Advance Copy

Embodying All Parts of Self With Priyanka Kaul

27.01.21, Australia

This conversation is available to enjoy on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Founded in 2017, Badaam embodies Priyanka Kaul’s multi-faceted character and her wide-reaching interests. Growing up in Australia, Priyanka absorbed western and Indian cultures nurturing both through her work with Badaam. The brand’s collections of small-batch, seasonless garments are presented using different mediums illustrating tradition and heritage in exciting new contexts.

We talk about juggling two careers, the long-awaited rise of multi-cultural fashion designers and India’s unmatched knowledge of natural fabrics.

Advance Copy: I’d love to hear about your life experiences before Badaam, there seems to be a mystery about your life before starting the brand.   

Priyanka: I came to Australia when I was a year old and I had chances to travel between India and Australia quite frequently. What I always found in India was that the sites, the visuals, the amount of colour, the noise, the atmosphere, the movement is so different from anywhere that I’ve been to. I’ve always wanted to feel that connection to India because every time I left I felt a kind of gap in myself. The way that I would connect with India would be through what I eat, what I wear, what I watch and how I act. I grew up in an Indian family in Australia in the Sydney suburbs, the culture itself is embedded in me and my family.

I’ve always dabbled in art and graphic design and I knew that one day I would be in a creative field. But a lot of Asian families have the perspective that you need to support yourself in your finances, have a well-paid job and have a good lifestyle. You have the choices of being a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer and I took the engineering path, studying engineering and IT. I worked in IT but after five years of working in that industry, I felt it was time for a change so I left my job and decided to study fashion design. I moved into fashion because I wanted to work in a more tangible space, somewhere where I could touch and feel the product that I was creating. I’m not sure if it’s true for every single school in Australia, but what I’ve found was that what we were being taught was runway-led. It didn’t align with what I wanted to do. I was more interested in my culture, background and handloom. I was interested in natural fabrics because I was brought up to love Saris, the silhouette is important in a Sari but so is the textile. My passion was in that combination of textile, handloom and fashion. After three years I decided that I wasn’t going to learn what I wanted to learn from my degree, so I left to start Badaam.

“I am producing something that’s a combination of my two cultures.”

AC: I get the feeling that you had a very strong vision of what you wanted the brand to embody and that being out of standard industry parameters.

Priyanka: Yes definitely. I think I was lucky to have a graphic design background because I could put on a page what I wanted my brand to look and feel like. You’re completely right that I had a really strong sense of the vision which helped to speed up the process. When you know what you want it’s easier to source accordingly. It took a few years before I could set up Badaam. I studied fashion business on the side and I knew that you had to do a lot of preparation like setting up a business plan, knowing who your target market was and how to find your capital. It took a lot of time finding the right people to design what I wanted to design. I’ve found all of those resources and launched into producing my first collection. We took the photography in Melbourne and that’s when I felt like I had something, something that’s quite different. It’s such a good feeling when it comes to fruition because it’s not a dream anymore: I am producing something that’s a combination of my two cultures.  hen there is another hard part which is how do you get this product out there? I had to get savvy with that but Instagram was starting to be a big thing and people could see what was going on in my brand and my vision. I was lucky to have people approach me to source my garments for magazines and I think that opened doors for me. It takes a long time to get to where you need to get to but you have to be that passionate and have that willpower.

“I don’t align myself to fashion cycles when I’m mentally and physically ready to produce something then I do it.”

AC: I love your business acumen and your ability to be both creative and strategic, always coming back to ‘how do I make this work?’

Priyanka: There is a choice that you have to make at some point: do you want your hobby to become a business? I’m still grappling with that idea, I still work as a service designer and help to design apps and services for big tech companies. The reason that I do this is that yes, I do have a sustainable income but also because I have two sides of the brain that I like to nourish. One is the problem solving, logical side of me and the other is the creative freedom. I think it’s common these days to have side hustles because people have realised that to nourish themselves they need more than just one avenue.

AC: What would you say are the key elements of making a brand work in this part strategic, part intuitive way?

