Cross-Cultural Threads: Merging Traditional Craft with Modern Design

Author: Maliha Ayaz

Growing up in New York with Pakistani roots, I’ve always been fascinated by the blend of cultures that surrounds me. I’ve always looked for ways to connect with my heritage while embracing the cosmopolitan culture around me, which drew me towards the art of creating fusion textiles, a craft that merges Western styles with South Asian traditions to redefine modern fashion. My exploration of this craft led to an invaluable opportunity at Bedi, a brand where tradition meets contemporary design right in the heart of New York City. On my first day interning at Bedi, I was introduced to the challenge of reimagining “bandhani”—a traditional Indian tie-dye technique—into a modern fabric design aimed at those who cherish both Western and South Asian aesthetics. This project was part of the Spring/Summer 2024 collection named “Jawani,” inspired by iconic scenes from the Bollywood classic “Satyam Shivam Sundaram,” and the vibrant childhood memories of Alice Narang, the owner. Narang’s designs translate the film’s portrayal of femininity and power into wearable art, encapsulating the essence of being both Punjabi and American and the dream-like visuals of the movie. This collection not only celebrates feminine strength and cultural heritage but also serves as an example of the innovative spirit of fusion textiles, blending the old with the new to create something truly spectacular.

This intention reflects a larger trend in the textile industry—fusion textiles are not merely about mixing patterns and materials, but rather about intentionally weaving together centuries of tradition with contemporary design. It’s about making a place for people from all walks of life and celebrating the years of history and creativity developed by artisans and artists all around the world. As a student majoring in Textile/Surface Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, I have come to appreciate how textiles have historically served as a canvas for cultural storytelling, capturing influences from various societies and evolving with trade and migration. Today, fusion textiles continue this tradition, incorporating global design elements to create garments that are both culturally rich and fashion-forward.
While Bedi is an excellent example of an emerging New York-based brand, other labels are also making a significant impact on fusion textiles. One notable brand is Rastah, which integrates streetwear with the founders’ Pakistani heritage and American upbringing. Historically, streetwear has been a medium for bold self-expression. Originating on the streets of New York, it was closely linked with the rise of hip hop and served as a form of resistance against racial oppression. As someone who has witnessed these cultural exchanges firsthand, I find Rastah’s ethos in weaving cultural pride into its designs incredibly relevant, appealing to young people in Pakistan and American-Pakistani youth alike. The brand allows them to wear their heritage proudly, which is especially impactful given the limited representation and appreciation of South Asian cultures in mainstream arts. By creating garments that are not only wearable but also deeply meaningful, Rastah sets the stage for greater visibility and inspiration, encouraging people to celebrate their culture in their everyday lives.
Another brand that stands out in the realm of fusion textiles is Aomi, which celebrates South Asian culture through a sophisticated lens. Aomi’s motto, “Reimagining South Asian Craft and Culture,” perfectly captures their design philosophy. The brand’s approach to Pakistani art is characterized by an elegance and sensitivity that evokes a romantic and spiritual aesthetic. Aomi’s designs transcend mere trends; they strive to create pieces that build a personal connection with the wearer. Their garments are crafted to last lifetimes, each telling a rich story of cultural heritage and contemporary innovation. The last brand I’d like to highlight is Jugnu by Hussain Rehar, a label that has caught my attention with its innovative approach to integrating Western influences into traditional Pakistani designs. The brand is known for its whimsical and unique prints that, while reminiscent of Western aesthetics, are applied to Eastern silhouettes. This fusion is particularly evident in their signature shirt-skirt sets, which is more reminiscent of a Western silhouette aesthetic with Pakistani ornamental detail. What sets Jugnu apart is not only its commitment to revamping textiles but also its bold experimentation with silhouettes, reimagining traditional forms to suit modern tastes. Adding to its distinctive character is the use of a firefly brooch, an edgy element that adorns all of their bags and serves as a signature accessory.

This dual innovation is suggestive of a larger trend in the fashion industry, where the traditional boundaries between different cultural styles are increasingly blurred to create garments that are not just clothing but are representative of cultural exchange. The designs from Bedi, Rastah, Aomi, and Jugnu are indicative of this shift. They are more than just garments; they communicate, connect, and tell stories, exemplifying the transformative power of fashion. Through their work, these brands not only redefine fashion but also challenge us to reconsider our own cultural identities and the stories we choose to wear.

The writer is a South Asian designer. She is pursuing an Associates Degree in Textile Surface Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, as a Presidential and Social Justice Scholar.

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