In the Mizo language, the word ‘Vakiria’ refers to the traditional headgear of Mizo women. However today, while it’s become a household name in Mizoram, rarely does it refer to the headgear. Vakiria is arguably the state’s biggest clothing brand — an online platform that retails both western and traditional clothing for men and women.
95% of the 300-strong-staff at Vakiria comprises women: fashion designers, tailors, handloom experts and management staff. “From the day we started the brand — in 2005 — we emphasised on employing women,” says Lalsangzeli, co-founder of Vakiria, “We wanted these women to be more than simply cogs in a wheel.”
And fashion, the owners thought, enabled a different kind of empowerment. “People often said they expressed themselves through fashion, and that is true. Fashion is not just about clothes, but is also an expression of ideas, passion, personality and emotions. Our fashion designers express themselves through their work,” says Lalsangzeli. Vakiria’s most popular sell is the famous for Mizo ‘Puan’, an ethnic wraparound skirt.
She adds, “Most of Vakiria’s employees come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and are not even aware of women empowerment because they are brought up with the old adage of men being superior to women. But we want to make them believe otherwise — not everything is in a man’s hand.”
Adds Baby Lalduhawmi, “Vaikiria gave me a chance to nurture my talent and earn at the same time and helps my family back in my village.” Lalduhawmi first started her job as a seamstress at Vakiria Apparel and Garment Making Centre, a unit of Vakiria, where all its products are manufactured. Last month she was promoted to a “dress maker”.
“We first started our business venture with the name ‘Computerised Embroidery’ becoming the first brand in Mizoram to computerise embroidery apparels,” says Lalsangzeli. A higher -secondary school teacher by profession, Lalsangzeli found her niche in fashion designing and she, along with her two sisters, Laldingsangi and Lalrinpuii left their job and started Vakiria in 2005.
Soon the computerised embroidery apparel hit a chord with Mizo women. “Back then computerised embroidery work was still something new among the Mizos,” she says.
Another big catalyst for Vakiria was when they started the bridal fashion designing a few months after they launched, in addition to the computerised embroidery work. “Besides selling the wedding gowns, we also made it available for lending, which was an uncommon practice until we started,” says Laldinsangi.
However, it was not easy for the brand to pick up. “Though Mizoram is famous for being a fashion crazy state, most of the clothing brands in the state are of foreign companies and to challenge that situation with a local design brand was not an easy task,” recalls Lalsangzeli.
Vakiria started its own fashion school Vakiria Institue of Fashion Technology (VIFT) in 2010 — today it’s one year diploma course makes it one of the leading fashion institutes in the northeastern state. VIFT organises a fashion event called ‘Fashion Fusion’ where students showcase their designs — it is regarded as one of the biggest fashion shows in Mizoram.
Besides working in the bridal clothing and women’s fashion, Vakiria also recently entered the sports clothing business striking deals with most of the Mizoram Premier League clubs.
“In Mizo traditional practice, when a women wears a Vakiria, the ‘headgear’, it imbibes confidence. In the same way, when people wear our products, we want them to be more confident,” says Lalsangzeli.