In this exclusive interview, we delve into the remarkable journey of Ashwin Thiyagarajan, a visionary fashion designer whose path to success has been as unique as his creations, representing India’s rich creative potential on a global stage.
Born in the vibrant city of Chennai, India, Ashwin spent his formative years immersed in a conservative family setting, where pursuing a career in fashion was initially out of the question.
Despite the odds, he transitioned from a career in engineering to follow his true passion, fashion. His story is a testament to the power of following one’s heart and unwavering dedication, proving that with passion as your guiding force, you can overcome any obstacles and reach your dreams in the world of fashion.
TINDS: Could you tell us a little bit about your childhood? Where were you born and where’d you grow up?
Ashwin: I was born in Chennai, located in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, and spent the first 32 years of my life there. While I have a deep-rooted connection to Chennai and currently have a strong fondness for it, there is another place I hold dear, which is Goa. I come from a small family of four, and my sister and I were raised in a conservative household where pursuing a career in fashion was not considered an option.
In fact, I was not permitted to study fashion and instead pursued a degree in engineering. After completing my engineering degree, I worked in the IT field for approximately two and a half years, which allowed me to become financially independent. However, despite the stability it provided, I ultimately made the decision to leave my IT job and fully dedicate myself to pursuing a career in fashion.
TINDS: Were you into fashion from an early age?
Ashwin: Yes, for as long as I can recall, I have been giving my mom fashion advice, suggesting which blouse goes best with which saree. Looking back on it, I’m amazed that my parents didn’t recognize this as a potential path for me in the fashion world. However, I eventually found my own path in this direction independently.
TINDS: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Ashwin: Maybe the three words would be ‘Self-aware,’ ‘Loving’ and ‘Kind.’
TINDS: What did you study in? We know that you’re an engineer, tell us a little about the transition.
Ashwin: I studied electrical and electronics engineering but do not ask me what a transistor is. I will not know the answer. College was just me skipping most classes blaming it on dance rehearsals and just showing up for exams. I did it fairly well but it was not my choice.
TINDS: What made you so passionate about fashion?
Ashwin: My fascination with colors and fabrics has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. While understanding fabrics can take considerable experience for some individuals, I consider myself fortunate that it came to me almost naturally. I had an innate understanding of how different fabrics drape on the body from an early age. It was an inherent part of me, and this knowledge fueled my growing interest in the field. I used to sketch clothing designs frequently, and I was captivated by any beautiful outfit that I encountered. By the time I reached the fifth grade, I had filled several sketchbooks with clothing designs which I did this purely for my own pleasure, and it brought me immense joy and happiness.
Growing up as a gay individual, there were limited outlets for expressing creativity, as there was always the fear of how others might react or the possibility of facing bullying. Some people turn to music, others to video games, and some to various forms of art. For me, sketching became my creative outlet.
TINDS: How did you get into the fashion industry? Enlighten us a little about the start.
Ashwin: I may have envisioned a lot of designs since childhood. Several sketchbooks of it. However they were all just on paper. While I was working in IT in my initial days, I was dating someone who knew how to sew. For our friend’s birthday, she had asked us to make something instead of buying her a gift, what she meant was like a card or something crafty. However we decided to make her a dress. I designed the dress and my then partner sewed it. We did the hand embroidered embellishments together. That’s how my design came to life for the first time.
TINDS: Are you currently working solo or with or under a brand?
Ashwin: I have a brand of my own, an eponymous label. I also help in co-creating another brand called Pali, which is based in the US. I designed a few collections for them and took a break from it and designing in general. However now, I am back and I’m really thrilled to be creating again.
TINDS: Tell us a little about the entire experience of working with so many celebrities that people often only admire on screen.
Ashwin: So luckily for me, all of these happened very organically. I never had to reach out or go to a stand out site. I’ve just been really lucky in that sense because my work got noticed very soon and people really liked the work that I did and it has been a really fun journey in terms of working with celebrities, of course, there were good and bad times. The funnier thing is, the bigger the celebrity, the humbler they are, that’s what I’ve realized. There are friendships that have developed which I’m grateful for.
TINDS: How does it feel being able to represent India in such an amazing way that you’re doing?
Ashwin: I didn’t know that was happening but I feel great, of course. To be honest, I’m just creating out of passion.
TINDS: What is currently keeping you busy these days?
Ashwin: I’ve sort of Jumped into the age-old Indian handicrafts. I’m working on making these crafts take center stage in the work that I do because these are all naturally sustainable crafts even when they were invented. It takes a lot of labor, and nothing is carried out by bots, automation or machines, everything is handmade and it’s made with immense love and dedication. And I really want to give back to these artisans without whom the industry cannot thrive. Very often, they are put backstage, and they don’t get enough credit for the work that they do. A lot of designers, just take the craft and overprice and overhype it for their own benefit. This is something that I want to work on and that’s what’s keeping me busy recently, finding handicrafts and the best way to present them to the modern audience, because, even though these crafts are highly heavily Indian, I want to present them in a more modern light.
TINDS: If you have to mention your struggles to come this far what would they be?
Ashwin: To begin with, not having theoretical knowledge, and not having gone to fashion school means I learned a lot through trial and error. So there were a lot of errors which I had to learn from. But the good thing about that is that you learn through your mistakes, you become stronger and you never make the same mistakes again.
TINDS: What would you advise people who are interested in fashion and want to build a career on it?
Ashwin: I would recommend pursuing a formal education in fashion, as I personally invested four years of my life studying subjects like transmitters and transistors, which have no relevance to my current career in fashion. Additionally, internships are an excellent way to gain practical experience, as many designers, including myself, offer internship opportunities. These internships provide you with valuable contacts and insights into the fashion industry’s inner workings, from the creation of outfits to understanding the overall mechanism. It can significantly shape your journey as a designer. Well, you can also take a more unorthodox path, as I did, by following your instincts and passion. It worked out well for me because, with unwavering dedication and passion, you can overcome any challenges that come your way. Your love for the craft will be your driving force, enabling you to overcome any obstacles and reach your goals.
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