If you’re following North East Indian fashion on Instagram, chances are you’ve come across “Mekhla Mama” and her super stylish traditional outfits that command attention. At first, we were delighted by her strong sense of individual style. However, as we continued to see her consistently striking looks, our fascination grew and turned to curiosity about the person behind the avatar.
We couldn’t help but wonder where she gets her inspiration from, as each style exuded a level of consistency and authenticity that must stem from a personal motivation.
So here we are, chatting up with the lady herself to know all about the person behind the face, and to dig deeper into the message she is trying to convey through her “Mekhala Mama” avatar.
R&L: Could you share a bit about yourself and what you do?
Mekhala Mama: My name is Theyie Keditsu and I was born and brought up in Kohima, Nagaland. I currently teach at Kohima College, Department of English. This will be my 12th year of teaching college. I’ve taught in Pfütsero Govt. College, Hindu College, DU & Sazolie College, Kohima.
R&L: Tell us the story behind your Mekhala obsession and what is the message that you want to give out through your personal style.
Mekhala Mama: My mother was an award-winning weaver in her youth. Though she went on to pursue medicine, she passed on her love for textiles & fashion to me. I grew up accompanying her to Mekhala shops, weaver’s homes/workshops to buy, appraise, or simply enjoy the craft. She even used to weave her own Mekhalas when we were kids. I think my love for textiles began then. I’ve been wearing Mekhalas for as long as I can remember. As a young woman, I recall being told by most older women that I was ‘too young’ to wear Mekhalas.
Three experiences were pivotal in making me more militant (or evangelical) about my passion for Mekhalas:
- First was a visit to Bhutan, where I saw that their traditional dress was worn with pride & sanctioned as the dress code for professional life.
- Second, I married a Khasi man and on my visits to Shillong, I witnessed how all women wore Jainsems to work.
- Lastly, on a routine window shopping trip to a local Mekhala shop, the proprietor told me that customers for Mekhalas were decreasing; that her clientele was mostly older women & younger ones hardly came. She shared that many weavers were not earning enough to hold on to weaving as their profession. This conversation was a turning point for me.
Until then, I was happy to be the oddball woman at work who wore Mekhalas while most of the others wore western dress. Maybe it’s my upbringing, but I decided I had to do my bit to win a few souls over to this dying cause. So I began openly encouraging friends, students & any woman who complimented me on my Mekhalas to take up wearing them as well.
R&L: Can you share with us the story behind your Instagram handle, @mekhalamama?
Mekhala Mama: I observed that most (young) women thought of Mekhalas as costumes or garments to be worn only on occasions like festivals, stage performances, or church. That’s when I realized I had to show them that this beautiful traditional attire can be strutted with grace every day! So I started this Instagram account @mekhalamama as a visual diary of #ootd inspirations featuring the “Mekhala” – as my humble attempt to keep our traditional attire and (textile) art alive and relevant – especially to the younger fashion-loving crowd.
Naga women are so fashion-forward and willing to spend good money on Zara, H&M, or even high-end luxury brands increasingly – from occasions to now daily wear. We need to realize that these big companies are already rich so why not help our skilled artisans instead, who are struggling to earn just enough? Moreover, the art form is unique and is crucial to our identity.
Sad to think that most people think so many times before buying a Mekhala but won’t think twice before paying Rs. 2999 for a cotton t-shirt from Zara! I love these brands but it would also be nice to show some love for our local art and apparel. Sad to think that most people think so many times before buying a Mekhala but won’t think twice before paying Rs. 2999 for a cotton t-shirt from Zara! I love these brands but it would also be nice to show some love for our local art and apparel. As a Naga woman, and especially now as a mother of daughters, I realize the importance of passing on my identity & heritage. Our textiles fall in an exclusively female domain.
Even if we may not be able to weave ourselves, educated earning women need to support our sisters who do, in order for our textiles & identity to live on. By that I mean not just wearing the token piece on a special occasion but creating value & demand by making it part of our everyday wear.
R&L: How many traditional sets do you own and where do you buy them from?
Mekhala Mama: A LOT! I started the collection while I was still a college student. Of course, traditional suits were expensive then as well – especially the really well-woven ones. So I started this smart way of collecting them by asking my parents to buy me traditional suits on my birthdays & Christmas! Once I began to earn myself, I continued to invest in traditional suit pieces. When pregnant with my second child, I put on a lot of weight so I had to buy myself two large-sized daily-wear Mekhalas. When people saw me going to work and dropping my kid to school in my Mekhala, people started gifting me Mekhalas.
“After @mekhalamama, many people have started gifting me mekhalas. For someone who loves & values mekhalas and uses precious savings to buy them, getting free and gorgeous mekhalas is like my wildest dreams come true! I must add that my mother has a large collection of her own, and has been kind enough to give some to me.”
R&L: Share some tips to incorporate Mekhalas in our daily outfits
Mekhala Mama: #Tip 1: The most important one is to just start wearing them. And if you are not that comfortable to begin with, you can wear them short or wear them with sneakers! I have a student who wears them with sneakers and she looks great! Younger women have come up with interesting drapes, so I learn from them as well.
#Tip 2: Learn to wrap a Mekhala. Like most things, one must first learn the rules in order to break them. When we can teach ourselves so many other things in the name of fashion, why not invest some time master the art of wearing a Mekhala the traditional way? Once you’ve mastered it, a Mekhala is actually one of the most convenient things to wear.
#Tip 3: Experiment & celebrate your individuality. That’s essentially what I’m doing & it’s so empowering & fun! Share some tips to incorporate Mekhalas in our daily outfits
R&L: What and Who inspires you, and how have your roots played a part in your statement-making personal style?
Mekhala Mama: I am inspired by my belief that women must support women and my desire to keep our culture – especially women’s culture alive. @mekhalamama has been such a wonderful ride so far. It has put me in touch with other like-minded women who also love and collect Mekhalas but just needed that little nudge to wear them. If this resonates with anyone reading, please tag me when you wear & post. Not just in weaving but also in wearing, it’s important for women to support women 🙂
Follow @mekhalamama on Instagram and tag her to join the Mekhala gang!
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