NORBLACK NORWHITE: Creating in Liminal Spaces

“We are not designers,” Mriga Kapadiya, co-creator of clothing line NORBLACK NORWHITE insists. “We are storytellers and this is just our form right now. I don’t even care about clothes like that.” Her partner Amrit Kumar does care about clothes like that. Mriga is direct and energetic while Amrit is concise and smiles softly. In their signature chhota mota print and airforce sneakers, with the weight of their long brown hair resting on one shoulder, their aesthetic is an intersection of influences. Much of what they create is unisex, allowing space for the body to move fluidly while the tenderness of the fabric lends itself to the sultry of femininity. Traditional in its craftsmanship, yet futuristic in its form and exuberant use of color, NBNW attracts the misfits, the marginalized and the habitual line steppers in India and abroad. As their name, inspired by Michael Jackson, suggests, “we exist in a gray space,” says Amrit.

“We are not designers, we are storytellers and this is just our form right now. I don’t even care about clothes like that.”​

Their relationship is one rooted in migration. As young adults studying business they traveled from their prospective immigrant populated Canadian suburbs to the city center of Toronto to quench their thirst for creativity. They were instantly drawn to one another’s style and defiant nature. After being rejected from fashion school, Amrit worked at a vintage shop in Toronto called 69 Vintage where the owner was drawn to her silent exuberance. Amrit was asked to rework a few pieces and as she became more confident in her practice, she also grew disillusioned with the contentious culture of the fashion community. Like many diasporic people living in the Americas, Amrit and Mriga didn’t feel like they fit in Canada either.

In search of a satisfaction that they couldn’t quite enunciate, they relocated to India; which their immigrant parents still cannot fully comprehend. It was there, in the birthplace of their ancestry, that NORBLACK NORWHITE was born. They took trains all over India, slept on the floors in the homes of families they met along the way, took up residence in a fishing village and talked with local artisans who practice ancient traditional techniques of weaving and hand dying that are quickly being forgotten in the world of fast fashion.

Similar to ethnographers, Amrit and Mriga’s practice is about learning the customs and habits of the people through kindness and consciousness. Their focus is in cultivating intersectional community spaces that they yearned for as young misfits in Toronto, both online and in the physical.” We are disrupting spaces. We want to break something,” says Mriga. Their clothes serve as signifiers to those prone to be deemed other.

NORBLACK NORWHITE is an ode to their lives in the west that was heavily influenced by 90’s hip hop and R&B and their Indian lineage. It is a bridge between India and the diaspora in an effort to restore the integrity of India’s rich traditions. “So many high fashion luxury designers like Louis Vuitton and Gucci produce their work in India, ship to Italy for finishing and stamp a ‘made in Italy’ tag inside,” Mriga says. Only 10% of a manufacturer's product must be created in a country to place this label, proving that India’s craftsmanship is valued but not always credited.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Amrit explains. “The India I knew was singular. When people think of India, they come with ideas. I did too. Whatever you see on TV, that’s not India. We want to present nuances to the narrative of India as we learn and grow from people all around the country. It is massive with many languages and practices.”

Now based in New Delhi, home of India’s rising start-up culture, they can easily source fabrics from Calcutta and work with local makers. They have expanded from just making clothes to designing custom outfitted taxis in India, to music video-styling for artists like Major Lazer.

Beyond India, NBNW has collaborated with artists in Trinidad, Mexico and the Chicano culture of East LA. “Trinidad is rooted in India, Africa, China and Syria and that’s what our work is about. Acknowledging these histories and bringing them together visually. A mashup of what that looks like visually.” These pairings blossomed out of internet encounters that lead to impromptu productions.

As curators of culture, NORBLACK NORWHITE is constantly reshaping their palette for storytelling, applying whichever medium is most effective in exploring the nuances across cultural practices while illuminating the binding similarities of humanity. With upcoming collaborations with brands like FILA, we can expect more nostalgic influences in the fashion form. “We don’t want to make clothes forever. What we really want to do is build a physical space,” Mriga pauses, “but where?”

Text By Sasha Bonét

Photos by Justin Ryan-Kim