Interview with designer who has had a meteoric rise to fame. By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: Fashion designer Tina Tandon, who grew up in many different places around the world, brings a unique perspective in her designs. Born in the US, but having spent early childhood in India (Jammu & Kashmir), and then growing up in North Carolina, before moving to New York for college, exposed her to a broad spectrum and concepts of fashion.
Tandon knew that fashion was her calling at an early age when she accompanied her mother to their family tailor for custom-made outfits during her early childhood spent in India.
She thoroughly enjoyed the process, and became well acquainted with various fabrics, cuts, designs and embellishments.
She started taking fashion design courses during her high school years in North Carolina, where she won great recognition for her work, and won awards for her designs.
Following her dream, she later received a scholarship to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)in New York City. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from FIT, receiving many awards from the FIT faculty and top industry professionals, including Jay Baker, former President of Kohl’sdepartment stores , who awarded her with a prestigious scholarship that only top ten students were privileged to receive.
She was also a recipient of the Presidential Scholars award, and still remains a member of the Presidential Scholars society at FIT. In an interview with The American Bazaar, Tandon talks about her new bio-degradable fashion line, her charity work, and what it’s been like on her meteoric rise to becoming one of the top Indian American fashion designers in the world.
About 85-90% of your collections are made of natural, bio-degradable fabrics, which is something that really sets your work apart from your contemporaries. Is eco-friendly fashion a big movement, or is it still relatively small-scale? What do you think it’ll take to make it a widespread practice in the fashion world?
Yes, it’s absolutely a big movement. Many major brands and fashion companies are interested in expanding into this realm or at least offer a part of their collection that is eco-friendly. As a society, we are more and more becoming aware of the environmental impact of the carbon footprint we are leaving behind, and more and more people are concerned about the state of the environment and are willing to do something about it or contribute somehow to its betterment. People like to hear that we are doing something about it, and more and more designers and fashion companies are jumping on the opportunity to do so. Donna Karan, Stella McCartney, and Rodarte – are some of the other designers who are emphasizing on and supporting eco-friendlier practices in fashion. It is already on its way to becoming a widespread practice in the fashion world.
You do a lot of charity work with organizations such as SEWA, which provides work opportunities for disadvantaged women and children throughout India. But the exploitation of these cheap labor forces is still prevalent throughout the country, especially in the carpet industry, according to a study released recently. What do you think it’ll take to put an end to these kinds of practices, and can the fashion industry do more to help end these problems?
A lot of good companies have compliance guidelines, before they even start working with a manufacturer for their goods. I think that helps keep things in check and help promote fair labor practices. There are strict requirements the manufacturers and factories must meet before working with many major fashion brands, including fair labor practices, no child labor, and safe and healthy working conditions. I know this from working in the industry for many years, and also conducting these compliance checkups on factories during my sourcing trips abroad. So, more the companies enforce these compliance guidelines on the factories before giving them business, the less there will be abuse or unfair treatment of laborers.
In such a short amount of time, you’ve become one of the leading Indian American fashion designers, doing work for celebrities like Padma Lakshmi and Soha Ali Khan. What do you think is the element in your work that sets you apart from other burgeoning designers, particularly desi ones, and has been the key to your success?
Well, thank you! There is still lot more to be done! First and foremost – focus, hard work and dedication. I guess my refined eye from working with major European and American fashion houses like Escada, Christian Lacroix, Liz Claiborne, and Kenneth Cole, and education from top NYC fashion school – FIT, my internal fashion instinct and design sensibilities – all are factors in setting me apart from other designers.
What does it mean to you to be an Indian-origin fashion designer in America? Do you feel that being Indian adds something different to your work that other designers don’t have? Has your experience within the industry been influenced in any way by being Indian American?
For me, it’s about breaking stereotypes and not being the typical Desi everyone expects you to be – a medical, IT or finance professional. It’s great to see Indian Americans excel in the arts fields as well in America. It makes me extremely proud to see Indian artists like Mindy Kaling, Aasif Mandvi, Russel Peters breaking barriers in the Arts. And I am extremely happy to create a bit of a ripple of my own in the fashion world. Being of Indian origin surely gives me many advantages as a designer.
When I travel to India to work on my new collection and produce my goods, I can understand the language and the way of the culture. I know all the local markets, and how to bargain. I understand very well the many different kinds of embroideries, embellishments and treatments possible, and the local names for them, and how to communicate what I want, clearly to the factory workers. So, it all works in my favor in many ways. Many of my American fellow designers, when going to India to produce their goods, often have to seek help of a middleman.
Fashion design is of growing interest in the Indian American community, as more and more desis get into it these days. What advice would you have for any young girls, Indian or otherwise, who want to get into the fashion industry like you?
Like I always say, know your craft. Hone in your skills. Work, work, work and learn everything you can about the industry, before even thinking of branching out on your own. You have to really have a great passion for it and lots of patience. Fashion is a very difficult and competitive field, but if your designs are different enough and are appealing, wearable, and relatable to people, you will do just fine.