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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Designer Who Can and Enables

It was a heart-breaking moment for Joe Ikareth when his daughter Tilotama was born 10 years ago. Nerves that send signals from the spine to the shoulder, arms and hands were cut off, leaving her with limited mobility in her arms and a partially-paralysed right arm.
As Tilotama grew up, she proved to be an inspiration for her fashion designer father. Ikareth began to make clothes that she could wear easily. “I would design a dress with a larger arm area, and instead of a zip, I would use Velcro or a magnet,” says the 41-year-old.

Today, he is focused on making clothes for the physically challenged. He uses natural fabrics, like the Kerala handloom. “I plan to use material that will not get stained by liquid and will not need ironing,” he says.

Ikareth hopes to make the clothes economically viable for customers, but most of the 70 million physically challenged people in India are not well off. Hence, he will be tying up with NGOs and social service groups so that they can subsidise the garments. Clothes in the ‘Joe Ikareth’ label range from `2,750 to `9,500.

His differently-abled fashion line Move Ability Clothing is also gaining popularity in Europe. He was a finalist at the Danish Business Cup 2015, and in the top 25 at the NORDEN-Nordic Innovation Living Challenge at Copenhagen with his Danish partner Jeanette Kaeseler Mortensen. “Joe has exquisite technical skill and a strong creative competence,” says Mortensen.

Lakshmi Menon, a trustee of Kochi-based NGO Good Karma Foundation, calls Ikareth’s clothes “beautiful and elegant”. Mumbai-based marketing consultant Suranjana Ghosh Aikara, an above-knee amputee, says “clothes designed by him are functional and fashionable”. Her favourite is a pair of linen trousers. “It looks like a skirt, has a flexible waistband and is easy to wear,” she says. “Usually, there is wear and tear on clothes when you use a prosthetic leg. Jeans tear after wearing them about 15 times, but Joe has made two layers in the trousers, so it lasts longer.”

The designer wants “to help increase self-esteem and confidence of differently-abled people and change the way people perceive them,” he says. He is also designing uniforms for employees of hotels, hospitals and companies. For staffers of a new hospital in Kochi, Ikareth designed uniforms for nurses in colours that would be soothing for patients. “If you apply design and movement to a uniform, it becomes very interesting,” he says.

Ikareth graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, in 1996. Thereafter, he worked with designer Suneet Varma for three years. “In the initial years, it used to revolve around the wedding season, with its kurtas, pyjamas and formal clothes,” he says. “Now it has become a huge business. A designer needs several assistants to make his creations and to meet deadlines.”

In 1999, Ikareth returned to his hometown Kottayam. He began getting orders right after he created his website The Cobblestone Gallery in Sussex, England, asked him to design clothes for plus-size people. Mohiniyattom danseuse Brigitte Chataignier of France, who has a dance studio in Shoranur in Kerala, asked him to make clothes for her troupe.

Ikareth has also worked with Kalaripayattu and Kathakali artistes. “I make dresses which are a balance between the traditional and modern,” he says.

Source: The New Indian Express , 31st Oct 2015

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