Art-based label Jebsispar weaves in local influences with “emotional perspectives” that gives it a fresh, distinctive flavour. Simple yet striking. Colourful and happy, all the motifs have a bit of the designer Jebin Johny (inset) in them. The Kerala-based 31-year-old is your boy next door, who laughs a lot and wants to “communicate stories through painting and clothes”. The young label is trying to be as sustainable as it can with Jebin’s life too bearing the footprints of the eco-friendly. He walks it to the courier office and has been planting trees since childhood. In a fun Instagram post, Jebin is all smiles extracting honey from honeybees at home. “I am living my dream life. Sometimes it is not easy but you are doing things you are passionate about,” says Jebin who puts out one collection a year and sells through e-commerce and multi-designer stores. He likes the works of Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Dolce & Gabbana and wants to invest in menswear and interiors in future.
A candid chat.
Do you have any formal training in fashion?
I did my BTech in fashion technology and then post-graduation in textiles and fashion from the University of Northampton in central England. Then I came back to Kerala and was planning to work as a lecturer somewhere in India when I came to know about the Gen Next programme (at Lakme Fashion Week). I applied with my master’s dissertation work and I got selected. I launched my brand at Lakme Fashion Week in August, 2015.
What is the full form of Jebsispar?
Jeb for my name Jebin and I have two sisters, so ‘sis’ for sisters and ‘par’ for my parents.
(Laughs) The five of us are a family and are deeply connected. It is all about family bonding.
Tell us about the motifs. You paint them, right?
I paint and then I print it. It is acrylic painting and we do both digital and hand-block printing and hand-painting on the fabric as well. The printing is done in Bangalore. I was actually interested in painting when I was a kid in school, but everybody said this is not art. I was demotivated. During my masters programme, my teachers told me I was doing good and asked me to bring in more art. Rather than a designer I would call myself an artist.
When it comes to paintings I have a lot of stories to tell, mostly about the emotions of the human bond, my upbringing in Kerala. It is about everything that makes me the human being I am, like one collection is about my sisters and me and I call it DiDa. My recent collection which was launched at Lakme Fashion Week was called Amma and is about the bond between the mother and the child.
Initially, everybody said my prints are too arty and I have to do something more commercial, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy doing that. So, I kept going with what I did and it worked. I should be happy doing what I am doing.
The collections are colourful…
I am a playful, loud guy actually. (Laughs) When you are an Indian and Keralite, it is all about the colours. Even the fish curry is colourful.
What fabrics do you work with?
My weavers are based in Kuthampully. So, it’s known for the Kuthampully handwoven cotton. My first collection at Lakme Fashion Week wasn’t sustainable at all. We worked with the industries and mills in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu. There were 10 and eight-year-old kids who were working for them. I didn’t want to make money by exploiting other people. That time I was working as a lecturer and guest faculty in one of the colleges in Kerala. One of my students told me about the weavers in Kuthampully. I work with the weaver family directly. To be honest, last year was especially good for us in terms of business, maybe because of everything going online. This year has also been okay.
Were you always making saris?
From my second collection. I thought I’ll make saris only, because I was struggling to find good tailors. Then we got a lot of enquiries about custom-made orders. Luckily, I found some good tailors and have been working with them for the last three years. We have handwoven saris, maxi dresses and skirts and tops.
My confidence was boosted by Sonam Kapoor (when she wore his Big Ben sari; on the t2 cover). That collection was too personal and was all about my life in England. It was too emotional and everyone said it was too arty and no store wanted to stock those collections.
Tell us about the faces in your collection…
I wanted to be a Kathakali performer (laughs). I couldn’t learn it as a child, but I am too much into dance dramas. So, there is that connect too… Theyyam.
You have also put yourself in a collection. What were you feeling then?
For my studies in England, I had to support myself. So, I did all kinds of odd jobs, like a waiter. At the same time I also met many legal and illegal immigrants there. So, it is their journey and emotions through my eyes.
What are some of your favourite motifs and what are the stories behind them?
One is Big Ben. The mask has the emotions of a migrant and the dreams they have for greener pastures. In Kerala, a lot of them wanted to migrate to England. And when you think of England, London Bridge or Big Ben come to mind. We got the Big Ben motifs inside the mask.
Another one would be the one worn by Taapsee Pannu. It is a mix of Kathakali and kabuki (Japanese drama). The motif where I have painted myself is also a favourite. I used to pluck jasmine from a nearby toddy shop for my sisters. In DiDa, there is a motif of my sisters and me, which is close to me.
Tell us a bit more about your latest indigo line…
I used to have a patriarchal mindset because that’s what I saw in movies, but not in my family. My father is non-patriarchal and helps my mother in the kitchen. I realised that if I saw women that way, then other men would also see my sisters in the same light and I didn’t want that to happen. That was the base of the Amma collection and the bond we have, touching upon the complex birth process too.
Who are your favourite painters?
Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Raja Ravi Varma. What influenced me was new-wave cinema, the Satyajit Ray kind of movies. I have watched Pather Panchali several times.