Sydney label Rooh Collective is bringing traditional artisan techniques to its debut collection


Starting the brand gave us the ability to do something we love and the opportunity to give back to the artisans who had inspired us.”

What makes a dress? While we understand the components at their core – fabric, thread, trimmings – clothing production is a process that’s become further and further removed from our realm of understanding.

With the rise of increasingly rapid trend cycles, TikTok’s ‘haul culture’ and fast fashion giants like Chinese retailer Shein, the fashion industry is showing no signs of slowing down. In a year that’s been nothing but slow (I thought knitting would be a hobby for my later years, but here we are), now is the time to reevaluate our purchasing habits, make positive changes and start discerning the origins of our wardrobes.

Discover more up-and-coming local designers in our Fashion section. 

Like a lot of us, designer Stephanie Ta is no stranger to the temptations of fast fashion. A lifelong clothing lover, she spent her uni years buying trendy pieces she’d soon throw away (we’ve all been there). “I realised I was wasting all of this money, fabric and time buying clothing just to throw it out or give it away.”

Stephanie’s sustainability journey started with a 2018 trip to India, where she met the family of her fiancé, Akshay. Inspired by the artisanal craft of the employees at Akshay’s mother’s studio, Stephanie wanted to bring these traditional techniques to the world of contemporary Western fashion. 

The pair founded the Sydney-based womenswear label Rooh Collective (rooh meaning ‘soul’) in the middle of 2020’s COVID lockdown. The brand was created as a way to preserve the jobs of the women in Akshay’s mother’s studio, but it’s flourished into so much more. I called Stephanie and Akshay to learn more about the beginnings of Rooh Collective and their journey to transparency. 

To start off with, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves and where your journey in the industry began?

Stephanie: I’ve always loved fashion. While I really wanted to pursue a creative career, I ended up going into a business degree. My parents really drew me in that direction as the ‘smarter decision’ – but that want to explore my creative pursuits was still lingering.

So in late 2018, I went over to India to visit Akshay’s family. I got to meet the artisans who work in his mother’s studio, to spend some time with them over meals. We visited the studio and watched them craft traditional Indian dresses from the delicate techniques they’ve been using for the last 25 years. It was awe-inspiring. 

When the pandemic hit, that had a really big impact on Akshay’s mother’s business and the jobs of the women in her studio. It felt like a chance we needed to take. Starting the brand gave us the ability to do something we love and the opportunity to give back to the artisans who had inspired us.

Akshay: My mother works with a small group of artisans. These people have been in the community and worked in the industry for generations, passing these techniques down through their families. When India was affected so deeply by the pandemic, we wanted to utilise the incredible wealth of knowledge these people have, to make them an integral part of this journey. 

It’s funny, I’ve lived away from home for most of my life. On that trip, I learnt just as much as Steph – it was a real eye-opener for the both of us. My mum was ready to close shop when COVID hit, but we wanted to give this business another life. 

Rooh Collective was born in the midst of the pandemic. Can you tell us a little about that creative process for you? How did you find your feet? 

S: It was definitely a challenge. It took us nearly a year to get up and running because all of our communication was via FaceTime. There was obviously a long halt in the process during India’s lockdown and while we had met our production team, there were things we hadn’t had the chance to explore. It was stressful not knowing when that lockdown was going to end. 

We just hoped for the best and really embraced the unpredictability of the process. The first collection was about creating a beautiful product – of course – but it was also about paying wages and helping our workers put food on the table. It’s really worked out better than we anticipated [laughs]. 

It’s obvious your work really champions the craftsmanship of artisans you work with in India. What inspired you to build this connection? 

S: We wanted to create a collection that was really inclusive. We wanted a product that was for people like us and the women in our lives; clothing that felt special, fitted beautifully and didn’t have a luxury price tag. 

I also must admit, like a lot of us, I’ve given in to the temptations of fast fashion a few times in my life. We’ve all been guilty. Learning about the industry really made me realise how much I was consuming; throwing money at pieces I’d get rid of in a matter of months. We also wanted a product that was sustainable and made to last. 

A: We’d like to hope that what we’re doing becomes the norm and from here, brands start doing better. This is a chance for us to educate our customers and show them why it’s important to know what they’re buying and who they’re buying from. 

When we started the research for our production, the more we learnt, the more horrified we became. We were like, ‘Does everyone know about this? We need to tell the world!’ [laughs]. So by placing an emphasis on natural fibres and long-lasting fabrics, we hope to prevent our customers from engaging in that damaging purchase-to-landfill cycle.

As consumers, we’re inundated by ultra-fast fashion and a rapidly-changing trend cycle. How does Rooh Collective preserve slow fashion design principles?

A: At this stage, we’ve still not been able to go back to India. Our biggest challenge is not being able to be there physically and accepting that we’re doing all that we can. Ideally, we’d love to be on the ground and immersing ourselves in that production process. For us, it’s about remembering to go back to our sustainability pillars.  

We know where our cloth comes from; we know it’s sustainably made and 100 per cent natural. Steph and I are loving the journey and the fact that it’s a slow process. We want our design to be thoughtful and our collection to be wearable year-round – those staple wardrobe pieces you keep going back to. 

Inspired by the elements, your Euphoria collection is down-to-earth and romantic. How would you describe your brand aesthetic? 

S: I’m obsessed with romantic details, I love voluminous sleeves, free-flowing silhouettes and delicate ruffles. We want our customers to feel beautiful in our garments. The collection is also really inspired by nature; the colour palettes are very earthy and neutral. We wanted to show gratitude to the earth and embrace the slow beauty of nature. 

A: We’ve come up with this one line that we feel like really represents this collection and the Rooh Collective label. Steph loves this, she’s the one who came up with it. 

S: It’s become our tagline now, we feel like it really encapsulates who we are as a brand. ‘Romance in our hearts, consciousness in our minds and art in our pieces.’

Learn more about Rooh Collective and shop the collection here

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