How do you want people to feel when they wear your clothes?
I want people to feel connected to their higher selves and the world around them. I want them to feel a sense of belonging to the larger world, and not just insulated within their corner of it. I want people to feel a sense of empowerment and joy, to feel like their decisions have a real, tangible impact. Most of all, I want people to feel a sense of interconnectedness when they wear our clothes.
KREEP: What do you think it’s your best-selling piece from your last collection?
Look 2, the babydoll dress was our best selling piece from our last collection. It was pure wool, and had simply exquisite detailing. It was hand made by tribals living in a remote part of India. The color combination was striking, while being in the comfort zone of those who follow a little bit more of a neutral color palette. The sheer sleeves added a dramatic flare to the dress that people seemed to love.
KREEP: What do you think about the opportunity of selling your products on online platforms, you think it might be a good showcase for your work and your future?
I definitely think online sales is where every industry is headed. I believe there is great potential to sell our products on an online platform. But, I do think that going forward, there will be more technological tools, such as 3D imaging, and virtual dressing rooms. These tools will provide more of an in-person feel to apparel shopping. Many e-commerce stores are already starting to integrate virtual reality into their shopping experience. So, it’s just a matter of time before this becomes the new norm for online shopping. I think online platforms are an excellent showcase for our work. I definitely see a strong online presence in our brand’s future.
KREEP: What young designers need right now from fashion industry to grow up?
Young designers need a greater amount of mentoring in the fashion industry. I think the fashion industry right now is a little bit exclusive to those who have already established their name. There is a certain culture of wanting to preserve this exclusivity within the fashion industry. So I think the fashion industry can definitely become more approachable. We should be setting up systems that encourage young designers to grow and thrive within the field, not keep them out of it. I do feel like I’ve largely had to figure things out on my own. There is very little out there from the established industry that provides guidance to someone wanting to follow this path.
KREEP: List us three favorite designers / icons who inspire you.
Junko Shamada, Jacquemus, and Naomi Campbell.