Wildflower Artist Management On Northeastern Representation In Fashion
Fashion stylist and designer Asenla Jamir was on the lookout for Northeastern faces to bring her label Otsü Clothing Co. to life. Scouting models who fit the bill wasn’t easy, but instead of resigning to the sitch, she took matters into her own hands. Thus blossomed Wildflower Artist Management. Founded in early 2021 by the Dimapur-based Jamir and PR & branding consultant Allem Longkumer, Wildflower Artist Management or WAM exclusively represents creatives from the Northeast, including photographers, stylists and HMU artists aside from models.
Via Asenla Jamir and Allem Longkumer
Indians from the Northeast have long felt alienated from mainland narratives and been targets of verbal and physical attacks even in supposedly cosmopolitan cities like Delhi and Bengaluru. It is no secret that in the face of the pandemic, this kind of venom has intensified, making Northeastern individuals particularly vulnerable to and . In the face of this, us vs. them mindset, representation of Northeastern interests by Northeastern people takes on heightened precedence.
The fashion industry is presumed to be more accepting of diverse faces and backgrounds, but with the ultimate consumerist goal of pushing sales, casting choices can cement a brand’s image with little elbow room.
For Jamir, of course, who works with repurposed Naga textiles to create seasonless pieces for Otsü, scouting models from the homeland was a no-brainer.
She elaborates, “When we talk about the industry in general, relatability and desire play a big role in selling a product. As for India, due to less exposure towards Northeastern people, we were never someone that consumers could relate to or desire to be, due to our distinctive appearance and lifestyle. Hence, we were never taken into consideration or accepted by the media, fashion or entertainment Industry. And if we do get seen, we are offered roles of East Asians because apparently we don’t look ‘Indian’. This is one of the hardest pills to swallow, that’s where we feel disrespected and neglected.”
Looking other ways
This refusal to accept Northeastern people as just-as-Indian is commonplace. In a journal article titled , Jelle J.P. Wouters talks about the ‘Indian Face’ as accepted in mainstream narratives. While being a diversified and inclusive concept, the ‘Indian Face’ does not accommodate the facial features of those from the Northeast.
“Northeasterners are often non-recognized and misrecognized, or mirrored back by the wider Indian society as foreigners, hailing from such places as China, Nepal, Thailand, or Japan, and this withholding of 'Indianness' works to discriminate against and marginalize them,” observes Wouters.
The “Indian Face,” India's Northeast, and “The Idea of India” by Jelle J.P. Wouters & Tanka B. Subba
WAM is vocal about its quest to reconstruct existing stereotypes into strength. “What we aim to do is embrace our distinctive appearance, background and style which have been a source of discrimination and mockery. We strive to make our own landscape and construct a viewpoint through our eyes for people to understand us better. We want to bring acceptance on our terms by creating art that can be both relatable yet fresh. But acceptance is a subjective element of human nature, we leave it to the individual's mind. But we will definitely make an effort because we deserve to be seen and included,” they said.
This is not to say that the landscape in India isn’t undergoing gradual change.
“Today, we take some comfort in the fact that some people are open and accepting towards Northeastern faces and talents for who they are. We still have a long way to go but changes are there, which is something positive,” say the WAM founders. Naming some of their favorites, they said, “When it comes to models, Carol Humtsoe, Leno, Andrea Kevichusa, Elizabeth Mech, Gloria Tep, Rajashree Singha and many more are doing very well. Stylist and fashion director Edward Lalrempuia from Mizoram has previously worked with fashion magazines like Vogue, Bazaar and Elle and is also doing incredibly well in his field.”
Integration and assimilation
In his book Strangers No More, Sanjoy Hazarika details “the uniqueness of a region that shares only 4% of its border with India and yet whose people grow more and more familiar with the idea of India and mainstream mores. Such an effort, however, isn’t matched from the other side, with the result that business as usual often translates into unusual in the mainland gaze.”
When questioned about these struggles of acculturation and what they seek to achieve through WAM, Jamir and Longkumer say, “To be respected for who we are without compromising what we are is the ultimate goal. Granted, we may look and speak differently, but we grew up reading about and idolizing the same heroes like Gandhi and Tagore. Our grandparents sang along to Kishore Kumar’s hits and even we grew up romanticizing Sharukh Khan and Preity Zinta’s dimples.
Assimilation doesn’t necessarily mean losing identity. We come from a strong background of history and culture just like the rest of India but we will always be respectfully distinct because of our unique lifestyle and tradition, which we are always happy to share and celebrate.”
Images from fashion campaigns of designer labels catering to the affluent in urban areas, however, remain inaccessible and not relatable for the vast majority. This warrants questioning the extent of impact that greater visibility of Northeastern faces can have on bigoted attitudes in the mainland. Jamir and Longkumer, though, are optimistic. They tell us, “Fashion and entertainment is an influential industry which holds immense power especially with regards to visual representation for general public viewing and influencing public imagination. Now, a greater number of designers, brands and photographers slowly opening up towards Northeastern talents is definitely bringing a small change by shifting perceptions.”