Wemanage Observatory Interview #2: Savia Shah on identity and heritage

A project by Wemanage Group

Wemanage Observatory is a project aimed at sharing insights and discoveries in key areas of the contemporary discourse, such as sustainability and digitalization. The goal of this project is to activate an experimental approach, by creating new connections through interviews with experts in the field. In the second of a series of interviews with inspiring creatives of our times, we talked to Savia Shah, the founder and creative director of e-commerce platform Third Edit, discussing self-reflections on heritage, fashion implicated in constructions and reconstructions of identity and more.

You’re the founder and creative director of Third Edit, can you tell us about the genesis of the website and e-commerce? What pushed you to launch the project?

South Asia has an incredibly strong design, craft and textile history. As someone born and raised in Canada, currently living in the UK, and with heritage from South Asia, I have continuously been exploring how my heritage and multifaceted lifestyle plays a role in what I choose to wear. I am disenfranchised by the American and European fashion markets exploiting the region’s textile and resources and disregarding its incredible design history and people. It became important for me to create Third Edit as a platform that encourages intelligent and thoughtful conversations about clothes, heritage and belonging.

Third Edit is a tribute to your South Asian heritage, can you expand on this?

Third Edit allowed me to explore and reflect on my heritage attentively. I gave myself space and learned to see immense beauty in its traditions, history and craft, alongside its shortcomings. Exploring my heritage on my own terms gave me freedom to find comfort in a life set in multiple cultures, languages and geographies. This was important as I often felt trapped in the reductive politics of ‘East’ and ‘West’ which didn’t represent me. Being able to celebrate and share my South Asian heritage and making space for others to do so as well became an important part of my journey.

You talk about the concept of home quite a lot on the website. Can you tell us a bit more about this chasm between being feeling connected and rootless at the same time? What does home mean to you?

The notion of home has pursued me personally and professionally no matter where I go. I am unsure as to whether it’s an interest of mine, or one that contemporary politics imposes on me. As a teenager, growing up post 9/11, the phrase ‘go back home’ was something I heard often- whether directed at me or not. Since then, I realised that the idea of home for people like me is not just a personal matter, it’s a political one. Home for me is a place where my beliefs, values and identity, and the identity of others is equally respected and valued

Fashion becomes inextricably implicated in constructions and reconstructions of identity: how we represent the contradictions and ourselves in our everyday lives. How has the relationship between clothing, culture and social identity shaped your understanding of yourself?

I haven’t fully understood how these forces shape me yet. I think there is a resistance in me as I don’t like the idea of being defined by what I wear. My relationship to clothes was shaped by my mother. A compliment from her before any outing would often be proceeded by an extensive lecture on the importance of dressing well, being grateful and ‘to immediately forget about what you’re wearing’ before walking into the room. Focusing your attention on giving people your time, genuine affection and love is what makes people memorable, not their outfits. Regardless of what I am wearing, I’ve always understood that my attention and consideration towards others will always be much more interesting than my clothes. This has always been how I’ve shaped the Third Edit as well.

Being the owner of an online shop, how do you believe your platform can be sustainable in today’s world?

I understand sustainability as intersectional. The fashion industry is an oppressor of both nature and humans. It discriminates against the land, culture, resources and the people it relies on. Near the production facilities that dump chemicals into bodies of water lie the homes of local people who consume that water for household use. As a South Asian, I know this all too well. I cannot disconnect ideas about sustainability from the identity of the people it affects. As a new retailer I am still learning, and it starts with asking a lot of questions and understanding a brand’s values. Being a small family run business works in my favour. I have a curated brand list that understands my values. I offer a limited selection of pieces and I am able to oversee and adapt all aspects of my business personally.

How do you think clothing can bring together cultures, people, textiles and craft?

Clothing and textile traditions connect us to the values, history and norms of a culture. In exploring these traditions, we can see points of familiarity between cultures. Exploring these materials is an opportunity to bring greater understanding, cohesion and dignity for the people that make them. The current fashion system is founded on Western individualism and colonial history. If we move towards considering our clothing as a way to communicate solidarity with another part of the world, our clothes can connect and broaden our understanding of others. Moving us beyond the superficial ideals of personal style.

Can you tell us a bit about some of your favourite brands stocked on the website? How do you make the selection?

All the designers are incredibly dear to me. Each one represents a value that collectively completes the Third Edit. I appreciate Lemaire for its silhouettes, Zohra Rehman for her handmade technique and Koel for their mastery in block printing. As a buyer, I look for brands that understand what I am trying to do and are willing to be a part of a larger cultural shift, one that is inclusive, gentle and sincere.

The Journal section on Third Edit sheds a light on profiles of interesting women in your community, how do you select the profiles you highlight?

I feature people that are relatable and understand what I am trying to do. I look for common ground and many become friends. We connect and share a passion for learning and appreciate clothes beyond their superficial value. I am incredibly indebted to this beautiful community and feel we are growing together.

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