Desi Hip-Hop Just Got the Apparel It Didn’t Know It Needed

Jayeta Rohilla's handsfree 'ghunghat hoodies' are a boon to fashion-forward women.
June 20, 2018, 6:30am
Gunghat Hoodie. Image: Eleanor Ysabelle and Andrea Deardré

In 10th grade, while on holiday in India, Jayeta Rohilla bought a lot of chunni fabric went back to Sweden, got high on Rammstein and chocolate and made corsets and Victorian outfits out of it. The 28-year-old founder of Mae, an indie clothing label, does “the whole fucking thing—conceptualising, designing, and marketing.” She’s only been at it for four years but already counts Prabh Deep, Raja Kumari and Divine among her fans. Which makes sense—her style, is distinctively Indian overlaid onto hiphop in a way that doesn't involve brown kids saying the n-word.

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The first thing I noticed when we met was her unusual accent. Rohilla is from Haryana, but born in Gujarat and lived in Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sweden, and China before moving back to Delhi ("Ikea family" she explains glibly.) The second is her nervousness, which didn't abate till after a mojito.

VICE: You seem nervous. I promise these things are painless.
Jayeta Rohilla: I know, it’s just, some of these interviews have gone weird and I just prefer to talk through my clothes.

Weird in what way?
My thoughts about the development of Haryana. The BBC asked me who hits on me the most, men or women, or who stares at me the most.

Rohilla feels her clothes are for people who miss home or the idea of it. Image: Vivek Gopal

What?
I’ve been recording these stares [on my phone].

That's… one way to deal with them I suppose.
I walk by and people are sometimes staring, and so I started taking pictures of them. I put them on my IG stories. I don't mind. We’re a curious people and we’re a little more aggressive on the stare.

I just noticed you have two different earrings on.
Yeah, well I have two ears.

What’s the inspiration behind your label?
It’s for Indians majorly, so it’s designed keeping the heat in mind. It’s my perspective of India, a reminder of home when you’re in another place.

The idea for the Ghunghat Hoodie [Mae's bestselling item] came when I was in Haryana and I saw this lady struggling to make tea while balancing two babies on her lap and constantly adjusting her ghunghat. I thought if this is what you want to wear, then why can’t it be easier? Clothes need to make life easy.

I wanted to make something for all the Haryanvi women that worked in the fields, smoked, did whatever they wanted—taking no shit from anyone. This was the Haryana I grew up in.

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These are the kind of clothes I wish I had when I was the only brown girl in a Swedish town. It’s fashion but it does stand out a lot.

Does your design draw from Western ideals?
It’s a mix. Indian textiles, Indian style over western silhouettes. People have said “Hindustan nahi badlegi” [sic] but I feel it is.

People are so ashamed of our clothes, of wearing salwar kameez, and why should we? People have written in saying, their mothers wanted them to wear a ghunghat so they wore the hoodie, or they wanted our clothes for their wedding. It’s the difference between owning your shit and being ashamed of your shit.

And are people taking to it?
Not really. People in Delhi are really into fancy labels and I’ve really tried and tried and it only does well outside. I’ve been to exhibitions and stuff and we do really well at Magnetic Fields, but…

As a small label you can’t cater to everyone. This is the gap I’m catering to. It’s hiphop. It's Hindustani. It’s got pockets. You can ride your Scooty in it. It’s danceable. It’s something you can do your shit in.

The point of a gunghat is to take away women's identity so they don't get teased or judged by what caste they are from. The ghunghat hoodie is identity. Why is it that the men can walk around in their pyjamas with no shirt on, and women have to wear a ghungat? Men can wear this too.

Image: Anmol Singh

Have you run into people wearing your stuff?
Not in India, and I haven’t run into people, but one time this lady on the metro heard me talking about Mae and she said she’d heard of us, so that was pretty cool.

Fashion is very gendered, how has your experience been?
Fashion in India is very male-oriented. Especially couture and bridal stuff.

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I have tailors who refuse to work with a female masterji. There are challenges like that. I started wearing a red bindi because it gave the impression I was married, and then they thought I meant business.

"It’s the difference between owning your shit and being ashamed of your shit."

People would also fuck with what I envisioned. They’d say “Suits and lehengas work, this doesn’t,” and cut them in ways I didn’t want. Delhi is a place you have to hustle, you have to have a thick skin to survive. You really have to stand your ground here.

Isn’t there something you forgot to mention?
Oh yeah, you’re going to see my clothes in Gully Boy soon, 2019 February. Divine wants me to design a look for him.

Marketing really isn’t your thing is it?
[Laughs] No.

Follow Vivek Gopal on Twitter.