Aastha is a fashion designer from Mumbai, India who is committed to overhauling the gender status quo through creative expression. They identify strongly with blurring the line of the binaries that dictate our society by deconstructing and questioning the belief systems that dominate daily life.
Aastha is the sole founder of Sthala, a genderless clothing brand that continuously strives to engage in conscious and ethical practices with the eventual goal/intent of being an entirely sustainable brand.
They are also inspired by the vast spectrum of Indian handicrafts - weaving techniques, art forms as well as fabrics - and look to redefine their Indian heritage through a contemporary lens, in the hope to keep passing them on and make people proud of their roots.
Graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, Aastha has always been fascinated by the inner constructs of the mind and the motivators that drive people to live their lives. While determined to build a career as a therapist, Aastha realised that they had some introspecting to do of their own.
Having grown up in a creative environment and inspired by her mother's knack for fabrics/garments and an inherent understanding of designing, they found themselves unable to break away from their love for fashion. With that, they decided to gain an education in Fashion, in the hope of combining their passion of helping people become their authentic selves through their sense of style/clothing.
Amid the trials of learning a new craft and feeling frustrated with the prevailing constructs surrounding inclusivity, fast fashion and the warped yet widely accepted systemic practices in fashion, Aastha found the locus of their desires and goals of building a brand that would not buy into the existing norms. This new inner clarity led to the birth of Sthala.
I think making space for joy in your life is a hard-won skill, especially in light of the global landscape today. The past two years have been full of moments that made joy seem like a distant memory or a figment of my imagination. But if you really think about it, joy always comes from the simplest things. One of the ways I create joy is by looking at the world around me. For example, I love to travel and seize any opportunity to explore a new city, meet new people and try new things. One of my favourite trips was to Rajasthan, where amidst the regal palaces of Jodhpur, unending desert of Jaisalmer and sprawling streets of Pushkar, I found home.
Now, since travel isn't as simple as it was before, I often go up to my terrace to enjoy the beautiful Mumbai cityscape in the evenings, with a cup of tea and music as company. Watching the vastness of the sky, fluffy clouds and birds flying, I’ve often found peace, subsequently joy.
Unlearning to me is about releasing toxic patterns that have held me back in the past. The most significant step towards that is examining your choices and staying with the discomfort those answers bring. Unlearning through fashion and creating in general has really expedited that process for me. It's interesting how traditional Indian wear is actually quite fluid compared to modern clothing. However, today, we are all inclined to rest upon the conditioning of what "should" be considered "masculine" and "feminine", leaving a marked pause between these two extremes. Coming up as a brand, I constantly face this confusion from customers and prospective business partners. The question "can a guy wear this?" or "doesn't it look too boyish?" are not unfamiliar to me. While at first it was jarring to have these opinions colour the perceptions of my brand or even myself, now I think I'm learning to not let these structures define what is essentially ephemeral.
"It's interesting how traditional Indian wear is actually quite fluid compared to modern clothing"
When I graduated with my Bachelor's in Psychology, I was pretty dead set on helping others through their most vulnerable periods. However, I did not expect having to help myself first. Being overcome with self-doubt about the choices I made pushed me into a period of searching. I went from job to job, industry to industry, ultimately finding myself at a dead-end. I think this was when I began living with intent or choosing intentionally. I realised that if I didn't make a change to how I lived my life, I'd never become the person I wanted to become. This was the moment I finally chose to stop ignoring my instinct and began turning back to art and fashion. From there on, every decision, has been driven by what I believe is the right move for myself, both personally and professionally. So that's what choosing intentionally is to me.
Choosing what you know is right for you and following through.
They say that fortune favours the bold, but in my experience, fortune favours the willing as well. Living boldly to me is about trying. Looking back, I don't think I would have followed through on something as daunting as building a brand without being willing to confront the possibility of failure. Even today, each collection, collaboration or event stems from that source. While it hasn't always worked out the way I wanted it to, I think I am a wiser person today because of the simple act of trying.