Tshering Lhamu Lepcha alias Tshela, the 30-year-old daughter of Phurden and Pemkit Lepcha of Khamdong in East Sikkim holds a master’s degree in Sociology and Library Sciences and is currently employed as Assistant Librarian in the office of Election Commission of India. Tshering holds no formal degree or training in fashion designing but her interest and passion in fashion and the urge to experiment with cloth design has made her an ethnic costume designer with her boutique ‘Tshela’s Traditional One-Stop’ at Gangtok, Sikkim.
ETChronicle interacted with Tshering and tried to delve into her passion for fashion designing particularly ethnic wear designing and her venture. Tshering, shares about her journey so far and her future aspirations.
It was in November 2012, when Tshering presented her first designed two pieces ‘dhumdhem’ the traditional Lepcha dress for women and the other two designs at the Himalayan Ethnic Lepcha Fashion Event (HELFE)at Gangtok. She was among the 20 or so designers who participated in the event and showcased the designs which were highly applauded and liked by everyone.
“The HELFE was a great platform for me to showcase my design which left a very good impression on people that Lepcha costumes need not be just regularly traditional with monotonous designs and fabrics but it can also be interpreted with modern or contemporary aesthetics yet with the traditional essence and ethos”, she added.
Though she was passionate about fashion and experimentation with cloth design, fashion designing was something she loved but she wasn’t serious enough to take it up as a professional venture until she participated in the HELFE. She started designing and retailing her designs equipped with simply a sewing machine and a tailor in a small space in January 2013.
“Social media has played a vital role in promoting my designs and of course, business. Initially, it was through the Facebook page of mine where I shared about my designs, answered queries and also took orders. It was a huge platform which boosted up this venture of mine and helped me in spreading the word. Thereby, I started getting many good orders for weddings, festivals, school functions and for various formal office wear” said Tshering.
In, February 2013 she again participated in the second season of Himalayan Lepcha Fashion Event in Kolkata, where she was one of the five designers who showcased their designs. Her designs received much appreciation and applaud in the event. The event provided her with the exposure to other unique works of the other designers but she availed an opportunity to meet renewed designers like Dev/Nil from Kolkata and Rohit Verma from Mumbai.
Thereafter, Tshering received many orders gradually but it was very difficult to meet up with the demands. She then shifted from a tiny space she was working from to a bigger boutique. With time, she was successful in opening up a ‘Tshela’s Traditional One-Stop’ at Gangtok with the support staff of two tailors, two embroidery craftsmen, and a manager.
The name ‘Tshela’ was a name given to me by the models of the HELFE as they found my name quite long and later I adopted the name for my ethnic dress boutique. “Tshela’s Traditional One Stop is my dream of bringing people professionally designed Himalayan ethnic attires. These days we hardly see any people around wearing any ethnic dresses unless it is a religious event, marriages or cultural extravaganzas.”
Maybe because people feel that the ethnic dresses have not evolved in anyways or the dresses have no variations or are always a regular one or very limited in terms of style and fabrics. Thus, Tshela’s One Stop hopes to change that – we want to bring in vibrant variables of our ethnic wear but without diluting their traditional flavour. We want to show that ethnic attires can be worn not only on special occasions but as everyday wear too! This would also give the wearer a sense of pride and belonging to her/his heritage, said Tshering. Today, Tshering designs ethnic wears of both men and women and of every ethnic group of Sikkim.
Tshering often travels in searching and shopping for fine quality fabrics and also spends much time on research market trends and prices for a good deal so that she can provide the best deal and products to her customers.
Maybe because of her hard work and dedication to give best to her customers, she has been gaining customers not only from Sikkim but also from other parts of the country. Her clothes are a complete blend of modernity with traditional yet much elegant and affordable.
She doesn’t have any particular source to draw the inspiration for her design, she starts up designing and conceptualising abt the new designs whenever she sees anything unique or inspiring around. During the day she works as a regular public sector employee and the evening mostly she engages herself in her boutique with her favourite ethnic wear on.
Apart from being a full-time librarian and an ethnic wear designer, she is also a social worker. She has been regularly getting engaged in various social initiatives. After her office hours, she gets busy handling her clients in her boutique and in her most free time she participates and assists in various social events of Sikkim Lepcha Association.
Today, Tshering is emerging as one of the successful woman entrepreneurs in Sikkim but more of that she is turning to be a role model in the state. With her unique creations and designs, she has been reviving the ethnic fashion in Sikkim and making one realise the value and importance of one’s tradition and ethnicity. She is an inspiration to many today.
(The author can be contacted at: email@example.com)