Published: 26th October 2019
Here's how this 26-year-old designer is promoting Ladakh's traditional fabrics through her clothing label
Before opening her own studio in Ladakh, Palmo studied design at NIFT-Delhi, where she also had a brief stint with designer Sonal Verma of Rara Avis
What does fashion mean to you, is it the comfort or the style or is it both? For this 26-year-old designer from the 'Land of the Mystic Lamas', fashion is telling a story while expressing oneself in creating clothes or a garment. "Fashion means to be comfortable, my body should agree with the mind and so the comfort quotient has to be the highest," says Stanzin Palmo, whose clothing label ZilZom oozes local tradition intertwined with a pinch of modernity.
Palmo, launched her label ZilZom in 2018 and set up a flagship store in Leh. The idea behind her entire clothing label came from her hometown Ladakh. "Since I am from Ladakh and there's so much inspiration here, I felt there was so much in nature, garments, fabrics that haven't been explored yet. It was a perfect place to start," says the 26-year-old designer, who unveiled her latest collection Between the Earth and Sky at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, earlier this year.
Palmo creates her motifs digitally and then it gets printed on the fabric
Tradition is the key
Zilzom's USP is that Palmo creates her own fabric from scratch for her winter collection and for spring-summer collection it is sourced from Delhi, but then they are digitally printed with motifs designed by the designer herself. "I mostly use organic fabric such as rayon, cotton, khadi, and silk for my spring-summer collection. This year's 'Between the Earth and Sky' is inspired by the flora and fauna of Ladakh," she adds. Palmo first draws the designs or motifs in her diary and then adds a bit of a traditional touch to the design. The design is then transferred to the computer, colours are added, and finally printed on the fabric which is then sewn into the garments she creates. "For 'Between the Earth and Sky' collection, nature was my inspiration. For the flora, I used exclusive plants that grow in Ladakh along with motifs inspired by the sea buckthorn plant, apricot and apple blossoms, clouds and native birds. It shows a kind of symbiosis between the flora and fauna," she explains.
As for her winter collection, she only uses local fabric currenty. Ladakh's Pashmina that is quite famous is used to makes shawls. "I source the fibre from the Pashmina De-hairing plant of Changthang Pashmina Cooperative Society for nomads in Leh, who come and sell the Pashmina and then give it to the Zanskar Valley spinners for spinning, as they are the best and they do a fine job. Spinning of the fibre only takes place in the winters when the women are not busy. It takes them at least 7-10 days to spin 250 grams of the fibre. I work with over 20 spinners in the winter season, after which the yarn is given for weaving. As it's the raw fabric it's nicer if it's completely handmade, it gives us the authentic feel of the fabric. After the product is made it is then embellished with hand embroidery, which happens in Delhi, as there is no one to do embroidery here," she says.
Palmo also uses a wool coarser than Pashmina, Nambu, which is the fabric of Ladakh that dates back to the 12th century. This fabric is used mainly in the traditional dress known as Goncha. Palmo works with nambu to develop other garments apart from the traditional attire, she uses it to make coats, jackets and other accessories. She also uses Yak wool and camel wool which rarely available. "Their main problem is the availability. The wool is also dirty in its initial stage, mixed with grass and dirt. First, it needs to be washed and then with hand you have to card it. As the hair gets removed, they are put in the carding machine and there's a lot of wastage. For example, if you buy two kilograms of wool, half of it is waste," she says.
Braving the storms
Before opening her own studio in Ladakh, Palmo had been in New Delhi where she studied design at NIFT-Delhi, where she also had a brief stint with designer Sonal Verma of Rara Avis for her graduation project. After Palmo finished her graduation, she was called back to Ladakh for a government project of women’s skill development, in association with Looms of Ladakh. And that's where she realised the importance of Pashmina. Palmo says, "At the time, I did not know that Ladakh Pashmina fibre is the finest in the world at 12-15 microns. I was asked to train around 40-50 women artisans at Looms of Ladakh between the age group of 25-65 years. While training these artisans in the design aspect, I learnt how to manage and distribute work according to their skills and potential. They already have the skills of weaving and knitting but they don't understand the design aspect of it. During that time I got exposed to all the raw materials, taught them how to design keeping in mind all the aspects of size standardisation, quality, and more. Working with them and looking at the local fibres closely, it gave me an insight into the technicalities of the fibres and its exclusivity and importance in modern times."
Palmo's designs at the Lakme Fashion Week
However, Ladakh comes with its share of pros and cons, the major challenge being the extreme weather condition. Limited accessibility to production materials is the second difficulty that Palmo says they have to face in order to run a business there. "We have six proper working months and the rest of the year it is impossible to work unless you can afford to have a centrally heated workshop. Availability of basic stationery items for the workshop such as a variety of scissors, scales, is rare as we have a few shops but they don't have all of it. I have to go to Delhi to procure them or order them here. The transportation cost is also pretty high," she exclaims. She says that the peak season for business is the summer, approximately from March to October-November.
Despite such hardships, Palmo is not looking to move her core production to another city. "There are a lot of other multi-brand stores across cities like Pune, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi who are keen on getting my clothes on board. I also want to be functional for all 12 months and do business throughout the year. For now, I am trying to stabilise the business and then expand it. By the end of the year, I hope to be in a few stores. After that I wish to explore new techniques and styles beyond Ladakh," she concludes.