When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. This is what Suomita Basu did. When psoriatic arthritis got the better of her affecting over 80% of her mobility, and she had to give up her work and career because of this chronic illness, she decided to start a brand of her own. And thus was born Zyenika, a range of adaptive and inclusive clothing for those with disabilities and physical challenges who found dressing up difficult or needed assistance.
“Zyenika is a house of trendy, fashionable, and functional clothing which is easy to wear, and comfortable. My aim was to increase the independence and dignity in dressing”, says Soumita who is based in Kolkata.
The clothing industry does not cater to this section of people in society. Chronic pain sufferers, people with physical disabilities, senior citizens, autistic people can find it difficult to dress up or maybe semi or totally dependent on a caregiver. Being wheelchair-bound or bed-bound can also mean that wearing regular clothes is a challenge. But this should not mean having to wear boring ill-fitting clothes. When her own illness progressed, Soumita found it more and more difficult to manage on her own.
“My wardrobe discouraged me from meeting people or even getting on a video call. Missing my cousin’s wedding became the turning point: I refused to be locked in anymore. And I refused to dress in pain every single day”, she reminisces.
“A person with physical challenges knows how difficult or cumbersome and even painful something as basic and necessary as clothing can be. These challenges may be mild, moderate, or severe”, says Soumita who is a wheelchair user herself. But she feels that this should not compromise on the sense of dressing or fashion. “Your style and dressing speak volumes about you. It defines you. It’s a form of expression of who you are. When you are deprived of that it can lead you feeling low, sad, depressed and that doesn’t help any more than what you are going through already”. Soumita wants to empower them with the freedom to choose and wear what they want to by providing them with a label of bespoke wear because why not?!
After enough research, identifying a vacuum in the market for inclusive wear, and her own body for trials, Zyenika was born. It sure hasn’t been easy but Soumita is happy with the support and response she has received. A wrap-up saree which can be worn lying down, a kurta without buttons, pre draped sarees which can be worn effortlessly, and adaptive innerwear for men and women are the kind of clothes she is working on.
Sourcing the fabric, conceptualizing the designs, explaining it to the tailoring team, and overlooking the execution are all done by her. With no formal training in this industry, Soumita is self-taught and spent a lot of time learning the art and the trade. Not having formal training also came as a blessing because that gives her a space to think outside of the norms and comfort zone of the art form and that’s where most of her designs come from.
“It’s important to have that space where one is not told to ‘adjust’. When people ask me, “is it possible to design that way?” Yes, it is. It’s always possible to be thoughtful. That’s all it takes for good design, I say”. Adapting to the challenges of Cerebral Palsy for a customer, the clothing Soumita designed has many hidden features like a knee pad to support her when she crawls with the zips on both sides of the palazzo to transform it to shorts for easier wear and washroom use.
Also, Soumita wants to make sure that her team at Zyenika involves the deserving section of the society, and hence it is a women-led organization. “We strive to have a more inclusive team and ensure more dignified livelihood opportunities for marginalized sections of the society as our suppliers and workers. We are supported by GIAN (Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network), Ahmedabad at the ideation stage.”
Zyenika is also conscious about not adding to the landfill and believes in reusing and recycling. “Give us your old clothes and we will create your new restyled clothes”, says Soumita.
For Soumita, Zyenika is more than a brand or a vocation. It’s her desire to move forward in life despite her disability. It is her hope and wish that she is greater than that and no matter however small her effort may be today, she is consciously making an effort to better someone’s life and that feeling is not a small one.
Zyenika clothing is available at zyenika.com