VERNON - Most fashion designers take six months to create their clothing collections, but Raji Aujla made hers in four days, laying patterns out on the dining table and couches of her parents’ home in Vernon.
Aujla, 30, loves a good challenge. Born and raised in Vernon, she has spent time working as an international affairs journalist, a cultural curator, a documentarian and a clothing designer. She’s currently pursuing a law degree, and while all her endeavours may seem like they’ve led her in different directions, they’ve all been working in concert towards Aujla’s 15-year plan to build schools and opportunities for children in third world countries.
“I don’t do things that are easy, ever,” Aujla says, laughing. “I enjoy the thrill of the challenge.”
Drive and ambition came early for Aujla, who grew up on the family apple orchard in Vernon, often getting up at 5 a.m. to help her parents before school. By grade six she was already turning to school counsellors for guidance on how to get scholarships for university; her parents supported higher education, but encouraged Aujla to get there on her own.
While enrolled at Vernon’s Mission Hill Elementary, she got the opportunity to work on a documentary about multiculturalism called The Many Faces of Mission Hill, and its producers saw her natural talent in storytelling right away. The experience sparked an already budding interest in journalism.
“When I was young, I watched a lot of Oprah. I loved the real human stories she was uncovering,” Aujla says. “I went to India when I was four and I vividly remember it. I always wondered how I could convey what I saw there, here.”
She moved to Toronto to follow her interest in journalism, and has since written for the Huffington Post, the Globalist, and Al Jazeera, among other publications. In 2009, looking for something new to throw herself into, she moved to India and got involved with a school that provides education and skills training to children living in slums. One of the programs offered was tailoring and fashion design.
“That was the big aha moment for me,” Aujla says. “I thought, there’s a business opportunity here, an honest one, to source fabrics from the local community, make clothes through employing the Sikyah college graduates, and then sell whatever we make with the money going back into the structure to make it sustainable.”
That is the basis for her non-profit organization The Sikya Project. Aujla The Label, her personal fashion line, is one way she’s hoping to jumpstart it.
“Almost all the proceeds will go to the Sikya Project,” she says.
Never without her sketchbook, Aujla is always coming up with new looks and it didn’t take her long to draw up her latest collection, which debuted at Eco-Fashion Week in Vancouver on April 21. Not only was the collection made in Vernon — with the help of her mother, a former seamstress and designer, and sisters — the concept for the androgynous-style line was born locally as well.
“My sister has twins, a boy and a girl,” Aujla says. “Each had characteristics of the other, and that inspired this look.”
It was important for her to create the line using eco-friendly material, again, because of her niece and nephew: She wants to preserve this world for them so they can enjoy it as she has.
Her family, and the community, were behind her the whole way, from the staff at Fabricland to her mom’s friends, to local designers in Vernon.
“I feel I could only have had that experience in Vernon,” she says.
Pieces from her recent collection will soon be available online, and in select local stores. More information will be posted online in the coming weeks.
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