Rootsgear just dropped their Spring/Summer 17 Collection - their sophomore effort and a collab with the artist and calligrapher Rupy C. Tut. Globetrotter's Uma Ramiah spoke to founder Tanmit Singh earlier this year about the brand's effort to celebrate and empower Punjabi-Sikh culture and identity: Tanmit and his brother Sunmit founded Rootsgear in 2006 as a response to what the pair saw as a community running from itself and its identity in a post 9-11 world.
Click play below for highlights from their shoot in Jackson Heights, NY (shot and edited by Aldi Maraya) and read on for Uma's Q&A with Tanmit.
GT: Give us your origin story. Where did Rootsgear come from - physically, mentally, culturally? What sparked the creation of the brand?
TS: My brother Sunmit and I started Rootsgear in 2004, back when we were just teenagers who were fresh off the boat from Kuwait. The apparel we created then was a direct reflection of our experiences as Sikhs in a post-9/11 America. We wanted to create apparel that showcased our Punjabi-Sikh culture and instilled pride in the youth that wore it. Our clothing was a small contribution to a larger movement in the west to ensure that our community didn’t compromise its rich heritage, values, and beliefs in the face of fear.
GT: Modern Sikh style is emerging in the most beautiful and powerful and political ways - do you see a coordinated effort to create something impactful and socially influential across brands? Do you have relationships with other up and coming brands drawing from Sikh culture?
TS: In terms of Modern Sikh Style, I can speak more specifically to the United States and say that there is definitely a growing movement here. Whether we’re talking about visual art, movies, comedy, music or fashion design, the rise of Sikh artists in the States is definitely visible in the past decade. Sikh communities in countries like Canada or the UK have a lot more Sikh artists because they have more Sikhs who are second, third or sometimes even fourth generation citizens. Being that we’ve only been in the states for a little over a century, we’re now seeing more and more emerging Sikh artists.
We do have relationships with other up and coming brands and we love encouraging fellow Sikh youth to pursue their passions in art and fashion and entrepreneurship.
GT: Describe your latest (SS16) collection - anything in particular you're trying to say?
TS: We call our SS16 collection our "first pancake." We’ve been designing t-shirts and hoodies for over a decade now but this was truly my creation as a fashion designer. This was the first time I dipped my feet in the cut and sew game and let’s just say it was the best learning experience ever.
GT: What's the response been to the brand and your work? Feedback from the community?
TS: The response has been great so far. People are loving the fact that we’re offering a larger variety of products and I think they can tell that we’re not afraid of taking some risks.
GT: Do you have a concentrated consumer base, or are customers coming from a bit of everywhere?
TS: Our most concentrated markets come from the US, Canada and UK but we literally have customers all over the world. We’ve sent our apparel to pretty much every continent.
GT: Do you see people previously unfamiliar with Sikh culture and style learning and enhancing understanding through your collections and media?
TS: Yeah most definitely. There’s a lot of ignorance, miseducation and lack of knowledge regarding Sikhs, especially out in the West. To the point where it can sometimes lead to hate crimes and violence. A lot of the apparel we create serves as a conversation starter to help bridge the gap of ignorance.
GT: Apart from fashion, what else do you have your hands in? Other projects?
TS: Apart from fashion, my brother and I try to spend our time working with our all Youth to preserve our Sikh culture and encourage them to pursue the arts. We help organize an open mic night event called “Lahir: Move the Movement”, that provides a platform for Sikh Youth to come present their artistic talents. We also help organize a Sikh Youth camp called Camp Sant Sipahi every summer for high school and college students.
GT: What's on the horizon, what's next for Rootsgear?
TS: Our vision for the next 12-18 months is really to take Rootsgear to the greater streetwear market. We’ve already lined up the next two collections and all of them have more mass-appeal than what we’ve created in the past. We’re taking contemporary streetwear garments and giving them extremely unique Punjabi-Sikh elements. For one of our next collections we’ve partnered with artist Rupy Tut from California who expresses in traditionally inspired art forms like calligraphy, miniature painting and florals. So I’m really excited for all the new things that we’ll be releasing in the next few months!
From the brand:
Founded in 2004, Rootsgear is a unique lifestyle brand that artistically portrays the complex balance between the spiritual and the temporal. We are grounded in the belief that Integration ≠ Assimilation and we derive our energy from the 3Re.
3RE (pronounced as “three”)
Recognize | Remember | Respect
Recognize the creator resides in his creation and the ultimate Truth that we are all one. Remember our history and let it inspire us to make changes that last longer than us. Respect and preserve a lifestyle that fosters community and expression.
All photos and video c/o Rootsgear