The Power of a Single Bead: Fashion Designer Aarabhi Sivaraman’s Take on Ethical Fashion

Featured Image: Aarabhi London


As I look down on the row of colourful, translucent microbeads laying gently alongside one another, selectively chosen and delicately situated to create a beautiful design, a sense of relief and gratitude floods my body as I recognize that the individual who took the time to bring this intricate garment to life is being treated ethically and is credited for their craftsmanship.

A feeling which is quite rare to come across in our contemporary fashion industry.

. . .

London-based entrepreneur Aarabhi Sivaraman is an ethical womenswear fashion designer and founder of brands, Aarabhi London and Kōr by Aarabhi. Known for creating elaborate handmade designs through beadwork and embroidery, Aarabhi quickly garnered attention for her authentic brand shortly after completing a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design at Istituto Marangoni and soon after founding her brand in 2017. When asked to describe her label, Sivaraman opts to highlight her work as a “no bullshit brand,” emphasizing the importance she places on transparency and the honest relationship between the producers and consumers of her clothing.

Her main collection, Aarabhi London, explores an intricate blend of luxurious British fashion and traditional Indian craftsmanship. Through the expansion of her brand, Sivaraman has recently begun a subcollection, Kōr by Aarabhi, which consists of essential, staple pieces suitable for any wardrobe. The name for this subcollection was inspired by the designer’s mother tongue, Tamil, as “kōr” (கோர்) phonetically means “to thread” in Tamil. She explained that she founded these brands as a way to create, “something nice and different, [something] not seen in British high street fashion.” Aside from Sivaraman’s humble and authentic approach to high fashion, her approach to ethical production is commendable as well.

The All Day Kōr T-Shirt line made of 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, featured in Sivaraman’s new
collection, Kōr by Aarabhi. (via. ALL DAY KOR T-SHIRT/Aarabhi London)

When given the opportunity to speak with such an influential young designer, I began by asking Sivaraman to take the reader and I through the essence of her brand and her unique creative process. She went on to explain, “When I used to plan out my collections, I used to think about what might be popular in the coming months… what big movies will be coming out, what new trends [may emerge]. But now, I just get inspiration from things I am interested in, like my current favourite podcasts, books and just generally things I enjoy.” She mentioned that she was initially introduced to the concept of beadwork during a project at university, and it became a pivotal part of her brand as it was featured in her graduate collection in 2015. Sivaraman continued, “I actually begin planning out the embroidery and pattern designs first, and then use those designs to create the shapes for the garments. I use Photoshop to experiment and create the designs. It lets me visualize all the different layers and experiment with different variations.”

As a young entrepreneur in the large and quite overwhelming world of fashion, deciding to take the ethical route can be seen as quite naive and even unrealistic when, unfortunately, a mass production, fast fashion-based company seems like the most popular and profitable route in the current Western fashion system. The London-based fashion designer recalls watching a documentary during her time at Istituto Marangoni, which exposed her to the cruel practices of the fast fashion business model. She knew she did not want to play a helping hand to this specific aspect of the industry and decided to pursue and create her own visions instead. It is also significant to note that Sivaraman’s grandmother was a seamstress, which may have played a vital role in the designer’s interest and exposure from a young age to handmade, intricate work.

Sivaraman’s 2020 Cleo Collection from her main brand, Aarabhi London. (via. CLEO COLLECTION
2020/Aarabhi London)

Highlighted several times throughout Sivaraman’s website, Aarabhi London, is the ethical production and sustainable labour practices followed by her production team. The designer creates her visions in London and production takes place overseas in Delhi, India, where she has a trusted supervisor overseeing the manufacturing of the garments. Sivaraman admitted, “You have to be willing to compromise. Sometimes I want to create my design with a certain type of fabric or with specific embellishments in mind, but sometimes they don’t have that available overseas, in which case you have to adjust a little.” Sivaraman went on to explain that “it would be easier to produce clothing locally in London,” but the “hard work and authentic craftsmanship” of the artisans in India was important for her to capture.

Each garment produced under Sivaraman’s brand includes a label with a signature from the artisan in India who cared for, created, and embroidered the specific product. Sivaraman explained, “I think it is important to form that relationship, and remind people that their purchases are actually made by others.” She went on to state that the intricately hand-woven beadwork and embroidery is a delicate art, and the authentic artisans who create the work should rightfully be credited for their patience and skill.

Sample clothing tag from Aarabhi London garment signed by the artisan who hand embroidered and
produced the piece. (via. Aarabhi London)

Contrary to the London-based fashion designer’s attempts to form a healthy relationship between consumers and producers, commodity fetishism is a term used to describe the phenomenon “that the relationship that ties us to the producers of the thing we buy are captured in a single number, the price.” I was curious to hear Sivaraman’s thoughts as to why she believes the fashion industry has come to this point, and why it was so important for her to do the opposite. Sivaraman exclaimed, “Products are made so far away, [it almost] acts like a wall. When consumers throw away their clothing, they think it’s going in the bin, but they don’t consider where it is going or what happens after.” In regards to the rise of fast fashion, Sivaraman stated, “Fast fashion was around before social media. There was Primark, and other department stores, who have always been about mass production. But social media definitely pushed the agenda. It is important to recognize who makes our clothes and where it comes from, in order to form a long-lasting, sustainable relationship with our clothing.”

Upon the rise of the constant pressure to consistently be politically correct, it is not surprising that a young fashion designer like Sivarman may be overwhelmed when considering the various components one has to think about when attempting to uphold the reputation of an ethical brand. The designer explained, “You can ask anyone, and they will say a comment about how you can be more ethical or sustainable. As a small business, we don’t have the same resources as H&M, for example, so it can be quite hard to be sustainable for the main collection.”

Sivaraman’s team of artisans in Delhi, India delicately placing every individual bead on the fabric, and
bringing the design to life. (via. Aarabhi London)

Sivaraman’s parting advice for up-and-coming fashion designers who wish to pursue the ethical route: “Start small and go for it. It’s not really realistic to go all out and make an one hundred percent ethical brand as a small business owner on a tight budget.” She advises honing in on one aspect of the brand that you would like to be ethical and/or sustainable, and once your business begins to grow, then you can expand the various aspects of your business that you would like to improve.

Sivaraman recently had a new spring-summer collection which dropped in June 2022 and was featured at her pop-up store at the BOXPARK Shoreditch. She hopes to one day open up her own physical store in London to allow customers to view and be able to fully appreciate the handmade designs in person. She also hopes to expand her Kōr collection through the creation of other staples, like jeans and sweatshirts, all made from organic materials, handmade embroidery, and, of course, beautiful beadwork.

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Aarabhi Sivaraman has paved the way for like-minded, young designers who aspire to bring a change to our contemporary fashion industry. What began as a small interest in beadwork and handmade embroidery has now culminated into a threshold for ethical fashion.

Swetha Sutharsan

Swetha currently attends Toronto Metropolitan University where she majors in Fashion Studies. She loves all things dark chocolate and black coffee, and can't go wrong with an early 2000's Bollywood movie.

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