This Powerful T-Shirt From London Fashion Week Is Even More Pertinent Now

Photo: Getty.
In September, Ashish Gupta decided to use his allotted time on the London Fashion Week calendar to respond to the country's Brexit vote (and subsequent widespread animosity and rise in hate crimes) with a vibrant celebration of Indian culture. To take his final bow, the Delhi-born, London-based designer wore a long-sleeved white T-shirt printed with the word "Immigrant." Much to his surprise, Gupta and his team were inundated with requests for "Look 36" afterwards — despite the fact that the garment was solely made for the designer to wear for the customary photo opp at the end of the show.

The barrage of inquiries was one thing. Then, Donald Trump was elected president across the pond — and, while it's yet to be proven whether or not he'll actually be able to "build a wall" like he promised on the campaign trail, he has already vowed to deport 3 million immigrants once he takes office, according to The New York Times. Suddenly, Ashish's graphic feels timelier than ever. So, the designer decided to add it to his second T'aint by Ashish T-shirt collection for British retailer Browns, hitting shelves on November 18 with an expected retail price of about $86.74. (It's a bit of a homecoming for Gupta, given it was actually Yeda Yun, then a buyer for the department store's emerging label category, who placed the first order of the designer's work back in 2001.)

We spoke with Gupta about the reaction to his emotive collection, not having fear as a politically vocal fashion designer, and his hopes for the future.

Were you surprised by the response to your spring '17 collection — and the unexpected reaction to the "Immigrant" T-shirt you wore on the runway?
"I was overwhelmed. It was good to know that there are so many people that supported me and that message. Immigrants are so maligned. It makes me so angry every time 'immigration' is used as an excuse to rile up hatred and racism — especially after Brexit and the U.S. election following that."

Were you nervous to make such a bold sociopolitical statement with your outfit during London Fashion Week?
"No, I was proud to wear it because that's what I am. I think the whole political system — and, as a result, our society — continues to be so disrespectful towards immigrants. On top of the fact that we contribute so much to the economy and the culture, we pay taxes, create new jobs, set up businesses, and bring different experiences and skills. Immigrants are doctors, firefighters, social workers, artists — still, we're consistently portrayed as a community that's not much more than a burden on the system, a problem that constantly needs to be 'controlled.' It's important to change people’s attitude towards that word. Think about how much poorer any society would be without different food, music, art, literature — about all the people who wouldn't fall in love, the children who wouldn't speak more than one language."
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Photo: NIKLAS HALLE'N/Getty Images.

When I tweeted my post-show interview with you, many young women — specifically Indian girls — shared the piece and were so proud of and grateful for your celebration of Indian culture. Did you get a similar response?
"Yes, I was so touched to know that I had made people feel proud of their heritage. So many sent me their stories. One person told me about how her family's store was vandalized with the word 'immigrant' when she was growing up, and how they had to clean up all the graffiti. Another said how much she was bullied while growing up in Sweden, and how the show made her feel so proud of her heritage. It's so sad that people are treated like second-class citizens because they're from another country or culture. There's only one race, and it's the human race."

Tell us about the starting point for your second T'aint collection.
"I wanted T’aint to be connected to the main collection this season, so I used images from the temples of Khajuraho in India. They're famous for their erotic sculptures. I was amazed by how they celebrate such a rich, diverse sexuality, considering they were built over 1,000 years ago — which is especially ironic when you realize that homosexuality has been re-criminalized in India and moral policing is on the rise. It's so regressive."
Photo: Courtesy of Ashish.

Post-Brexit, are you worried that London's diversity and subsequent creative variety will be stifled?
"Yes. There are already cuts in arts funding. Art history is being removed as an A-level subject. It'll be so much harder to employ talented, creative people from overseas. There will be less international students. In general, we'll have a much more inward-looking, isolated country that's more interested in building nuclear submarines [than cultural diversity]. Brexit and the U.S. election have exposed the racism that has consistently been denied to have existed. I find hope in knowing that art usually becomes the voice of dissent in times like this."

What does 2017 hold?
"A revolution, I hope."
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