We spoke to Shilpa, Creative Director and Founder of House of Bilimoria about her ancestral roots in tailoring and how she ‘luxcycles’ South Asian textiles
What is your ethnic and professional background?
I am Indian, my mother was born in Kisumu Kenya, my father in Mumbai. My grandparents were all born in Gujarat. I have a BA (hons) in Design for Fashion & Textiles and have worked in the fashion industry for the last 15 years.
What is House of Bilmoria, how did it come about and what are your main values as a business?
House of Bilimoria was born from the gifts my ancestors have bestowed upon me – the craft of tailoring and making clothing. I was dissatisfied working within the fashion industry as a high street retailer when I first graduated. I came to very quickly discover that it had none of the energy, or substance that I felt designing and creating should be about. With that in mind, and being pregnant with my first child, I decided to take it into my own hands and start my label.
The values of my label would be all the things I didn’t find in that first job: ethics, sustainability, culture, community and circularity. More detail can be found here.
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?
My inspiration was and will always be my elders, my grandparents, my ancestors. I was so proud of what they did for a living, I was so proud that I had these skills embedded inside me and that they only needed to be ‘switched on’ in a sense.
The story I always come back to is when I was first gifted a toy sewing machine, I must have been about 8 years old and so excited! I quickly went to use it, but was so frustrated, that it wasn’t actually stitching. It had a needle, foot pedal, and was battery operated. What was going wrong? I took the machine to my Dada (grandfather), and he looked at it, and said to me “Shilpa, there’s no bobbin.” I was so disappointed. I can remember the shock, and being so stunned at how quickly he knew why it wasn’t working. He explained what the bobbin’s job was and I understood, and swiftly went on to use the actual sewing machine my Mom had – no more toys! I love this story because it was my first glimpse into the real technical side of sewing and the craft. I knew then I would need to know all of the parts of the machine and how it all worked. You could call it the moment that the penny dropped.
Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?
I did. I had people in my immediate family that were not supportive of it at all, that this was ‘going backwards’. If I really wanted to make any money and be stable I should be an accountant. That negativity was and has been one of the toughest things to navigate through, as all you really need and want in life is to be supported and believed in by those that are the closest to you. With the burden of failure already implanted into my mind, it had become a barrier to starting with the strength and belief in myself that would have been a great gift. But on the flip side, it made me even more determined. I would do this, and I’d do it with all the ideas they had which were so wrong about the industry in the first place.
Alongside that, I must give total credit to my Mom and some of my extended family who have actually been nothing but supportive. I mean my Mama & Mami (uncle and aunty) were the ones that gifted me the toy sewing machine in the first place. I have many that are so proud and happy to see that this craft and legacy is continuing. This is how and what I use to overcome the negative aspects; being very in touch and in tune with my why – which is continuing my ancestors legacy, and that over any opinion wins, always.
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?
There are lots of things that I have changed and continue to do so slowly. It is not an overnight thing. I consciously choose our detergents, soaps, and cleaning products to ensure they are not harmful to the environment. I have grown up wearing and loving hand me downs, so this is something that has continued in my own home. My girls wear clothes that have been passed down to them, and even more special that they have also grown up wearing the very dresses I had worn, that were made for me by my grandparents. We don’t own a car and use public transportation. I also have a lot of second hand items of furniture in our home! Before I look at new things, I always check if I can source second hand items.
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?
I don’t feel it is a stigma, I think it is more the lack of understanding, alongside a cultural and societal success benchmark which is very materialistic. If we look intrinsically at many of the habitual practices we have at home and have grown up with, they are things like saving the empty yogurt container to use for leftovers. I am sure there are homes that have cupboards full of these ready to reuse. I am sure that before this boom of fast fashion, many have also grown up wearing hand me downs too.
It doesn’t take much to see that the products we consume are and have been made with the lives of our own communities and people on the line. Once this connection is made, I believe that it would be hard to look at things without thinking about them.
The South Asian community is very fixated on the idea of what ‘success’ outwardly looks like and maintaining that picture to the world. This though is an outcome of what the generations before us have been through, it’s something that I am beginning to unravel for myself. I believe that it’s once this work is shared and done, that our communities can look at starting to break into these cycles, which will in turn have an impact on how they live their day to day lives and becoming present to the issue of climate change and what it is a bi-product of.
Do you find such lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging?
Short answer YES! Educating our audience is 75% of the work, but I am happy to do this, and it is what I am passionate about so… I also see it as a challenge that I am ready to be up against.
What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?
Choose and start with ONE thing that is important to you, ethics, animals, air, water… Start with that and see what you can do to live in line with ensuring that you approach life and purchases being conscious of that. Once you have got one working well, add another. You will often find that with one, others come automatically too. It’s a win win!
Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?
I lost my older sister at a very young age. She used to talk a lot about the environment, about not being wasteful, I can remember brushing our teeth. She would always tell us to stop running the water in between – it’s wasting. To cut up all the plastic rings the cans of soda used to come in back then because they would end up strangling birds…
In many ways she was a spirit that was here well before her time (this was in the early 90’s), and she left me messages that I can live through and by everyday.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I love to share, exchange ideas and collaborate with like minded people! Don’t hesitate to contact me or DM!
You can find out more about Shilpa and follow her journey here: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linktree