Words: Emily Hemsley
There is no doubt that Priya Ahluwalia is a woman of many talents. Despite being relatively new in the fashion industry, she has made a successful name for her London brand which is already breaking boundaries. Plus, with the titles fashion designer, creative director and newly film director under her belt, it leads you to wonder if there is anything she cannot achieve.
Sitting in a room full of aspiring young fashion designers, you could feel a positive, driven energy radiating from Ahluwalia and see the passion in her eyes. Taking time out of her busy schedule, she spoke to the new generation of talent at the V&A’s Upstart Festival - a free event for young people exploring careers in fashion. Born in London into an Indian-Nigerian immigrant family where creative careers were discouraged, she used her heritage to fuel her passion and inform her vibrant playful designs.
“I can't remember wanting to be anything other than a fashion designer. I used to read loads of fashion magazines front to back and I remember trying to memorize every designer's name,” said Ahluwalia. "I was very lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at a young age, it was almost like I created a pathway for myself.” After attending art school, Ahluwalia enrolled in the University of Westminister’s MA Menswear course to work towards forming her own brand.
“For me, the MA was intended as a period of self-reflection for my process and what I wanted to create and say as a creative because I knew that I wanted to do my own brand at some point,” she said.
"Anyone can do what they want, I'm not going to be worried about conventions, if I fancy doing something, I'm just going to do it...”
Her MA collection was included in London Fashion Week, whilst she also released her book ‘Sweet Lassi’ on the same day. Consequently, she received interest from the press and stores, such as Opening Ceremony and LN-CC, who wanted to make orders of the collection. After graduating from the course, now over four years ago, she went on to launch her namesake label in 2018, focusing on menswear.
“I was really interested in the fact that men have basically been wearing the same clothes for the past 100 years with only small tweaks in cuts and fit rather than completely new styles. There are a lot of rules and traditions around menswear and I really like the idea of playing with those boundaries. I was on my own working from my mum’s house, I didn't have the luxury of doing both men's and womenswear at that point. I wanted to solidify my place in the industry but I always knew that I wanted to do so much more,” she commented.
A piece from Ahluwalia's debut collection
Ahluwalia introduced womenswear into her brand last autumn and was immediately picked up by Net-a-Porter and Matches among others. Not short of success, her brand developed rapidly, which saw her win a multitude of awards including the LVMH prize in 2020, the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design and the GQ Designer Menswear Fund in 2021. Additionally, she has also collaborated with well-established labels including Ganni, Mulberry, Adidas and & Paul Smith.
“Of course winning prizes does give me confidence and they have been life-changing, but I feel like there's more satisfaction in working in a studio and seeing an idea come to life, I love that feeling,” she described.
“We need to innovate and think of new ways to be more sustainable, it's something we’re constantly working at to make sure all the clothes are as positive as possible and long-lasting"
Not only is the brand successful, but it is also ethical too. Ahluwalia is known for her sustainable approach to fashion, winning the 'Leader of Change' award for 'Environment' at the British Fashion Awards in 2021, collections are largely made from dead stock and resurfaced clothing, which Ahluwalia credited was inspired by a trip to Lagos to visit her father.
She commented: “The vast amounts of second-hand clothing from the west I saw piled up was life-changing. It made me want to build my own brand that tackles this waste problem and make things in a more positive way and try to reduce our physical impact on the planet. But at the end of the day I'm a designer, I want to make nice stuff and create beautiful experiences and clothes people will treasure forever.”
An image from Ahluwalia's debut film: Beloved
As the business grew, it became more challenging to produce clothing made purely from vintage fabrics. Ahluwalia undertook a year-long collaborative project with Microsoft to develop the platform Circulate which crowdsources clothing people do not want anymore. The brand posts call-outs for needed items, and then users can send the relevant items in exchange for points to spend on the Ahluwalia website. Moving forward, the brand is looking to make the platform global and bring it business-to-business to increase circulation.
“We need to innovate and think of new ways to be more sustainable, it's something we’re constantly working at to make sure all the clothes are as positive as possible and long-lasting,” she said.
Now, Ahluwalia’s career is expanding into other creative industries, most notably film production, after being signed by Ridley Scott Creative Group's Black Dog Films. She produced her directorial debut this August, premiering her first short film ‘Beloved’ which celebrated her ‘From Bollywood to Nollywood’ FW22 collection inspired by her multicultural heritage.
So what could possibly be next for the ambitious entrepreneur?
“My ideal scenario for my brand is that one day I would like someone to be able to sit in a room wearing Ahluwalia, smelling it, watching it, hearing it, feeling it - I think it's a universe I want to create,” she said. "Anyone can do what they want, I'm not going to be worried about conventions, if I fancy doing something, I'm just going to do it...”