NorBlack NorWhite Refuse to be Ethnically Pigeonholed
The streetwear brand challenging diaspora representation
Sarah Ben Romdane
Whether you’ve seen turbans at Gucci, Bindis at Chanel or nose rings at Jean Paul Gauthier, it’s safe to say Indian culture has been inspiring fashion a lot over the last few decades. But in the white-dominated fashion industry, these designs are usually co-opted from the local community.
Founded by Mumbai-based, Toronto-raised Indian designers Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar, clothing label NorBlack NorWhite aim to fiercely explore and challenge notions of colonialism, representation and appropriation through style, textile and fashion. “It’s a play on Michael Jackson’s infamous ‘Black Or White’ music video”, they say before adding, “we are here to represent the diaspora, and celebrate the idea of being confident while not being from here or there”.
While neither Kapadiya nor Kumar studied fashion, both of them have developed a strong and singular appreciation for style since they were children. “It all started with our mamas and their sweet taste for sarees and shawls”, they say, referring to how NorBlack NorWhite’s DNA is intrinsically connected to their native country. And although they initially had no intention of creating a brand, NorBlack NorWhite was born out of a spontaneous trip they took to Kutch (the largest district of India), to learn more about the crafts. “It was literally born out of excitement and drive”, they say.
Speaking to the founders, it’s obvious that their label is inherently a personal project. As they note, “we have so much right here in front of us; why not work with it and create relevant stories resonating with our own journey?” And while this means paying tribute to India, NorBlack NorWhite is above all else a story about second-generation immigrants, celebrating the experiences of the children of those who moved somewhere from elsewhere. “It’s an exploration of that grey space”, they continue.
Growing up in Toronto in the 1990’s watching R&B music videos, Kapadiya and Kumar were heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Using NorBlack NorWhite to make bold political statements, the result is a subtle fusion of Indian traditional garments and retro streetwear, which has gained them the validation of Frida Gianinni, former creative director of Gucci, as well as a collaboration with Fila.
Central to the brand, is the idea of a collective. All of their fabrics come from across the country, which are then treated by their team of local artisans who hand make every piece, and then worn by local models from within their community. “Indigenous skills, stories and trades are becoming extinct by the day, so if we don’t create the space for it now, the whole world will become one big mono-cultural plastic bubble and that’s depressing”, they explain, referring to how they hope to urge diaspora kids to reclaim their identity and tell their stories the way they want to.