'Products don’t have a gender identity': Designer Purushu Arie talks about his gender- neutral fashion line

Meet Purushu Arie, whose label brought the first exclusive high-fashion gender-neutral clothing to India

A few years ago, androgynous clothes would have left the neighbourhood aunties and uncles thunderstruck. Thanks to the internet, pop culture (thanks Ranveer!), it has inched its way into wardrobes in India.

Once known for being one of India’s top fashion bloggers, stylist and now designer Purushu Arie has started his own gender-neutral clothing line. In an exclusive interview with us, Purushu talked about his brand, gender-neutrality issues and what it takes to market the ‘genderless’ clothing in India. Excerpts:

Tell us the idea and the need for a brand like yours in India right now.
My clothing label might be the first exclusive high-fashion gender neutral platform in India but the idea of gender neutrality itself is nothing new. The notion of gender neutrality is the default setting involved in the origin of clothing. Products don’t have a gender identity, our minds do. Thanks to the heightened activism in recent years, more people are pointing out pointlessly gendered products sold to consumers.

My creations are artisanal imaginations of the traditional Indian textile-crafts and silhouettes with functional solutions for twenty-first-century lifestyle needs without keeping the gender in mind. In my latest collection, I’ve innovated the lungi with waistbands and pockets to resolve the modern functionality requirements. The omnipresent costume of South Indian men is unfortunately banned or unwelcomed in many Chennai nightclubs. Elsewhere in Sri Lanka, lungi is also a hot partywear. My clothes have more to do with ideas than just form and functionality. My label borrows from our glorious clothing history to retell the timeless values of liberation that were told and will be retold.

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You were a fashion blogger and a stylist before you became a designer. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional journey till date.
One of my earliest professional industry experience was when FDCI’s editorial team spotted my blog and commissioned me to write fashion show reviews at India Fashion Week, New Delhi. I was still a second-year fashion design student at NIFT New Delhi back then and that kind of on-field industry exposure of that magnitude was one of my biggest learning experiences. I’ve collaborated with more than sixty fashion and lifestyle brands since then as a blogger. I had a brief stint at Lee Cooper, Mumbai as a fashion designer before relocating to Chennai and launching my signature gender-neutral fashion label.

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In a society like ours, is marketing gender-neutral clothing easy? How are you going about it?
My business model is unconventional like the clothes itself. Internet gave me a platform to express my distinct ideas and the same ideas went into shaping my fashion label. Individualism is the very essence of a fashion blog. Every style on the Purushu Arie shop features a quote, narrating a tale of its own. Individualism is unfortunately lost and even antagonised in this capitalist structure where the ideals of beauty, what’s normal and abnormal are manufactured and later sold.

Marketing morals and ethics is the new commercial trend. The objective of that marketing has been to skyrocket sales and the truth is, we don’t need two dozen footwear trends for the same season. I understand that I’ve entered the waters where ethics are commercialised. But I see no point in doing “buy socially ethical fashion at 30% off & get 2nd purchase free.” Overconsumption is a serious issue on this planet where 7 billion people are pumping toxic carbon emissions and competing for resources. We have enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed. I’ve consciously reduced my stock range to a handful capsule collection, and often recycle and recuse the fabrics to deconstruct and reconstruct.

The clothes I make are often a rebellion on the existing models in which clothing is sold. The idea that men and women can share products and not overbuy is bad news for existing structure of gendered economics but it is never too late to shackle and rebuild the structure that isn’t as depleted from a socio-economic perspective.

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Is there a sizable demand for gender-neutral clothing which other brands haven’t yet capitalised?
Fashion is often evolutionary in nature than revolutionary. The voice for gender-neutral clothing is only getting bigger with time. The gender-neutral clothing revolution has phenomenal taking from the millennials who are the first to live in a trans-cultural digital era.

Gender-neutral/androgynous clothing is yet to take the Indian streets by storm. Do you think the scenario will change anytime soon?
I was delighted to see several gender-neutral street styles looks shot at recent Indian fashion week. The change? You are already living it. You wouldn’t see as many men wearing crop tops on Instagram five years ago. The mindsets are changing now more than ever before in recent past.

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For those millennials looking to change their wardrobe to more ‘genderless’ clothing, which are the brands (apart from yours) you’d recommend?
Be the change you want to see. Forget what the society told you is “masculine” or “feminine”, and wear what you like regardless of the brand or gender tag as long as it fits you.

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What are your future plans?
I am working on various capsule collections, also coordinating the photoshoots and blogging simultaneously.

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