Sharmila Nair – Kochi Based Designer who is making social statements with her campaigns


Sharmila Nair, designer and founder of Red Lotus, first garnered attention through her campaign Mazhavil for LGBTQ rights three years ago. She has now come forward with a social media campaign ‘18 Shades of Women’, a photo story depicting the restrictions women in different walks of life face. Her new campaign intends to spark conversations on the struggles and obstacles in a woman’s life. Sharmila as a fashion designer focuses on Sarees and tries to preserve the dying traditions of weaving and dyeing.


When did you first realize your love for fashion and clothes?

I had to wear a lot of sarees when I was studying in college. Eventually, I fell in love with sarees and started to try out different styles and materials.


Your boutique Red Lotus has an exquisite collection of sarees. Why did you pick this Indian attire to showcase your talent?

Saree will never go out of fashion, I believe. Saree is a very comfortable attire that can be easily blended into for any formal or informal occasion.


Saree collection at Red Lotus

What are the major challenges you faced in setting up your boutique?

Identifying good weavers without middlemen was a big challenge.

Red Lotus has an enviable online presence. How much has social media helped in your business?

I only have my boutique online and my entire business happens online. I feel e-commerce has come a big way in India and is enabling millions of people in India to begin startups.


Over the years we have seen sarees undergoing major transformations. As a fashion designer, how do you evaluate it?

As a fashion designer, I go with traditional designs. My interest is to preserve the dying traditions of weaving and dyeing. I take an extra initiative to work with endangered sections of weavers and their weaving practices.


18 Shades of Black – Campaign depicting the restrictions of 18 women from different walks of life


18 Shades of Black – 18 denotes the number of steps to the Sabarimala shrine, and black because that’s the colour devotees wear.



What was the inspiration behind the campaign 18 Shades of Black? What is the significance attached to the number 18?

18 Shades of Black is a photo story depicting the restrictions of 18 women from different walks of life. These 18 women have taken, faced, argued, fought against and risen above these constant restrictions and controls that have been imposed upon them either by their parents, husbands, relatives or the society at different times in their lives. Restrictions are many and each one of us face them in different ways. Women who are largely conditioned by the patriarchal society always take in the patriarchal values and restrictions unknowingly. They become conditioned to invisibly maintain the restrictions imposed on them as if it is the status quo leaving no space for a constructive dialogue which culminates in her limping in the dark.



18 Shades of Black, has 18 women from different walks of life, draped in beautiful black saris talking about the restrictions they have faced.


When the Supreme Court of India passed the verdict on the 28th of September 2018 allowing women of all age groups to enter Sabarimala temple, Kerala witnessed horrors of no comparison for a few months. A society that was boasting about the values of renaissance and secularism was torn apart in different factions arguing about right and wrong regarding women’s entry. Debates arose on TV channels and social media regarding the history, renaissance, culture, women’s rights, and Indian constitution. I was appalled by the amount of animosity that arose amongst a few sections of women.

Amidst all these chaos, my mind wandered into the day-to-day restrictions- most of which are overlooked- that most of the women in our society had to face. Restrictions are numerous and 18 is just a number, to begin with.


What is the message you want to convey through your campaign? 

I wanted to start a conversation regarding the unseen restrictions in women’s life. As I said the day-to-day restrictions- most of which are overlooked- that most of the women in our society had to face.


Your campaign was very well received by the public. What are the recognitions which came your way?

It was covered by most of the national media like The Hindu, The News Minute, Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle and international media like BBC.


Since the campaign is about women empowerment and restrictions, how do you place your experiences as a women entrepreneur?

I haven’t experienced any restriction as a woman entrepreneur since my business happens online. But as a woman, I have faced many such restrictions in daily life. So telling these 18 restrictions are also a sort of reflection of my own life.

Sharmila Nair- Working closely with the weaving community

How do you connect your campaign to Red Lotus and your love for fashion?

Sarees are a medium through which I express my art.


Do you have a team? If so how did you meet your team members?

I have a team of weavers. I met most of them when I visited them. I usually travel around to find my weavers.


What are the future plans for you and Red Lotus?

Nothing as of now. At the moment I am with 18 Shades of Black. I want this campaign to reach many more people around the world. I am looking forward to pitch this campaign as an art project in several biennale exhibitions around the world.


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