Priyanka: I’ve come to like the concept of satellite teams and freelancers. Because people chose to work with you according to the type of project, they can choose whether or not it’s something they want to spend their time on and to add to their portfolio. I believe that it should feel like a collaboration most of the time. Those ad-hoc collaborations work for me and my lifestyle because I don’t align myself to fashion cycles when I’m mentally and physically ready to produce something then I do it. A lot of the time it’s an idea that pops into my mind and I just have to get it out on the paper and see my vision come through. That’s when I know it’s going to be a good one when I haven’t rushed it or forced myself to produce something. I love the organic nature of where I am now.

“Badaam is aiming to find a meeting point between western silhouette and Indian textile.”

AC: Your collections and materials are produced in India: when working at a distance – how do you know when you’ve found the right artisan or the right producer? When does that relationship feel right for you and Badaam?  

Priyanka: With Covid, it’s hard to have those physical check-ins before I could travel to India and meet the manufacturers before launching a collection. In terms of the fabrics that I use, I wouldn’t say what I chose is common in India and people notice this straight away. India is a huge market for sustainable fabrics so the quality of textiles is so high. The people on the streets talk about thread counts in their Saris or they can identify who is wearing what type of Sari and what kind of fabric it is, that’s inbred in the culture. There is that level of trust with artisans that you are going to produce beautiful silk and cotton. They are the textile haven of the world. But usually where the quality starts to change is either in the embroidery or in the way that things are sewn together. I think it’s hard sometimes to find a pattern-maker who aligns with fusion patterns. That technical skill and production side of the market is hard to find because they are used to a Tailor model. I’ve been lucky in finding master tailors and manufacturers that have that down packed.

Whenever I design something I always ask if it’s all parts of me.”

AC: Your work combines elements of tradition, modernism and cultural heritage. How do you combine this richness with minimalism? How and where do you think these two worlds meet? 

Priyanka: That is the problem that Badaam is aiming to solve, it’s trying to find a meeting point between western silhouette and Indian textile. A part of it is quite whimsical and nostalgic and I would say that Badaam is an extension of myself and what I am interested in. I am this person: I have been brought up with western silhouettes and minimalism but I’ve also been brought up with colourful textiles, rich embroidery and silks. What I love is any era that is not the current era. A lot of my interests are infused into that as well and I’m careful about how I come to that conclusion and how I design every collection because I’m trying to represent all parts of myself in one garment. Whenever I design something and look at it on a piece of paper I always ask if it’s all parts of me. That’s my checking process – does it cover the western part of me and the Indian part of me? Does it bring back that excitement of old Indian cinema? That’s my favourite part of the process: bringing that vision to light.

Recently some work in Japan has influenced my collections and I’ve introduced a new culture into my hemisphere. The silhouettes that come with Japanese culture, the common ground between Japan and India is not explored so I decided to explore and see what a Sari wrapped in a Kimono would look like. I love exploring the different facets of my interests. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t but people love seeing an amalgamation of ideas in one product. 

“It’s nice to see people bring to light their culture through garments.”

AC: Designers and brand owners are often demotivated from exploring their cultural backgrounds, there is a feeling of unease about heritage, traditions and personal experiences as the overarching global aesthetic doesn’t approve of differences. As a growing independent brand, what excites you about fashion right now?  

Priyanka: I think two things. One is migrant designers, there’s been a sudden rise in designers that have come from their home towns and have settled in western cities and started doing fashion. It’s nice to see people bring to light their culture through garments. Instead of seeing brands appropriate cultures, we’re seeing people who are from a particular part of the world that let their community be heard through their work. It’s nice to be inspired by other designers that are trying to do what I’m doing. You feel a sense of connection and don’t feel so lonely. But also you see what is possible without appropriating. The pieces that I have seen recently have blown me away and I wish we had started this a long time ago because things like embroidery, symbols or the way something is draped – all of those aspects of a garment are only really shared between families, traditions or communities. They are passed down. I love that story aspect and that connection to the garment.

The other thing that I’ve started to look to is the connection between storytelling and fashion. Social media has definitely opened the doors to fashion no longer being a lone medium it’s usually combined with film, architecture or AI and people using bots to design fashion. It’s interesting where that kind of combination of mediums into one is taking us. It doesn’t have to be a garment that you are looking to design, it can be an object, a book or not even a product but a conversation. Whatever that is it is now fashion.