If you are on Instagram and have been following North East (of India) Fashion, it’s very likely that you had already come across “Mekhla Mama” – commanding the attention with her super stylish traditional wear.
At first we were delighted to see such a strong form of individual style – and then we were deeply fascinated, which later turned into curiosity as to where she gets her inspiration from – as it is impossible to be that consistently striking without a deeper motivation.
So here we are, chatting up with the lady herself to know all about the person behind the face and what is the message that she is trying to convey through her “Mekhala Mama” avatar.
Tell us something about yourself. What do you do?
My name is Theyie Keditsu and I was born and brought up in Kohima, Nagaland. I currently teach in 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.
Tell us the story behind your Mekhala obsession and what is the message that you want to give out through your personal style/attire?
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 were 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.
Tell us the story behind your instagram handle @mekhalamama
I observed that most (young) women thought of Mekhalas as costumes or garments to be worn only on ocassions like festivals, stage performances or church. That’s when I realised I had to show them that this beautiful traditional attire can we strutted with grace everyday! 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 to our local art and apparels. 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 to our local art and apparels. As a Naga woman, and especially now as a mother of daughters, I realise 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 at a special occasion but by creating value & demand by making it part of our everyday wear.
How many traditional sets you own and where do you buy them from?
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.
Share some tips to incorporate Mekhalas in our daily outfits
What and Who inspires you, and how has your roots played a part in your statement making personal style?