Designer Mani Jassal’s colourful evening wear collections—featuring modern, confident takes on traditional South Asian attire inspired by her Canadian upbringing—have a contemporary, global appeal. Launched in 2014, the independent womenswear label has shown at Toronto Fashion Week twice and boasts over 162,000 followers on Instagram, thanks in part to Jassal’s distinctive aesthetic and keen visual storytelling.
“The collection is kind of an embodiment of who I am and my upbringing,” says Jassal, who released the resort-inspired Tulum collection this fall. “My background is Indian, but I was raised here in Canada, and the clothes perfectly embody that [duality].” Jassal’s namesake label, currently available online (a flagship store is scheduled to open near Toronto in January), features classic embellished lenghas, dupattas, and saris alongside party-ready embroidered bell-bottoms and floral bustiers. It’s South Asian formal wear, but with a bolder, youthful twist.
“My clothes are more rebellious [than traditional attire]; the cuts are definitely sexier—I have plunging necklines, incorporate bustiers, put slits in my skirts,” says Jassal, noting that her clientele includes both members of the South Asian diaspora and Canadians looking for traditional wedding-guest looks that can also be styled uniquely and worn for other festive occasions. Her signature garment is the floor-length, multi-tiered Hierarchy skirt, inspired by the proportions of the Taj Mahal and often styled with a fitted, woven crop top.
In the Tulum collection, the brand’s latest ready-to-wear release, there are cropped trousers and lace-up bustiers as well as more traditional two-piece sets and a pastel-coloured sari. Many of the styles can be layered and worn in a more conservative context, but the pretty, handcrafted looks represent South Asian formal attire, updated for a new generation.
It all began with Jassal’s decision, inspired by an issue of Vogue India, to create a “non-traditional, experimental bridal wear collection” for her graduation collection in Ryerson University’s Fashion Design program. The evening wear collection, which featured unexpected silhouettes and colours, and incorporated techniques such as laser-cutting leather, was a standout; afterwards, Jassal received a flood of interest and orders.
“What happened was I had found a niche market of women that didn’t necessarily resonate with super-traditional Indian clothing, but also didn’t want to do something modern,” says Jassal. “For them, I was creating clothing that was the best of both worlds. It’s South Asian–inspired clothing, but it’s not limited to a South Asian clientele.”
And, unlike many other South Asian formal wear brands, there are both ready-to-wear and made-to-order options; additional alterations can be made locally for many garments in just a few weeks. Jassal produces most of her collections locally, and she makes a point of hiring other Ryerson graduates for her burgeoning business.
The label’s substantial online following has helped it grow internationally, too. These days, Jassal receives orders from around the world and has a large clientele in Australia. “The first year I started, I had a couple people discover [my brand] through social media or word of mouth, and then it grew exponentially from that,” she says. “I think nowadays fashion is so different from how it was before, because you literally have access to all of this information at your fingertips; a lot of people find me through social media.”
Harnessing identity and international interest, Jassal’s success doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
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