Meet the designers who are redefining traditional and cultural dressing

From the sari and the kimono to the kilt, traditional garments have long been seen as the embodiment of conservative and modest dress, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be entirely modern.

With the modest fashion sector expected to be worth billions by 2021, we are seeing a growing cohort of young fashion designers redefining and re-energising their cultural heritage.

Drawing on their heritage and the cultural traditions of their families and communities, young designers are finding innovative ways to fuse old and new, and keep old customs relevant.

To celebrate London Fashion Week, Instagram curated a list of next generation fashion designers inspired by and proud of their heritage, honouring traditions while still doing things their own way:

Siobhan Mackenzie 

Siobhan is a multi-award-winning Scottish fashion designer. Her design flair mixed with a ‘Made in Scotland’ brand ethos reinvents the classics into a contemporary label inspired by Scotland:      

‘My Highland heritage has been a firm inspiration throughout the brand,’ she says.

‘I come from a large, close-knit family in the most beautiful place called the Black Isle. I feel deeply connected to my roots and creatively explore that through combining my modern design thinking with heritage style.’

Siobhan says she is inspired by the iconic fabric of Scotland, tartan.

‘Season after season, you’ll always find it on the catwalk. It’s timeless and, more importantly, produced on my doorstep. Embracing locally manufactured textiles such as wool which are sustainable is a huge factor when designing my collections – authenticity is key.’

The majority of Siobhan’s work is made-to-order, which means she reduced waste on materials and surplus stock by only producing what she needs with locally woven fabrics.

‘Scottish textiles are used in collections of some of the world’s most successful fashion houses, this encourages me to believe we can also create leading fashion houses from Scotland and the potential is endless,’ she says.

‘I want to achieve growth with the brand by widening the product ranges but without compromising the authentic roots of using British craftsmanship as this is at the core of the brand ethos.’

Siobhan says fusing contemporary design with traditional manufacturing techniques has been at the core of her brand since it started in 2014.

‘Nurturing local craftsmanship is incredibly important to be able to retain and cultivate specialist skillsets in Britain – consciously working in contrast to the fast-fashion industry,’ she says.

‘I was firstly inspired to experiment with revolutionising traditional products such as kilts and tailoring as a fashion student for my graduate collection.

‘While still a student I also trained in traditional kilt-making to understand the craft fully before chopping and changing anything.

‘Respecting the original craft is important to progressing it – as a designer I always find having manufacturing know how helps to design because if you can understand how a garment will be made you can design it to its best potential.

‘The kilt is instantly recognisable and synonymous to Scotland all over the world. Keeping the tradition alive with an added flair of creativity is at the very heart of what I do.’

Saeedah Haque 

Saeedah is a London-based creative, reimagining traditional Islamic dress with a contemporary twist, after failing to find modest garments that resonated with her style:

‘My brand is on a mission to take back the narrative of Muslim women through the first streetwear Abaya label, which reinvents the traditional Abaya into utilitywear.

‘Muslim women’s bodies are continuously politicised in the media. In the same space, Kim Kardashian can be completely covered at the Met Gala and her look is described as “powerful”.’

Saeeda aims to take some of the power back and to pay homage to the visibly Muslim women who walk the streets everyday ‘choosing to wear their identities’.

‘I once read in an article that black clothing was fine in the middle east, but in the west it was “harsh”,’ she adds. ‘Apparently, Muslim women wanted colourful, patterned clothing that “blended in with the rest of Western society”.

‘My clothes aren’t powerful because they break the barriers imposed on us. My clothes are powerful because they are conservative.

‘The same oversized that is acceptable on Billie Eilish but oppressive on someone who covers their hair.

‘My collections are often political commentary, and present Muslim women in spaces we are not usually in. The SH brand is for the next generation of girls who are individual and bold and unapologetic.’

Saeeda believes that keeping tradition alive is vital for fashion to be both authentic and progressive.

‘When we feel heard and our work accredited, we can continue to create authentically by translating our stories into our pieces,’ she says. ‘There aren’t many Muslim designers in the industry but our identities are so rich and there is so much potential to shift culture forwards.

‘There is a lot going on in the world right now in regards to women’s clothing, so my Muslim identity plays a huge part because the media often follow one type of narrative, and my clothing allows me to use my voice for the things our community fights for.

‘My pieces share my perspective of having a proud Muslim identity, but also being born and raised in London. Burkas with reflective trims play on the concept of visibility, and menswear cuts challenge the feminine silhouettes often associated with women’s bodies.

‘Through clothing, I am not only negotiating the perspective of Muslim heritage but bringing forward a new hybridity.’

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