With culture embedded in its seams, Nor Black Nor White explores what it means to be more than just a fashion brand.
By Sonia Kovacevic.
Growing up in immigrant families in Toronto, Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar connected over homemade lunches and their love of remixing and wearing traditional Indian textiles. Inspired by colors and prints, they found solace from their day jobs by reworking vintage pieces, throwing art shows and festivals, and producing creative shoots.
Eager to learn more about their roots, they embarked on a trip to Mumbai together in 2009 with no clear goal other than to explore and create. As they traveled to different villages, documenting the process behind textile creation, they met the Khatri family, renowned as bandhani tie-dye masters, who they still work with to this day.
Humbled and inspired by the Khatri family’s craft, this was where the fabrics for their first collection were born.
During this time, engaged in many conversations and exchanges surrounding cultural nuances, the girls became aware of their unique position and purpose. “We became aware of the privileged access we have to create connections between worlds (especially Toronto and India), to break down stereotypes, have real conversations, and the responsibility that comes with these special exchanges,” the duo wrote in an email to Mission.
As an extension of their own dual identities, Nor Black Nor White was born to create a space that explores this idea of gray space – the in-between amalgamation of experiences and state of living. “A balance between extremes and blurred boundaries between old and new, East and West, Yin and Yang…Everything in-between from various levels of creation and communication,” they reflect. Navigating these cultural moments by exploring age-old practices in fun and digestible ways, they began communicating these messages through locally sourced textiles and billowy designs.
Bold, powerful, and effortlessly cool, comfort and color are the core of Nor Black Nor White’s designs, debunking contemporary fashion stereotypes surrounding color and pattern, which often get pigeonholed into categories like ‘ethnic,’ ‘flamboyant,’ or ‘boho.’ Alternatively, the street-wear brand is a mix of ‘90s fashion with old Bollywood, unique in its flare with culture woven into the seams.
With no technical training, the girls have conjured up their own design approach, focused on feeling it out, dubbing themselves “intuitive designers and creators, learning the process and making up rules as we do, make, and experience.” Mindful of their place in a “part art, part fashion” sphere, they advocate for the beauty of craftsmanship and traditional textile design, particularly its ability to tell stories, be woven into the present, and shape the future. Being women-led is an integral part of their narrative as they operate in a heavily bureaucratic, patriarchal, and often archaic administrative Indian working environment. “Just existing and continuing is a success story in itself and we are here to share all of that and everything along the way,” they say.
With storytelling existing as a fundamental aspect of the brand’s core identity, Nor Black Nor White grew. The girls have been approached by clients like FILA and Adidas to design campaigns, merch, and products. Using their voice to encourage a culture of collaboration, they are focused on expanding their community of artists and thinkers, and are hyper-aware of their role in the socio-cultural realm.
Facing a mirror right now, the world is reconsidering its value system, and as a result, the fashion industry is on the brink of reinventing itself.
With a focus on radical transparency and accountability, brands are starting to be viewed through a critical lens beyond the final garment. While this concept of fashion as a force for good isn’t new, it has become more mainstream. Embedded at its core, Nor Black Nor White’s ethos is as authentic as it gets. It’s brands like this that fashion can turn to for inspiration and reflection, that understand their role not only as a form of expression, but as a community with a responsibility to advocate for the world around them.