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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Yolanthe Fawehinmi

Priya Ahluwalia: I’m so much more than just a ‘sustainable designer’

When fashion designer Priya Ahluwalia walked into the dress rehearsal of her autumn/winter 2023 London Fashion Week show in February, she couldn’t stop crying.

Titled Symphony, the show was staged at a formerly baroque church hall, with models walking to jazz-infused renditions played by pianist Insxght and saxophonist Solaariss.

“I was just so emotional,” the 30-year-old founder and creative director of Ahluwalia says. “It was like the culmination of a big deep dive coming together. That’s how I felt.”

Ahluwalia rediscovered the music of her youth when designing the collection. “I don’t like to do things in an obvious way,” Ahluwalia admits. “As life changes, you listen to different things at different stages, so I thought about the visuals of what music sounds like when designing Symphony.

“I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston was on the radio when I was born. So my mum finds that song really special and played it to me a lot. Sade’s Kiss Of Life was quite informative, and 50 Cent was also in there too. I remember getting one of his albums when I was 10 and thinking it was phenomenal. I also thought a lot about Prince, Queen, Freddie Mercury and even traditional Punjabi music.”

Sound waves and musical notes inspired the lasered print on denim, jacquard patterns on mohair knitwear and track tops with accompanying shorts. Earthy shadows, reds and ochres were taken from the colours of album covers and illuminated cotton separates.

Ahluwalia launched her eponymous fashion label in 2018 after graduating from the MA Menswear course at the University of Westminster, combining her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage and London roots, while also exploring the potential of vintage and surplus clothing.

Around that time, Ahluwalia visited her father in Nigeria and says she noticed “hawkers” wearing secondhand clothing from the UK. “I was really confused and started to ask questions about it,” she says – and it led to the publishing of her first book, Sweet Lassi, exploring the secondhand clothing industry in the Global South.

“Finding ways for people to cherish their clothing forever has always been important to me,” Ahluwalia says. “Microsoft and I worked on a platform called Circulate in 2021, where we use AI to crowdsource and categorise people’s unwanted clothing. But now, I think consumers really see the value in learning about the things that happen behind the scenes of the clothes they are purchasing.”

It’s why individual garments from the Symphony collection feature Digital ID technology — created and connected by the EON Product Cloud platform, powered by Microsoft Azure. Ahluwalia customers can scan with their mobile phones to discover their item’s unique story, including the design inspiration, production processes and origins of the sourced materials, helping consumers better understand how their clothes can be resold, reused and recycled.

“This gives us the opportunity to really share exclusive content and information about a product. As a contemporary luxury brand selling items that are around £400, it’s important to provide our customers with more value and share the stories behind their clothes, whilst encouraging them to engage with sustainability.”

But Ahluwalia doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sustainable designer. “I’m so much more than making the right choices,” she says. “I’m a designer first and foremost, who is also a creative director, filmmaker of Joy and Beloved, who works sustainably to explore and redefine the inherent beauty of blackness [and brownness] through an authentic lens.

“The vision is that one day someone would be sitting on Ahluwalia in their front room, watching it, wearing it, smelling it and eating it. A whole 360. I would love Ahluwalia to be an example of how ideas that are not so rooted in Eurocentric values are expandable and amazing on a global stage for people to interact with in a global sense, like we see with many traditional European [fashion] houses.”

So what’s next for the fashion house?

“We’re doing a show at London Fashion Week in September, but I can’t tell you anything about it. The only thing that I can tell you is that we’re holding the show at the British Library, which I’m really excited about.”

Discover more about Ahluwalia’s partnership with Microsoft and EON here: Ahluwalia Symphony Unlocked | Microsoft Unlocked.

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