An inside story
Australian designer Julie Lantry is introducing innerwear created using natural fibre and treated with Ayurvedic herbs, says Sarbani Sen
It’s an idea that might sound a bit bizarre at first glance. But Australian fashion designer Julie Lantry figures it makes great sense to create innerwear with an Ayurvedic touch.
And how do you put the two together: The innerwear’s designed with natural fibres that have been treated with Ayurvedic herbs — tulsi, neem and aloe vera — during the manufacturing process. And yes, Lantry, who is based in North Queensland, manufactures her collections right here in India.
Lantry reckons she’s ahead of her curve with her innerwear line. The intimates market is slowly changing, she says, and women are going for the super-comfort of high-waisted knickers. “Women are waking up to the concept, though currently it’s a niche market,” says Lantry who travels to India at least twice a year to supervise manufacturing. At other times she coordinates with her team in India over Skype.
Her brand Ayurvedic Lingerie she says is a “good marriage” between natural dyes and comfortable lingerie. “I wanted to create ‘healthier’ underwear. And whether you believe in the healing properties of Ayurvedic products or not, they are completely natural and are better for the skin as compared to anything else,” she says.
From classic sleepwear like scoop- neck tank tops with lace prints to cotton camisoles, Soulmate Intimates offers a wide range of products. Also available are cotton panties with Lantry’s signature hearts print on them as well as underwire-free bras.
Lantry, a well-established Australian designer with celebrity clients including actors Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette, was introduced to India in 2001 by her British designer friend Nick Groom. Ever since then, she’s been visiting the country at least three times a year to explore trade fairs and to connect with artisans in a bid to understand the textile market here. Her sojourns in Kerala left her very impressed by the manner in which Ayurveda seemed to be entrenched in different aspects of people’s lives. She began researching on how Ayurveda could be ‘incorporated’ into her own fashion lines.
She was also determined to work with natural dyes after a close friend suffering from cancer began having trouble with chemical dyes used in clothes.
Lantry spent three years researching on Ayurvedic dyes. “It was all about reading books and journals to understand the techniques used to create them,” Lantry says.
The next step was to identify places where organic cotton farming was carried out, after which she located a factory for manufacturing and zeroed in on artisans with an understanding of Ayurvedic dyes.
A year ago, she launched Soulmate Intimates with a capital of Australian Dollars (AUD) 50,000 (around Rs 25 lakh) and its turnover today stands at AUD 500,000 (Rs 2.5 crore approximately).
Lantry’s creations start their journey at an organic cotton farm in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu. Once the cotton is loomed into fabric, it’s soaked in soap nuts (natural cleaner) followed by an Ayurvedic dyeing process which uses natural dyes like Indian Madder and natural indigo. “Indian Madder has properties to heal skin allergies while natural indigo is an anti-oxidant,” she says. Then the fabric is softened by Ayurvedic herbs such as tulsi, neem and aloe vera and dipped in natural minerals and salts.
Once the basic fabric is cut and stitched in Bangalore, it’s ready for embellishments like hand-block print designs. Traditional artisans from Bengal execute delicate threadwork with the occasional use of sequins and beads on the garments at Studio Calantha, Bangalore. “The idea is not to add too many embellishments but just a bit of detailing,” says Sudhir Swain, Studio Calantha’s design director who works with the label.
Lantry has also tied up with Tharangini Studios, Bangalore, where hand-carved teakwood blocks are used for printing. “The key ingredient in a natural dye is gum arabic that’s derived from the Babool tree,” says Padmini Govind of Tharangini.
Packaging with recycled material is done in Delhi and the products are then shipped to Australia. Sold online through her website, soulmateintimates.com.au, Soulmate Intimates is available in Australia and the UK currently. The price range for bra and knickers starts from AUD 22 and goes up to AUD 49.
Every month, 500 units of garments are shipped to Australia. But it’s no walk in the park for Lantry. “The biggest challenge is meeting deadlines. When you are working with traditional artisans, you have to allow a longer time-frame as the process is slow.
Another is maintaining the quality of products which we can’t compromise on,” Lantry smiles.
Lantry also organises textile tours for students of the University of Technology, Sydney. They come to India
to attend classes in embroidery and block-printing with local artisans.
Lantry now plans to design a children’s line soon. Clearly, her love affair with Ayurveda will only continue.