Designers Shradha Kochhar and Adhiraj Singh created LOTA with a three-way mission. They wanted to break what they saw as a wasteful cycle in India’s fashion industry to build a product that would be ethically sourced, locally designed, and authentically represented.
Kochhar, a knitwear designer, brought knowledge of the garment industry to Singh’s graphic design world. Together, they carried the LOTA mission into a space that blurred the line between a brand and an art project.
“It started as an art project and not a brand per say,” Kochhar said, pointing out that they still struggle with the semantics of what to call it. “But we were always really conscious of the repercussions of making something. We wanted to use resources that are already available to us and question what makes us perceive waste as waste.”
This idea of resuscitating available resources was the foundation of LOTA’s creation. Kochhar and Singh had already worked with brands in India when LOTA’s first project took off about a year and a half ago.
“We would see actual artificial landscapes in Delhi on our commute to work,” Kochhar said. “And this really triggered us because you see these massive piles of waste, and it isn’t even sortable or treated and you can’t really do anything about it. It’s just lying there.”
So they decided to take a creative direction that would directly turn scrap materials into fashion.
“In fashion, when a piece of cloth is cut it’s supposed to be a rectangle, and once it’s cut into a shape of a shirt or trouser or whatever, 30 percent of the original fabric is never accounted for,” Kochhar said.
Instead of sending these items straight to the bins and landfills, the designers started collecting material from mass manufacturing units in and around Delhi — the kinds that produce tons of clothes for Zara, H&M, and other fast fashion brands.
“A generic design model would be that you buy fabric, you cut it directly, and sew it into whatever you want it to be,” Kochhar said. “But our model is to create our own fabric from scratch.”
Before they weave their fabric together, the designers also sanitize the salvaged scraps and wash them so they’re ready for patching. They then get two sewers based in Delhi to help out and a local female artisan aids Kochar with hand-sewn crocheted buttons.
“The process becomes twice as much. One item takes about two or three days to complete,” Kochhar said.
The designers also wanted to focus on bringing out the colors and authentic designs of Delhi streetwear.
“Indian streetwear has been westernized so much you don’t really see anything around besides a Nike sweatshirt with Adidas pumps,” Kochhar said. “And I feel like that conversation of ‘locally-made’ and what you see on the street is your street-style, not what you see people wearing in the West.”
LOTA’s first collection showcased 16 pieces of clothing. Each item was one-of-a-kind, patched together with scraps of fabric the designers had collected. And when they started to auction off the pieces, they aimed for a perception that would take the pieces beyond the framework of garments and link them to a larger story.
“They were discarded and then came back to life,” Kochhar said. “So it’s semi-poetic as well, and I feel like I value that with this project.”
The internet being their sole source of publicity, Kochhar and Singh were grateful for the positive response they received during their first online auction. LOTA’s reputation rose rapidly within the local fashion industry and expanded to social media circles. Today, the LOTA circle also includes other big names such as writer and performing artist Alok Vaid-Menon and musician Prateek Kuhad, who found the brand on Instagram.
But moving beyond their fashion model, perhaps the most intriguing element of the LOTA brand is the incorporation of sustainability even in its graphic design framework.
“We wanted to work with a digital influencer. We felt like that in the space we exist, the majority of the representation has perpetually been white,” Kochhar said.
Singh, who manages LOTA’s graphic elements, created LOTA’s own CGI models to bring authentic Indian representation to their visuals. The male mode, named Rajeev, happened to become South Asia’s first CGI model and influencer.
“We were also thinking of how to be more sustainable in terms of visuals,” Kochhar said. “With CGI models we avoid the carbon footprint that goes into building sets and having our models travel.”
Now in their second year, the designers have also created a LOTALAND as part of their project, one that takes the garments into a realm of visual prints and imagery.
“It’s a utopian land centered around the CGI models and our thoughts on what the future could look like,” Kochhar said. “Where walking isn’t an option, you fly around in space, the trees look more green and you can see the colors better in the sky because the problems of pollution don’t exist.”