The Healing Seed: Oshadi Collective Is The Brand Balancing Nature With Fashion

Virakh the farmer is a little bemused, but he’s also quite enjoying the attention. Suzanne Clements, painter, former fashion designer, and – for today – creative director on the Oshadi Collective shoot says he has Keith Richards vibes, and he is gamely going along for the ride in the madder-red shirt dress and indigo blue blouson jacket.

The Ace & Tate sunglasses are mine. The medallion hanging around his neck features Hanuman, a Hindu figure of strength, perseverance and devotion. The beaded necklace, made with dried seeds of the Elaeocarpus ganitrus tree, is “model’s own”. Perseverance is an underrated virtue. A wry smile sneaks under Virakh’s perfectly trimmed moustache.

It’s February and we are on a farm outside Erode in in laid-back, sunny Tamil Nadu in the southern part of India. It is run by Oshadi Collective, a seed-to-sew fashion brand that is pursuing a better way to produce clothes. There are coconuts being cut and straws miraculously rolled out of palm leaves. They are poked into the coconuts and the water within is deliciously cool in the heat of the day. No plastic here. It’s only February and the temperature is in the thirties. The cotton that was harvested yesterday is piled up on tarpaulins drying in the hot sun, ready to be spun.

Nature’s bounty is everywhere here. There are armfuls of flowers growing for the bees and insects to feast on. There is sesame growing in the fields. I’d never seen a sesame plant before and, if you open one of the pods, there are the tiniest seeds inside, like miniature peas, so perfectly lined up it makes you wonder how nature can be so precise. Also grown in rotation is black gram and chana dal, which will be harvested and made into the daily evening “protein snack” and delivered to the farmers, the ladies who pick the cotton, tailors, pattern-cutters and the whole team at the end of each day. Baskran and Sujata, the couple who make the daily snacks, also deliver our “studio” lunch, which arrives in huge tins and is served on banana leaves. At Oshadi Collective, everything – and everyone – is considered and everything happens for a reason.

Oshadi translates from Sanskrit to “essence of nature” or “healing plant”. So it makes sense that the colour palette is from native plants that reflect the local luscious flora and fauna: shades of golden saffron, warm madder red, vibrant pomegranate, natural indigo, all from plants, as well as mineral pigments from earthy shades of red clay, raw umber and yellow ochre.

The photographer Manou, who is usually found taking pictures of people he sees in the streets or fields between Dharamshala and the utopian village of Auroville, is keen to make the most of the farm’s flora and fauna as well as the natural style of the collective’s farmers and the atelier team. After all, this is where the cotton for the new Oshadi seed-to-sew collection was grown. These are clothes that are rooted in this warm earth. Everything is grown, spun, woven and stitched within a short distance of this farm and the other 60 small holdings in rural Southern India. Over the past few years, Nishanth Chopra has been gathering and converting these places to regenerative farming practices, by which he means that the soil is left in better health after each crop. The balance of nature is carefully attended to, to encourage biodiversity and protect the health of the soil and the carbon stored within it. Forget next season’s drop. At Oshadi, it’s all about the next crop.


The models have arrived on set: Bharath came last night from Auroville and Anugraha took the night bus from Pondicherry but looks as fresh as a hibiscus flower. The clothes arrived first thing this morning on the back of an open truck, quite a sight on the country roads, and rolled off the rails, ready to be worn. There are still some last-minute pieces being made back at the atelier, ikat-weave quilted jackets being stitched in immaculate straight lines by expert machinists, buttons being covered in matching fabric and some 11th-hour accessories. One is an oversized pink hat, while another is a capacious quilted bag that’s hand-block printed. It was whizzed over to the farm on the back of a scooter just in time to make the shoot.

I had arrived in Erode a few days earlier after a seven-hour drive south from Bengaluru (Bangalore) with Clements, who was here instead of her husband Inacio Ribeiro, who had consulted on the shapes, silhouettes, fabrics and prints for the collection. He wasn’t able to be in India to see this collection come to life from the calico toiles he had sent back to Chopra with his instructions for the pattern-makers to follow. In only a few hot days, overseen by the meticulous and brilliant production manager Sabitha, with Clements on hand to add in a pair of baggy-bottomed trousers here, an oversized dress there, the toiles were transformed into a collection that was ready to be photographed for a lookbook and editorial shoot.

Having worked with Chopra since he started his business in 2016 at the age of only 22, I was keen to finally visit the atelier and farm. In the beginning, he worked from his parents’ home in Erode. These days, he has a business with a stitch-and-sew facility that employs 125 people and he works with more than 60 smallholder farmers. Their patchwork of fields is closely regulated to ensure they are growing their crops in strict rotation and without the use of chemicals, instead using the fertilisers and natural pest repellents that are provided to them.


Driving back to the farm from the atelier to check on the last few pieces with Chopra, we were caught behind a woman herding her goats along the lanes. He wound down the window and asked her if she would walk them to the farm to graze. They’d make a perfect picture, adding to the cast of dogs that are allowed to run wild around the farm, keeping snakes and rodents at bay, and the farm’s precious collection of cows, which are rescued from shelters around Erode. The indigenous cows and bulls are a mix of different breeds chosen for their nutritious cow dung, milk, curd and urine. The cows live a contented life, with the mothers feeding their calves and being kept safe overnight in a stable area that has special channels designed to capture the urine. It’s piped into vats to be made into fertiliser and pest-repellent preparations. Their dung is collected each morning, shovelled into specially made giant trugs (baskets) made from tractor tyres and used to enrich the earth.

This pioneering seed-to-sew system is setting the standard for a new form of luxury, one that the rest of the industry is going to be running to catch up with in the next decade as the need to reduce emissions, waste and pollution becomes increasingly urgent (and a legal requirement). As well as returning to, and developing, local farming practices, which work with nature rather than against it, Chopra has developed a business system where the farmers are protected financially whatever the yield. As well as growing the fibre for its own collection, Oshadi works with brands and partners including the Californian company Christy Dawn and the UK-based luxury pyjama brand Desmond & Dempsey. If there’s a drought or floods and the crop is reduced, Oshadi draws up contracts with the brands they supply to ensure the farmers will still be paid.

The collection itself is expertly crafted and tailored by a team of skilled workers who are paid above the living wage, work regular hours rather than endless overtime and are given paid holiday. You might think that isn’t a big deal but, in the textile sector in regions like India, if an employee needs to take a day or two off they will sacrifice their job for the privilege. But that’s not why this collection is so beautiful. Everything is designed to be worn whatever the season, whether you are in Mumbai or Manchester, and is made on demand when you order directly from to reduce the risk of overproduction. Each season new fabrics will be introduced into the mix and the collection will evolve over time. Meanwhile, Virakh will get back to his day job, the new crop of seeds will be sown and the sun will set behind the tall, willowy palm trees on another day at the farm.

Taken from issue 71 of 10 Magazine – FASHION, ICON, DEVOTEE – on newsstands now. Order your copy here




Photographer MANOU
Creative Director and Fashion Editor SUZANNE CLEMENTS
Hair and make-up ONGKIE TAM

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