Barkha Shewakramani has something in common with the British musician Seal: both suffer from forms of lupus, an autoimmune condition. Now, the 30-year-old Dubai-based Indian designer is seeking to raise money for the cause in the UAE and abroad through her ready-to-wear Drama Queen collections.
About half of the proceeds from Drama Queen go toward the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, which supports lupus sufferers. Tell us about this.
Having been diagnosed with SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus), a form of lupus when I was 21, I decided to spread as much awareness as possible about the condition. Blending this with my interests in fashion has made the journey more fun and less challenging.
At first it was very hard for me and my family to understand the condition and symptoms, because we weren’t aware of the disease. I was on multiple medications initially, including steroids and immunosuppressants.
The side effects can be emotionally draining, especially when it’s difficult to get out of bed every morning because of chronic fatigue. I’m also very sensitive to sunlight, which makes living in Dubai challenging.
However, the birth of my son in 2008 was the biggest joy of my life and, in a big way, helped me overcome the sadness of lupus. Every day is a new day and I take life with a pinch of salt.
What does the money help pay for within the organisation?
It funds support groups, which we regularly run, as well as treatment for patients who are unable to afford it. Our database of supporters has grown tremendously since we started. We now have Dubai’s leading rheumatologists on board. But, as the saying goes, I have miles to go before I sleep.
For those new to your label, can you describe the overall style?
My work is a reflection of my personal fashion taste. Coming from a rich cultural background, I was always surrounded by beautiful fabrics such as brocade, lace and raw silk. I’m truly inspired by jewellery, so most of my garments are in jewel tones and made of ornate silk or velvet that reflect the sheen of natural gemstones.
I enjoy working with prints and patterns. With each collection I try for an array of different fabrics such as silks, lace and tweed. These give my work the quality and feel that I would think my archetypal Drama Queen would enjoy.
We’ve recently tied up with an accessories designer to manufacture a small collection exclusively for the label. We’re also looking to expand into exotic -leather handbags.
What does the latest collection look like?
This season’s style comes with structured silhouettes in velvet, lace and metallic hues. If you only buy one thing, buy a military--inspired jacket, which can be paired with rolled-up jeans for a casual look or with a peplum skirt and a pair of high heels for a night out.
You are mulling the expansion of your brand to India and the UK in the coming years. Why those locations in particular?
India is such a beautiful fusion of cultures and international trends that I find there is a ready-made niche within that market. Furthermore, the youth in India offer a great platform for my young and trendy designs and also to spread awareness about the disease. As for the UK, it is the hub for young and new fashion and a great entry point for the -European market.
How did you first become involved in the fashion industry?
Ever since I was a child, I was intrigued by the world of fashion, which often led me to cut up and stitch the clothes my mum had bought for me.
For me, fashion is a form of art, a way of expressing myself through the language of fabrics, embellishments and various silhouettes. As a result, I studied garment construction at the American University in Dubai, after which having my own brand was simply a natural progression.
What is lupus?
• The body's immune system mistakenly
attacks healthy tissues.
• The symptoms include long-term, chronic inflammation.
• The disorder can affect the skin, joints and internal organs.
• The underlying cause of the condition is unknown.
• More than five million people worldwide are estimated to have a form of lupus.
? quick fire
Favourite celebrity client:
Favourite piece from your current collection: the emerald green Avanti dress
Your latest luxury splurge:
my made-to-order ostrich-skin Prada pumps
Items always in your handbag: my BlackBerry, Prada ostrich-skin wallet and my favourite Nars lipstick
How you like to relax: by cooking and spending time with Ranvir, my son
For more information, visit www.dramaqueen.me or drop by Smitten boutique in Dubai Marina Mall. For more information about the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, visit www.arthritis.ae