In April of 2019, South Asian evening wear designer Mani Jassal was thinking about creating a collection that was less like her usual elegant evening wear designs, and instead echoed more of her own everyday casual style.

“I love dressing up and going out but on the day-to-day you’ll see me wearing sweatpants,” says Jassal. “I wanted to toy with the idea of creating a collection that combined the fabrics that sweatpants are made out of with the silhouettes of lenghas.”

While it seemed like a great idea in theory, at first, Jassal decided to err on the side of caution and put the idea aside.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the usual South Asian wedding season wasn’t quite the same, with many weddings that would usually host hundreds of guests, being down-sized or entirely rescheduled.

For the first time in years, the need for extravagant South Asian evening wear simply wasn’t there.

It was then that Jassal realized it was the perfect time to return to her loungewear collection, something people would actually be inclined to wear during these dressed-down times.

“In 2019 nobody had a reason to be buying this stuff, it would just be another sweatsuit label,” says Jassal. “But I think the brand has sort of made a name for itself in all these years, so it’s kind of like the perfect opportunity to release something like this.”

And so, Mani Jassal’s Chez Moi collection was born.

Released on Dec 3, 2020, the collection includes several basic pieces such as crewnecks, t-shirts and joggers. Many of these basics Jassal made in a unisex fit as to venture into menswear.

Jassal still incorporated lengha skirts and bustiers in the collection, but of course, with a more “loungey” feel.

“When you put it on it just feels so comfortable. Like you know when you wear a crew neck, and it’s the fleecy side of the crewneck that’s touching your body? It’s the same thing with the bustier and the same thing with the lengha,” says Jassal.

“It’s like wearing a cloud on your body.”

The 29-year-old designer says this is just another way she is trying to push the boundaries when it comes to the kind of clothing she creates, something that her brand has come to be known for.

While Jassal has been cultivating her brand since 2014, she says fashion design has been a passion of hers since she was 11-years-old.

It was her mother’s work as a seamstress that she says was a big influence.

“She worked from home, so I would always take the extra scraps she was working with and dress my barbies up in it and get them to be my models.”

It was through her own brand that Jassal worked towards creating styles that are not confined to traditional South Asian evening wear. She says her clothing is designed for the “rebellious woman.”

“When I first started designing Indian clothes, my silhouettes were a little more revealing. I did the bustiers, I did the skirts with slits,” she says.

“I thought it was for the rebellious woman, because I would put this stuff up on Instagram and all these aunties would be like ‘go back to India, you don’t know how to design, you’re not doing this right, this is indecent,’ and all that kind of stuff, so for me it was more like rebelling against those norms.”

Jassal says the same thing goes for colour choice. While many say that white or black aren't acceptable for weddings, she challenges that thinking.

“I love wearing black, I love wearing white. So I will wear it to someone’s wedding, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” says Jassal.

She knows that her clientele is the type of person who embraces these colours along with an overall minimalist style.

But Jassal doesn’t just see revealing clothing or bold colour choices as the sole marker of a rebellious woman.

In fact, she says it’s more about being your true, unapologetic self.

“I think it doesn’t mean you’re out there doing bad s**t, it’s just about being yourself without giving an F about what others have to say.”

And she’s stayed true to that sentiment. After all, what shows not giving an F about what others have to say more than a lengha made from jersey material?

Jassal doesn’t just stand out for pushing the boundaries on style, but also by being an influencer in sustainability and fast fashion.

Generally speaking, the South Asian clothing market in Canada has limited options when it comes to sustainability

But Jassal is trying to mark her place in the sustainability realm by using organic fabrics as well as setting up her inventory as made-to-order to avoid sitting on excess products and to prevent potential waste.

At the same time, she recognizes that being sustainable has led to a higher cost on her pieces, something that has had some of her followers upset -- especially with some of the pieces from the Chez Moi collection.

“Organic and sustainable fabrics do come with a price tag as well, so I know a lot of people are complaining about the pricing of the Hedwig pieces, but they’re not understanding that organic fabrics aren’t cheap,” says Jassal.

“If you’re paying that little for a garment somebody is getting exploited in the process, somebody isn’t getting paid what they’re supposed to.”

She also tries to uphold sustainability by ensuring ethical working conditions. Being someone who couldn’t find paid work in the fashion industry when she graduated, Jassal wants to create the space for recent grads to have paid work.

It’s something that is even being embedded right into the makeup of her flagship store in Vaughan, Ontario.

“That’s something we’re really against, and again our employees work right here in Canada; the studios’ in the back. They’re being paid fairly so you’re guaranteeing that and you’re supporting that versus supporting fast fashion.”

The Mani Jassal shop was supposed to be something that kept her busy throughout the duration of 2020, but alas, COVID-19 had different plans. The shop, which was to have a grand opening in April of 2020, wasn’t in operation until June 2020.

Jassal says she’s hopeful to still host a grand opening in 2021, COVID permitting.

“We’re still working on it. I would have loved to have had a proper launch party and been able to celebrate such a huge moment for the brand. Unfortunately, we’ve had to put a lot of celebrations on pause.”

The Chez Moi collection however, was an exception to those paused celebrations.

She says in a normal world, there would have been a fashion show, likely held at the new store.

Since that couldn’t happen, Jassal and her team chose to showcase her new collection through a digital fashion show.

“I made sure to have a video component so that way you see the model walking up and down, you get front and back. You see how the clothes move,” she says.

Though the year hasn’t been quite what she thought it would be, Jassal has found ways to be grateful. She says the slower summer months was something she actually grew to embrace.

“I never really get to enjoy summer like I’m always in the studio or working but now I was actually able to go outside and finish work early and see the daylight,” says Jassal. She also got married -- another experience she was able to enjoy since she wasn’t as busy creating designs for other brides.

Slow months aside, the Chez Moi collection showed Jassal a sense of normalcy, and she’s ready to tackle 2021.

“In my mind, I’ve started designing the next collection.”

For more on her latest collection, check out her website.

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