Fabulous feelgood fashion
Kate Chapman meets Lincolnshire designer Sanyukta Shrestha, who has created her own unique brand of luxury, hand-crafted sustainable womenswear and bridal designs.
According to Nepalese born British designer Sanyukta Shrestha, fashion should feel, look and do good.
Sanyukta has been praised for her cruelty-free, zero-waste approach and was among the first to introduce sustainability to the bridal industry – her debut collection in 2011 featured pieces made out of ground-breaking eco-friendly fibres including milk, banana, hemp, wild nettle and organic silk. Since then, Sanyukta, who lives on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds and has flagship stores in London and another near Horncastle, has won numerous awards for her ethical and luxurious pieces, where every design reflects many hours of meticulous work, using the hand-spun and hand-weaved sustainable materials produced by highly skilled Nepalese craftswomen.
Red carpet winners
Her stunning creations have been seen on the red carpet at the Oscars, BAFTAs, Cannes and have been worn by celebrities including Victoria’s Secret supermodel Candice Swanepoel, American girl band Fifth Harmony, sopranos Natalie Rushdie and Laura Wright, and Amy Nuttall.
“From the beginning, the soul of the brand has always been ethical and sustainable – I wanted to be the bridge between the people who needed the most, to those who had it,” explains Sanyukta, who volunteered at the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre in Nepal and the World Wildlife Fund (Nepal) earlier in her career.
“In the villages of Nepal mostly the women have never been to school, thus they’re not able to find decent jobs but they can make a living by using their 1,000-year-old craft skills. I wanted to make sure those skills were used, valued and cherished in years to come, while connecting women across the world.
“From farm to final product – I knew it had to come from a good source and I wanted to make sure I did my best to protect the environment. There are no hard and fast rules, but nature is changing, and we’ve got to be kind to it. I wanted to be the best I can, doing good things.”
Sanyukta grew up in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, surrounded by nature and stunning mountainous landscapes. The youngest of four children born to Shyam Kaji and Sunita Shrestha, she enjoyed art from an early age, particularly drawing and painting in her younger years.
“Growing up in Nepal, I used to stand on top of our house, I could see all these beautiful mountains – it was wild and dramatic,” she says.
“I grew up in a very simple family, education was very important, and we were encouraged to pursue careers like doctor, engineer or pilot. My parents always wanted their daughters to stand on their own two feet.
“I’ve always enjoyed art, and always wanted to be an artist – that strong feeling has always been there. I didn’t really know about fashion design, it was a non-subject to my parents, but after school, when I found out the course contained a lot of art, I fell in love with the idea and decided that would be my subject at college.
“I was 17, my dad said ‘no’ and wanted me to focus on academic studies as he felt the subject didn’t have a future. But my heart was set on it. It took me several months to convince him and in the end I compromised and studied English literature as well.”
Following a dream
Her career took off when she was asked to submit designs for a piece for Miss Nepal to wear. After initially saying no, Sanyukta, who was in her junior year and had never designed anything before, agreed to take on the challenge and to her delight won an award for her gown, which she describes as 3D, inspired by her love of nature and art.
“It was a wonderful opportunity and I was so surprised to win; a few months later my bespoke designs were showcased on Miss World and Miss Earth. My career just took off, I was constantly working after that, there were so many opportunities – I was a costume designer for movies, I taught fashion design, I wrote about fashion and was involved in all the big events for Miss Nepal – it was a wonderful time.
“But I wanted to study fashion design in much more depth. I wanted to complete an MA in English literature, but I didn’t have the time to devote to both. My family was very supportive. My dad told me to follow my dream, but to make sure I did something that would give back to the community and the world too.”
Connecting to nature
Sanyukta was one of 10 out of 600 applicants accepted onto a postgraduate course at the London College of Fashion. She graduated in 2005 and since then her brand has gone from strength to strength, picking up numerous accolades for her timeless, elegant designs which as well as being sustainable, ethical and vegan also offer UV protection and are comfortable to wear due to the natural fibres from which they are made.
She recalls: “London was a brilliant experience. There were cultural and language differences, but it was an amazing place, a real melting pot for creativity. During my time there I learnt so much, the bad things about fashion, as well as the good – and I came to understand the pollution it was causing.
“I didn’t want to contribute to that. When I was in Nepal, I always connected to the nature and the people. Fashion isn’t just about glamour, it is a serious subject.
“London gave me so much insight into the fashion world and made me realise I wanted to support deprived women and provide Fairtrade work for marginalised communities.
“When I started out many people didn’t understand what I was doing but I always had the vision that green was going to be the new black in fashion. Now it’s being recognised and that’s one of my greatest achievements.”
As well as releasing new collections annually, both bespoke and haute couture, Sanyukta continues to push the boundaries and is exploring new fabric technologies which include using the fibres from apple and pineapple peel.
The Sanyukta Shrestha haute couture and made to order bridal collection are available online, at her London and Lincolnshire stores and selective stockists in the UK. To find out more visit www.sanyuktashrestha.com
Photographs: courtesy of Sanyukta Shrestha, Kev Elkins Photography, Piers Cunliffe Photography & KMGS Photography