It was dance that gave Poornima Sharma the confidence to stand up to the world — and it was dance and the associated spirit of abandoned freedom that she first celebrated when she made her foray into fashion with her line, Meera, which mixes traditional silhouettes with a modern sensibility.
Dance was always in her bones: Sharma is the daughter of dancer Sri Raghavan Nair, co-founder and art director of the Indian Dance Center in Sydney, Australia. But when she got married at a young age, the strict orthodoxy of her in-laws’ family made dancing difficult. So she would sneak away to the garage in the early mornings to practice her craft in secret.
“It’s all about the feeling; dancing was liberating,” Sharma told SEEMA from her home in Liverpool, Australia. “Although I couldn’t express my feelings through words, I found a way to channel the love I had for my Indian heritage and the independence I yearned for myself in the most authentic way I knew how to. …Dance is my way of telling the world, this is me, unashamed and unapologetic.”
The energy she drew from dance is what kept her going when she decided to become an entrepreneur, setting up Meera, a fashion label that celebrates diversity, in 2018. It just so happens that the mystic poet after which the business is named, drove her own in-laws to distraction with her own passion for Lord Krishna.
Sharma’s Meera is more than a business to her. She provided context in terms of her own parents’ work.
“Teaching dance was never about the money for us. The school was our life-line, but in the way that rains are to a river. Saying we were passionate about passing on the art — that is, traditional Indian dance — to the next generation is an understatement. We thrived on watching hundreds of years of tradition come to life and were honored to play a part in something so much bigger than ourselves.”
Sharma set up the fashion label with the same empowering message that the original Meera had for women and men: “Decide who you want to be and let your actions speak for you.” Sharma described the effort as one that stood up for diversity and fearlessness in the face of adversity, namely the challenges that come from being part of a minority group in a predominantly Anglo society.
Each outfit in her first collection, Kesariya, pays homage to Indian dance styles across many regions of India. The cloth is sourced directly from weavers and is handmade to order, with each piece embroidery reflecting the material and style peculiar to its Indian state of origin. The campaign ran last October.
Sharma also tested the limits in terms of how she showcased the resulting creations.
“I purposely recruited models who defied the ideals of beauty that many Indian women, including myself, grew up with,” she said. “Using my designs as a soundboard, I wanted to showcase the rawness, the authenticity and the diversity of Indian culture. My photographer, Anshul, understood me well and really helped me bring my vision to life.”
Sharma knew she was taking a chance bucking the established ways of the industry. People discouraged her, telling her that she was too young, that she had no connections, no status and, more importantly, no experience in the world of fashion. But she was all right with that.
“The one thing that has stayed with me all these years is my father telling me, ‘Poornima, age is just a number. It’s how you see yourself that matters.’”
Sharma sums her passion up more bluntly.
“What is the point of living if you’re not willing to take risks?” she asked. “Life is too short to dwell on the would haves, should haves, could haves. It is important to have faith in yourself and in your passion.”
Sharma’s work has certainly made waves in Australia.
Fabrics of Multicultural Australia (FOMA), a platform that celebrates multiculturalism in Australia, launched her designs at its 2019 ramp show. Her collection was chosen as the Show Stopper for the night.
Since Kesariya, Sharma has launched three other campaigns: Zari, Ghazal and Rasika & Rasikmijaz, each making its own case for empowerment, celebrating modern Indian women and men. Sharma set up pop-up stores all over Sydney, and a successful online campaign led to her establishing a strong customer base, most of whom are young Indian women across Australia, and some in India.
When asked what drives her, Sharma said it is her sons, Deepak and Ravi.
“They inspired me to make something of myself and explore this creative and entrepreneurial side of me that I never thought I would pursue,” she said. She wants to be a role model for her children as encourage them to follow their dreams without the fear of failure.
While Sharma argues for independence, she also had a word of caution.
“Go with your passion, but go with it with a sense of dedication and discipline,” she said. “Know that it will be hard work and you will face a lot of setbacks, but keep your tribe close. Keep those who support you at the forefront of everything you do and make sure they know that your success is their success. It’s all about teamwork. Never forget it.”