Designer Shyma Shetty speaks to us about her label, creating an impact through fashion and why inclusivity is in dire need of redefinition
IT IS HARD to slot Shyma Shetty’s label Huemn (pronounced ‘human’) under one category. It’s conscious, but not in the most obvious way, experimental without being impractical, avant-garde with a cause, and provocative with its campaigns and messages. In an industry largely built on fleeting trends, Shyma along with her co-founder Pranav Mishra, aims to create a lasting impression through collections that provoke thought and spark dialogues. “Huemn was created to be a strong voice in the times we live in,” begins the Bengalurean, who in June this year, presented her brand’s latest collection at Pitti Uomo in Florence, the most important platform in the world for menswear.
Having met at National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bengaluru, Shyma and Pranav shared the same interests and a similar aesthetic. “My partner and I met in design school and shared an immense love for fashion; Huemn was born out of the best of our conversations. We aspired to create a label that could be ahead of its time, rally a community, focus on impact, tell great stories; and yet make clean, exciting, affordable everyday ready-to-wear,” shares Shyma, who moved to Delhi almost 10 years ago to kick-start her career as a designer.
Back to the start
In 2012, Huemn’s first ever line was launched at the Lakme India Fashion Week. The duo’s vision was clear right from the start. “The label is a cultural provocateur, celebrating craft, the craftsman and the viewer, while creating relevant products that are informed by the political, social and cultural landscape of our times, that can be discovered over and over through years of wear. Our DNA is young and dynamic and the heart of Huemn lies in telling stories with a collective visual voice , harnessing the artistry existing in our communities and breathing new life in terms of technical skill and product vision to create conversational pieces of clothing,” she explains.
Undoubtedly, the clothes have global appeal, but really it’s more than just the clothes. Huemn is a movement. Its verticals — Huemn Stories and Huemn Project — are testaments to the fact. While the former, an ongoing collaboration with American photographer Mark Hanauer, the lensman behind the famous portrait of Charles Bukowski, attempts to celebrate diversity and capture experiences that have shared value, the latter is a platform through which they explore ideas outside of their seasonal collections. “So far, we have released four editions of Project (including one that was only a collection of photographs). These are collaborative capsule collections not constrained to traditional ideas of seasons and trends but that focus on the story,” says Shyma, whose clothes have been worn by everyone from Ranveer Singh and Kartik Aaryan to Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Sobhita Dhulipala.
Making a difference
Given their need to look beyond the clothes, use them as conversation starters and measure their success based on the impact they create, it might be trivial to count their achievements by looking at the celebrities they have dressed. But it is a sign that fashion is no longer just about looking pretty. “We take pride in the conversations that we facilitate through our work, working hard to push the envelope, to celebrate the underdogs, to re-define luxury, tell untold stories, create thought-provoking campaigns, take a stand on inclusion and bring about a slow fashion revolution through repurposing and mindful buying. We are a responsible, relevant, wholesome and fearless brand and it makes me very happy,” enthuses Shyma, who strongly believes that the purpose of art, whether on canvas, on stage or in your closet, is to provoke, not comfort.
“Fashion needs to lift people up and empower. It needs to rally an audience and facilitate new conversations. The problems we have today are global conversations not restricted to our little towns. The voice that speaks out today has to be globally relevant. ‘Now’ and ‘tomorrow’ are more meaningful than ever, considering we are on the brink of a global environmental crisis,” she adds.
The designer’s eye for detail and luxury extends to her personal style too, which like her label, is offbeat, unconventional and edgy. Luxury is often given a bad rap and sometimes equated with wastefulness, but Shyma embraces all it stands for. “I enjoy luxury and the idea of having something exclusive that I can keep for decades. I invest carefully in my wardrobe and it is built around separates that I play with and style differently every season,” she reveals, adding that she ‘lives’ each collection that they make. The discovery of and experimentation with new fabrics, treatments and silhouettes sees her personal wardrobe reflecting what she’s working on. “It just seeps into my style,” she says.
Huemn stands for ‘hue’ and ‘human’ and this is something that Shyma is greatly influenced by. It’s evident in the clothes she makes, clothes that celebrate individuality, differences, uniqueness and inclusivity. “I’m influenced by the human story — shapes, sizes, gender, sexuality, things people love, people they love that love them back, people they love that hurt them, people who talk, people who don’t. Conversations feed my process. We are so strong individually, yet so vulnerable — there’s such beauty in that,” she elaborates. The ‘human story’ as she calls it, is supported by her affinity for graphic visuals that are often depictions of topography and capture the movement of lines.
This celebration of individuality and differences, she feels should be the very definition of inclusive fashion. “Inclusive fashion is about normalising our diverse shapes, preferences, and needs. We need to stop putting people in boxes like ‘female,’ ‘plus-size’ and ‘brown.’ People are non-binary by nature and shouldn’t have to fit themselves into a box that can be understood by a larger population,” she explains. As someone who makes clothes under the ‘non-binary’ category and who has featured noted transgender model Taksh Sharma in her campaigns and on the runway, this is something she lives by.
For both Shyma and Pranav, it is important to keep pace with the times, to be ahead of the curve, to create something fresh, and to constantly get out of the comfort zone. This translates to their collections being diverse, new and exciting. “In fashion, you have to be ahead or it’s not exciting. You have to also shake free of what you have already made and unlearn. We are doing a lot of denim this season, which is new for us. But some of the things we pick up, we retain. We started experimenting with Indian threadwork and handcraft techniques on contemporary silhouettes a few seasons ago and now it’s become a strong part of every line ever since,” she shares.
Their Spring/Summer ’20 line is a unisex collection inspired by their travels in Kashmir. Leaning towards athleisure, it is a collaboration with photojournalist Azaan Shah and artist Syed Mujtaba Rizwi. Their prints and photographs of people and landscapes have been represented on the garments through intricate hand-embroidery. “It is a powerful line for us to work with and some of the finished pieces are overwhelming, yet very wearable. We also have a large denim range in some exciting washes and treatments. This line debuted at Pitti Uomo in June and it’s moving on to Paris Fashion Week and Shanghai Fashion Week now,” she tells us.
“Huemn is much larger than it ever was, both in reach and in potential. I do have a vision of what we will evolve to, but that we will talk about in our next interview,” she sums up.