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Sunday, 1 November 2015
Designer Who Can and Enables
Joe Ikareth and his daughter with clothes designed by him.
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.
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.
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.”
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
joeikareth.com. 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.