Roma Narsinghani on creating conscious jewellery
The Mumbai member discusses building an artisanal brand that tackles the key conversation surrounding her industry: sustainability
By Praachi Raniwala Images courtesy of Roma Narsinghani Thursday 22 October, 2020 Long read
Her renewed sartorial perspective led to designing several pieces for her own wardrobe. ‘When I was getting married in March 2016, my mum was gathering her old baubles and I came across an embellished hair bun cage. I decided to recreate it with my own spin for one of my ceremonies,’ says the Mumbai-based designer. Soon Narsinghani had her first small collection, officially launching her eponymous brand the following year (the aforementioned hair bun has since become her signature). Her ‘constantly evolving’ aesthetic marries Mumbai’s Art Deco heritage with geometry. The locally handmade designs (and silhouettes) are India-inspired but unmistakably contemporary. What stands out is Narsinghani’s unwavering intention to marry form with function, and that includes being socially and environmentally responsible.
What’s in the designer’s sustainability starter kit? To begin with, she doesn’t mass produce. ‘We are a made-to-order fashion jewellery brand. Our customers know they are buying quality designs that will last for years. They don’t mind waiting a fortnight for their orders,’ she explains. The green agenda extends to design as well. Narsinghani is constantly innovating with materials. Cases in point: the recycled brass that was the base metal for some of her past collections, which repurposed brass scrap from her own workshop. Then came the gold-plated bindis created from leftover metal that wasn’t recyclable. And Narsinghani is currently exploring hemp packaging to replace her plastic jewellery pouches. ‘We are striving to be zero-waste, but it’s hard to be 100% sustainable – even Patagonia isn’t.’ Even so, the designer bagged the Sustainable Design Award by Fad International and Helsinki Fashion Week last year. ‘People are so intimidated by the concept of sustainability. It instantly evokes guilt, but it needn’t be so serious. Just start somewhere and keep educating yourself,’ she adds.
Narsinghani’s mindful manifesto lays as much focus on her supply chain as it does on sustainability. When the brand shifted production from Mumbai to Jaipur last year, the designer did her due diligence on her manufacturers. This entailed extensive research (and paperwork), and asking a lot of questions – are they ISO-approved? Is the raw material nickel-free? What are the local environmental regulations, their targets to reduce energy usage, and fair-trade practices towards employees, among others?
Narsinghani believes that being ethical means knowing who is making your products. It was a portfolio review with Sarah Maino (Deputy Director of Vogue Italia) last year when she was chosen by Vogue Talents and Vogue Italia to showcase at the Super Project by Pitti Immagine in Florence that got the designer more involved with the craft community. ‘This meeting took place in Soho House Mumbai’s library,’ she laughs. ‘Sarah asked me to drop “concept jewellery” from my brand description. As she rightly pointed out, we are a handmade label, thus making my designs artisanal. And the credit should go back to the source.’
Having a plan on paper is one thing, but 2020 served us a huge curveball. With the world under siege, how was a young brand like hers impacted? It turns out that lockdown allowed the label to dive into digital design development, sampling, and storytelling. ‘We worked with a 3D technician to turn our sketches into specific virtual prototypes for our artisans,’ she says, citing efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint as the benefits.
Narsinghani showcased a digital collection, Gaia, at Helsinki Fashion Week this July – the result of an online residency that the fashion week’s founder Evelyn Mora (also a reputed sustainability consultant) encouraged Narsinghani to partake in. ‘I was the only jewellery designer on board. I liked the idea of working with a mentor – mine was an astrophysicist, and learning from her was one of my favourite experiences this year. We charted a journey map from inspiration to production and everything was done online,’ she elaborates. ‘We made digital avatars to model the line, had online fittings, designed a virtual set, and picked the music… it was incredible.’ These designs have been pitched to virtual gaming apps for gamers to buy for their characters, and the physical pieces will be available to shop from November.
While the process allowed Narsinghani to harness digital mediums as an effective business tool, it’s not all ‘out with the old and in with the new’. ‘The idea isn’t to replace the tactile with the virtual, not at all. It’s about blending the two cleverly.’
The way forward
This year has been directional for Narsinghani, giving her the opportunity to reinvent herself – to learn, unlearn and relearn. She’s now moving away from the two 45-piece collections she previously released every year. The road ahead will see more mini capsule launches, seasonless designs and gender-fluid collections. ‘In the past, we’ve created special jewellery lines for shows of leading Indian fashion designers like Amit Aggarwal and Rahul Mishra. I want to do more of that,’ she says. ‘I also want to design fewer but more multi-functional pieces. Less is the new more. And, honestly, there are no rules now.’