Monday, November 02, 2015

Caring For The Less Fortunate

Fashion designer Joe Ikareth has a noble passion: he makes clothes for the physically challenged

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

It was a heart-breaking moment for Joe Ikareth. At his daughter, Tilotama's birth, ten years ago, there were complications. A network of nerves that sends signals from the spine to the shoulder, arms and hands was cut off. As a result, Tilotama has limited mobility in her arms and a partially-paralysed right arm.

But as Tilotama grew up, she proved to be an inspiration for the fashion designer. Joe began to make clothes that made it easy for Tilotama to wear. “So, I would design a dress with a larger arm area, and instead of a zip, I would use Velcro [hoop and loop fasteners] or a magnet,” says Joe.

Today, Joe is focused on making clothes for the physically challenged. He is using natural fabrics, like the Kerala handloom cloth. “I have plans to use cloth, which will not get spoilt, if a liquid falls on it,” he says. “And most of the clothes will not need ironing.”

Joe is hoping to make it economically viable for the customers. But there are difficulties in India. Most of the physically challenged, numbering 70 million, are not in the best financial situation. So, Joe will be tying up with NGOs and social service groups, so that they can subsidise the clothes.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Joe's differently-able fashion line, called the Move Ability Clothing, is gaining acceptance. He was a finalist at the Danish Business Cup, 2015, and was in the Top 25, along with his partner, Danish designer Jeanette Kaeseler Mortensen, in the ‘NORDEN-Nordic Innovation Living Challenge’ at Copenhagen. Says Jeanette: Joe has exquisite technical skill and a strong creative competence.”

In India, also, there is acceptance. The Mumbai-based marketing consultant, Suranjana Ghosh Aikara, who is an above-knee amputee, wears the clothes made by Joe. “His clothes are functional and fashionable,” says Suranjana.

Her favourite is a pair of trousers, made of indigo linen. “It looks like a skirt, and has a flexible waistband, so it is easy to wear,” she says. “Usually, there is wear and tear when you use a prosthetic leg. A jeans, after using it 15 times, tends to tear. But Joe has made two layers. So, it lasts longer.”  

Lakshmi Menon, a trustee of the Kochi-based NGO, ‘Good Karma Foundation’ describes the clothes designed by Joe, as “beautiful and elegant”.

The designer has a specific reason to make elegant clothes. “I want to help increase self-esteem, develop confidence, and also change the way people look at differently-able persons,” he says.

Apart from the differently-able, Joe is also designing uniforms for hotels, companies and hospitals. For a new hospital at Kochi, he was asked to design a uniform for nurses. So he analysed the colours that would be soothing for patients, who are housed in a building, which has large windows and plenty of light. His conclusion: light blue or salmon pink. “If you apply design and movement to an uniform it becomes very interesting,” he says.

Incidentally, Joe passed out from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, in 1996. Thereafter, he got the opportunity to work with designer Suneet Varma. Thanks to his three-year stint, Joe got an idea of how the fashion industry works.

In the initial years, it used to revolve around the wedding season, with its kurtas, pyjamas and formal clothes,” says Joe. “But now it has become a huge business. A designer needs the help of several assistants, to make the creations, and to meet deadlines.”

In 1999, Joe took the risky decision to relocate to his home town of Kottayam. But as soon as he put up his web site he began getting orders. The Cobblestone Gallery in Sussex, England, asked Joe to design clothes for plus-size people. Mohiniyattom dancer Brigitte Chataignier, of France, who has a dance studio at Shoranur, gave him a commission to make clothes for her dancers. Joe has also worked with Kalaripayattu and Kathakali artistes. “I make dresses which are a balance between the traditional and modern,” he says. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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