NorBlack NorWhite has never been about trends, instead the colour-saturated clothing brand reflects the founders Indian/Canadian heritage and love of playful pieces. “We don’t follow fashion cycles, we most definitely haven’t paid attention to trends (been tie-dyeing since we started lol),” says Mriga Kapadiva who founded the brand with Amrit Kumar almost a decade ago. Instead they are ruled by their intuition. Kumar was always drawn to fashion and worked in vintage clothing, whereas Kapadiya was fascinated by the idea of heritage and culture – it was their mutual love of textiles that drew them together as design team.
Both women grew up in Toronto and later settled in Delhi. Like the name suggests, NBNW’s pieces are the opposite of monochromatic. Fully drenched in colour, each look is inspired by indigenous Indian textiles. When Kapadiya and Kumar moved to India in 2009 they travelled across the country meeting artisans whose traditional work was centuries-old. Many of their skills were disappearing as mass production took the place of handicraft. NBNW was inspired by wanting to maintain these traditions for the modern world and streetwear. The label works directly with families across the country who tie dye, embroider and weave for them using these traditional skills. This handcrafted element juxtaposes brilliantly with their other favourite points of reference, ’90s hip hop and R ‘n’ B. But what is so compelling about NBNW is how the pieces go beyond what some would call stereotypical Indian attire, such as saris (they have those, too, and yes, they are extremely beautiful). Co-founders and co-creative directors, Kumar and Kapadiya did not train at a fashion school—they have a bachelors in psychology and retail, and in business, respectively— and they infuse their label with a newness that is relaxed and thoughtful, inclusive and ahead of its time.
Their guiding light has evolved, yet hasn’t strayed far from the ethos they launched with nearly a decade ago. As Kapadiya says, “[We’re about] comfort. Celebrating an intersection of the cultures we’ve grown up in and around. Re-defining how handmade textiles can be presented. [And] cheering people on to embrace colour, pattern and texture.” The duo butts up against the idea of dress codes, and abhor terms like business casual. “[We are] definitely here to encourage people to be unapologetic about what they wear, to feel comfortable in colour and patterns and prints, and to help make this the new normal,” Kapadiya writes. “What is ‘business casual?’ Why are there dress codes? What does black tie really represent?”
This women-led, brown creative house has gained fashion traction thanks to sticking so closely to that ethos, as well as working on a handful of collaborations that speaks to their powerful authenticity. “We’ve always been about collaboration over competition,” Kapadiya writes. “It’s how we build community. We love to collaborate with artists and brands that we align with aesthetically and philosophically.” Those collabs include a ’90s-infused streetwear capsule with Fila, they created pieces that were the antithesis of minimalist atheleisure, speaking to a vibrant youth culture that wants to be seen and to be comfortable, as well as a collection of genderless essentials like socks, tees and long sleeves with Canadian cannabis brand High Street. The collection was created for International Women’s Day, benefitting Sistering, a Toronto-based multi-service agency for at-risk and socially isolated women and trans people.
[We’re about] comfort. Celebrating an intersection of the cultures we’ve grown up in and around. Re-defining how handmade textiles can be presented. [And] cheering people on to embrace colour, pattern and texture.
“[Cannabis] is a magical plant,” Kapadiya says, “and it brought us together as friends first, before we began the NBNW journey. It has brought a lot of our community together and has provided us so much joy, sparked lots of ideas and is an active form of healing.” Alongside them, many of the duo’s friends, peers and family, have utilized cannabis for creative, spiritual, emotional and physical healing—yet another thread that weaves its way throughout the brand.
Interestingly, you won’t hear the duo utter anything to do with sustainability, a current industry buzzword that now seems disingenuous as big brands try to be transparent about their sustainability efforts, while still sending new, weekly drops to their thousands of stores. They have made a concerted effort to not use words like ethical and green, believing those have become nothing more than marketing catchphrases. What they are advocating for, along with mental health awareness and Black Lives Matters allyship, is “a basic mandate on how everyone needs to operate, with justice at the centre of any venture.”
And their focus is on not adding any junk to the clutter piling up in our closets. Their work with local artisans in India means almost everything is handmade. “The fashion industry has been built on exploitation, racist, capitalist structures and all types of oppression,” says Kapadiya. “Most decision makers are white, most design access is made for white people, however, so many makers, artisans and culture creators are BIPOC. There is most definitely terrible politics in how this is all set up and don’t even get us started on the environmental aspect.”
“This is an existential dilemma we think about on the daily!” she Kapadiya continues. “Through the years we’ve faced lots of IRL situations that popped our idealistic bubble as brown girls in brown bodies, immigrants raised in Toronto, living and working in India and representing our take on Indian handmade textiles that take a lot of time to make. Through most interactions we have to be active and fight for our right cause there’s so much bullshit on so many levels.” Finding trends to be a bore, the pair is inspired by people who willingly embrace their own aesthetic and aren’t afraid to be too loud with their style.
With fans like Rajni Perera, a post-colonial, future-forward artist who was recently featured on Vogue.com as a source for incredibly cool sh*t to do while in Toronto, and inspiration from everything like Studio Ghibl to Nina Simone and Sade, NorBlack NorWhite has hit on a moment in time, combining new and old in streetwear, while managing to still be of the future.