London menswear designer Priya Ahluwalia is on a mission to make upcycled clothing cool

In her studio, which was once was a bedroom in her Mum’s house, Priya Ahluwalia is designing menswear clothes for the next generation.

They’re a generation woke enough to comprehend the colossal impact of their carbon footprint (11 million garments end up in landfill each week) and open to wearing clothes that weren’t necessarily designed for the gender they were assigned at birth.

In short, 26-year-old Ahluwalia is tearing up the rule book, and re-writing it with her line, Ahluwalia Studios.

After winning this year’s H&M Design Award – previous recipients include fashion’s man of the moment, Richard Quinn – Ahluwalia has seen her star rapidly ascend via her designs, which all pay homage to her maternal Grandfather’s favoured tailored silhouettes.

Priya accepting the H&M Design Award (H&M)

The University of Westminster graduate’s interests “definitely lay primarily with menswear traditions,” (she was enrolled in one of the first years of the Menswear MA) but in an age where boundaries between menswear and womenswear categories have become increasingly blurred, she’s moved to designing with an almost genderless focus.

“I gravitate towards looking at archival menswear garments and old menswear traditions whilst I research but I definitely don’t design with the idea that only men can wear my clothes,” she explains.

Ahluwalia Studio presentation at Arise Fashion Week in Lagos, April 2019 (Ahluwalia Studios)

Ahluwalia’s heritage has a large part to play in her laser-sharp eco lens – her collections are crafted exclusively from vintage and deadstock fabrics.

After trips to her mother and father’s native Lagos and India in 2017 (she’s half Nigerian, half Indian), the Southwest London-born designer noted the surplus discarded garments – Panipat, where her maternal Grandmother lives has been described as the global capital of second-hand clothes – which cemented her resolve to make pieces comprised solely of recycled material.

Designing a coherent collection requires commonality to underpin the pieces. Doesn’t that make it challenging to have vowed to only use vintage fabrics, I wonder?

“It takes a lot of time and research but I have started to build up a network of vintage and deadstock garment suppliers across the UK. It means I travel around a lot, visiting different warehouses. It’s actually quite nice because it means that I’ve seen more of the UK. I also contact mills and fabric suppliers and enquire about whether they have any dead stock materials and go from there,” she describes.

An image from Ahluwalia’s photography book, Sweet Lassi, which was taken by her to highlight the plight of discarded garments, on her 2017 trip to Panipat, India (Priya Ahluwalia )

Community and people’s stories are her two key inspirations, with Goldhawk Road, Columbia Road Flower Market and Brixton among her favourite haunts to “just people watch and look at nik naks in shops.”

For Gen Z, whose coming-of-age has coincided with the ascent of social media, and subsequently the increased prominence of fast-fashion brands, Ahluwalia Studios provides the perfect antidote.

Priya has racked up some major street credit points: she was tapped by Pharrell to re-design adidas’s signature SC Supercourt (the shoes were used as part of a Paris Fashion Week show which David Beckham, Jonah Hill, and Pharrell sat front row for), and has also shown her work at Arise Fashion Week, the fashion event which has well and truly placed Lagos, and Nigeria, on the map. 

So with such a buzz around her and Ahluwalia Studios, what’s next? “For now I’m really enjoying developing the business and enjoying all the new experiences that it has given me. I would like to continue to grow in a sustainable way and continue to give back to communities around London and the globe.”


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