#HumanCourage: Ria Ana Sejpal

Humans / Human courage // posted 29-09-2021

Ria’s drive to create a more inclusive and sustainable fashion industry is palpable and extremely inspiring. With her label LilaBare she faces challenges head-on, even if she was told they are impossible to tackle. She’s a rebel at heart, a creative in mind and soul, and a true entrepreneur in business. Ria is the voice of her own movement, and unwavering in her values and beliefs. 

How did you become the person you are today?
In a professional capacity, I always knew I was a creative. From a young age, I started to explore and understand which aspects of my creativity could be put to good use within the fashion industry. I’ve seen and experienced my fair share. From working in a factory that produces world renown brands, to collaborating with seamstresses who create custom designs, to witnessing the processes in a mall and design houses in London and witnessing the glitz and glamour of Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai. All those things combined really ignited a fire in me to create Lilabare and make a positive impact in a way I wanted to see happen when I worked in all those places.

Sounds like you cherry picked the best bits of your experiences..
Well, I would say that I have been cherry picking the worst parts. I’m trying to flip them on their head. For my thesis, for instance, I studied the social impact side of fashion by trying to understand sustainability and question whether sustainability in fashion was feasible. In other words, can you be good for the environment, pay people fairly and create things that are empowering, while still gaining profit? Everyone I spoke to said; no. I looked at the reason why they didn’t think it would be feasible and decided to address those things head-on with LilaBare. My own company stands for the very thing I was told I couldn’t do.

What does LilaBare stand for?
I believe that everyone and everything should benefit from my creations. From its fruition to its eternal lifespan. Essentially, this means knowing who the farmers are who picked the cotton; the individuals who spun the fabric or dyed the fabric; what’s that dye made of; and who’s the tailor, where are they and what does their workspace look like? Passing that forward to the customer creates value. Everyone should feel liberated. We’re constantly exploring the question: What is the most beneficial impact we can have as LilaBare?

Why do you find that so important; where does that stem from?
I have seen so many injustices in the fashion industry. A well-known example is the Rana Plaza tragedy that happened in Bangladesh. There were cracks in the buildings, there no ventilation, people suffocating and being paid way less than minimum wage. They’re working seven days a week, 18 hours a day. Which is so wrong on so many levels! We have forgotten that there are people behind the clothes we wear. And since the textile and apparel industry is so big there are also so many resources and raw materials going into this industry. If we don’t take care of it, people and the environment will continue to suffer. I’m fighting to change that.

If you had unlimited resources, what would the fashion industry look like?
I would want to see a world in which each textile and apparel producing country has local productions systems. This means that China would produce mostly silk, an important part of their heritage and history. Kenya would use rain-fed organic cotton, fish skin leather and camel hair. Every single country would have their own clothing that’s fully traceable, farm to finish. So, when you go to another country, you can indulge by looking at the clothing and textiles that country is producing. Everything is natural, even the dyes and pigments come from the indigenous plants. I love to see a world where fashion is perceived as something that has a history, with a more artisanal approach.

Your designs lack labels; you can’t tell whether it’s designed for a man or woman, or what size it is. Why do you find that important?
I always felt restricted by what I could and couldn’t wear. If we’re to go to an important event there is a specific dress code. Why can my guy friend buy something, and I can’t buy the exact same thing. People always say express yourself, but at the same time stores can be so limiting. Fashion brands, society and everyone’s expectation say you can only express yourself in certain parameters. When people come to our shop and see something they like that may not fit into the constructs of society, I still encourage them to try it on. It can be so liberating.

Can you share a moment when you showed human courage?
The movement I’m creating is a courageous act. Even all the little decisions that I make, like where my studio is. We have a beautiful garden. I want my team to sit in nature. I believe everyone should be happy when they go to work. How I structure LilaBare is the courageous thing. Forgetting everything people say you can’t do is courageous. I’ve been told so many times that it can’t be done, and yet here I am.

What helps you to keep going?
The thing that keeps me going is, once you see all the crap that exists in the industry, you can’t unsee it. There is no way that I would compromise my values, I know that something must change. Even when I’m in a situation where people question me. I will always have the baseline understanding of what I want to change; that’s my purpose and drive; my fuel.

What would you tell little Ria if you could?
I would say ‘don’t let other peoples’ opinions shape your reality or perspective entirely. Take things with a grain of salt’. What I didn’t know when I was younger is that everyone comes with their own circumstances and experiences that lead them to believe things. When I was younger, I always thought that adults were right, my friends were right, and that we are to learn from others. How I operate now, I already believed in when I was younger. So, I would tell her to believe in herself.

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Because we’re moving through challenging and exciting times, we want to give some of our favourite and most inspiring people the chance to share their story; how they fight for what they believe in; and how they extend their drive to help others. We call this Human Courage.

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