Committee Members Is The Streetwear Line Repping Toronto’s South Asian Community
Their collections are inspired by Indian culture back home, and in the West.
Carrom is a tabletop board game best described as a South Asian take on billiards, sans cue. Take a peek behind the couch or underneath a bed in many brown—South Asian, Arab, and East African—homes and you'll find the large, two-and-half foot square plywood board used for playing. Mention carrom to someone who grew up with the game and you'll unlock a saccharine-sweet chat about early childhood memories, heated disputes between players, and that one legendary auntie and uncle tag-team whose fingers were the finest to flick discs across the baby powder-covered board.
It's a game that represents the dualities of immigrant life and also the latest inspiration for Toronto leisurewear brand Committee Members. The 'Carrom' collection isn't the brand's first foray into homaging South Asian sports culture: in 2013, they made sweatshirts inspired by kabbadi, an Indian contact sport that operates at the pro level. Committee Members' designs, including the 'Carrom' collection, are all about brown self-expression and maintaining pride in one's culture. In the unisex lookbook, you'll find crewneck sweaters adorned with the traditional carrom board insignia, chai teacup pins, and T-shirts emblazoned with five waves paying tribute to the five rivers of the Punjab region of north India.
The FADER spoke with Harman Singh, one of the founders of Committee Members about the label, its brand philosophy, and finding inspiration in hand-me-down Hilfiger jackets.
How did Committee Members come together?
HARMAN SINGH: Committee Members is an exploration of identity and culture, [by people] born and raised in the west with roots in South Asia. Clothing and apparel is our form of expression to tell this story. We're a small operation, and do everything in-house. The brand is operated by three people, but the collective that's involved is much larger so we design and create clothes that people around us would wear. We're lucky to have artists, musicians, community organizers, and entertainers as friends.
How would you describe your upbringing?
Growing up first generation Canadian was hard, but no different than any it is for any kid growing up in an immigrant family household. We spoke two languages, participated in two cultures, and had to navigate that to find an identity. It’s tough not having a sense of belonging growing up, but now I can say that it pushed me creatively to want to find answers and share them.
What inspires your designs?
Our focus isn’t on design as much as it is about revisiting cultures that we might have misunderstood growing up. So you'll see references to the '90s, the intersection of reggae and hip-hop with bhangra, and the immigrant struggle in the west, [so think] Apache Indian, factory working mothers, and political unrest. It’s less about the idea of a homeland, and more about people. It’s the story of hardworking immigrants whose only goal was to survive and create better lives for their families. I want to tell their stories.
On your website you write about 'moving towards a globally connected community' that's less defined by physical borders. Where does Committee Members fit into that new world?
The Internet has changed everything. Political borders still exist but cultural exchange is no longer dependent on location: you can plug into an experience online and get access to Japanese subcultures, and music from Chicago's drill scene. It's important to me that South Asian kids from the UK can love to skate, be politically aware, and be proud of their heritage without [feeling like it's] corny.
Your latest collection is named after the game, carrom. How did that come about?
In the '90s, my parents came home from a trip to Punjab with this very dorky game called carrom. They were excited to share it with us because it was a game they played when they were young. So we wanted to cement that memory.
What brands or designers are you inspired by?
Growing up most of the stuff I wore was either bootleg or hand me downs from an uncle, who is like five years older than me. So Puma, Champion, and Tommy Hilfiger—man, all I ever wanted was a hand-me-down Tommy Hilfiger. Once he finally let go of that that pullover jacket you couldn’t tell me nothing!
Stussy has been awesome to watch with their subtle changes in art direction. Concepts out of Boston has been consistent with their drops and it's fun to see them grow to more than just an in-house line. Reigning Champ and Engineered Garments are always an inspiration because of their quality and consistency.
What is Committee Members up to for the rest of 2016?
More drops, and hopefully a collaboration with an artist that is very special and dear to me, fingers crossed. The next collection is inspired by the Guddar Movement, a South Asian multi-faith resistance party from the early 1900s with roots in Berkeley University in California.