Boys in trousers and girls in skirts. This has been the norm since school uniforms were introduced. However, over the past few years, making the dress code more inclusive of all genders have set a debate in motion. The question – Is it time we rethink uniform rules? – have proposed a new way of making students comfortable in their own bodies. We all know by now that the Valayanchirangara government Lower Primary School has introduced gender-neutral uniforms for all its students. It’s a great step towards creating an inclusive environment in educational institutions. But, what you most probably didn’t know about is the woman who designed these gender-neutral uniforms.
Vidya Mukundan from Kochi, an aspiring Chartered Accountant turned designer, writer, and aspiring filmmaker, is the person who came up with the uniform design everyone is talking about right now. Speaking to PinkLungi, she shared, “The PTA president and Academic Chairman of Valayanchirangara government Lower Primary School, Binoy Peter, had approached me in 2018. We’re really good friends, and he wanted to discuss the possibility of me designing gender-neutral uniforms for the students in the school.”
She added, “I took up the challenge as I felt it was the need of the hour. Every time I had a design in mind, I would constantly question if it would make every student feel comfortable. That was the priority. I did a lot of research, including studying the history of gender-neutral uniforms, and understanding how schools abroad designed such uniforms. After a couple of discussions with teachers, students, and Binoy, we decided to increase the length of the shorts and make it 3/4th for everyone. The boys would have a zip in front, while the girls would have an elastic fit around the waist. Both of the uniforms would have wide pockets.”
Vidya shared that she was initially apprehensive about the uniform because she wasn’t really sure if the students would feel comfortable. Parents were mostly concerned if their children could use the washrooms easily. So, in 2018, the gender-neutral uniform was introduced among pre-primary students (LKG + UKG) to understand their comfort level with the uniform. Vidya proudly said, “It was a success. In fact, the school wanted to introduce it to the other classes, but the pandemic happened. Now, since schools have reopened, they have made sure that all the students wear the uniform.”
“The best response I’ve got is from girls. The fact that they can now move around freely and play sports without any qualms made them feel like they can achieve anything. I’m not kidding, but I’ve had many girls come and tell me that the additions of pockets have made them understand the difference it can make. More importantly, they’re super happy about the free, comfortable movement,” Vidya added.
Kannur-native Vidya Mukundan has had quite a journey so far. Not only is she a fashion designer who runs her own boutique called Vidyas, but she is also a writer and an aspiring filmmaker. During her college years, even though Vidya was really interested in writing short stories and poetry and even fashion designing, she did not come across an opportunity to pursue it further. In fact, she knew that convincing her parents was going to be a hard nut to crack. So, she took up Commerce and went on to do her Chartered Accountant in Mumbai.
When her husband got transferred to Trichy in 2015, she had come back to Kerala where she gave birth. She shared, “I was looking for a job, but I had to find one where I could work from home while looking after my child. That’s when I decided to start my own boutique on Facebook. I kept on working to build the brand and even received orders from USA, UK, and Canada. All while doing this, I also wanted to have a connection with cinema because I was really passionate about that too. Through my fashion designing career, I got many opportunities to design apparel for anchors, TV actors, and more. But, I was driven to do more.”
Vidya added, “My husband and I decided to move to Kochi after two years of staying in Kannur. I had to make connections in the cinema field to make it big there. So, I opened my offline boutique in Kochi in 2017. I went on to publish my first book – Njan Ariyathe – which had 21 poems written by me. I even had the opportunity to be a lyricist, scriptwriter, and director for two music albums. It was in 2018, that Binoy came to me to discuss the possibility of designing gender-neutral uniforms. These past few years have been really fruitful for me as I was able to explore all my creative sides.”
The pandemic, however, struck and Vidya had to close down her boutique. But. it was during the pandemic-induced lockdown period that she had time to write two movie scripts. She even received a Fellowship at Kerala Chalachithra Academy in 2020 for conducting a year’s research on the History of Costumes in Malayalam Cinema. She plans to turn one of the scripts into a full-fledged movie next year. Speaking about movies, she said, “I love cinema. Making a film is like art; it’s an amalgamation of various art forms and skills. You can’t just be a filmmaker. You need to know about everything, right from set design, costume design, to makeup, lighting, and the list goes on. That fascinates me because it’s what I have always wanted to do.”
Speaking to Vidya was one of the most inspiring moments I have felt in a long time. I remember her sharing that many people advised her to concentrate in one field rather than doing everything at once. But, Vidya was adamant about exploring it all. It’s her enthusiasm that led her to become the person she is today. She has played a huge role in bringing a revolutionary change in Kerala’s school uniforms. We must thank her for that. Hopefully, she will be able to bring further accolades in the field of cinema soon.