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Against the odds: how a young carer overcame homelessness and the near-death of her father to become a fashion designer

A Carers Trust feature for International Women’s Day

 

Chalukya (third from the right) and her fashion project team

Chalukya (third from the right) and her fashion project team

For as long as she can remember, Chalukya has wanted to be a fashion designer. Nothing unusual in that, you might say. Over the decades, London’s suburbs have produced a stream of fresh young talent aspiring to reach the summit of the London fashion world.

But this 26-year old’s progression from life as a young carer in Harrow to a position on London’s prestigious Savile Row was anything but usual. For Chalukya, life seemed to have a knack of throwing up one barrier after another to her achieving her dreams. Many would have given up. And for Chalukya there were times when she despaired of ever making it into the world of fashion. Thankfully, her determination saw her through.

Carers Trust caught up with her recently so she could share her story for International Women’s Day. It’s a wonderful reminder of what young carers can achieve – even in the most difficult circumstances.


Chalukya was homeless for some time when she was studying for her undergraduate degree in men’s fashion at London College of Fashion. Then she found herself moving in with her father to become his primary carer. For the next few years, Chalukya had the near-impossible task of looking after her dad – with all the many responsibilities that involved – while trying to manage her own autism. And all the while working her way through both her undergraduate degree and Master's degree at Central Saint Martins.

Securing a place on that Masters course had been no mean feat: only 5% of applicants get through. And as if that wasn’t enough, she even managed to obtain a scholarship through the British Fashion Council which evidently recognised her potential. Without the scholarship she wouldn’t have been able to afford the course.

But in the final year of her Masters, her dad’s health rapidly declined to a near-fatal level. Chalukya had to postpone her studies to care for him. But even once his health had stabilised and he started to recover, it was still an incredibly challenging time for them. A problematic landlord and a toxic university mentor made an already unbearable situation even worse for Chalukya. Most students would have struggled to cope with either problem. Together, they pushed Chalukya into a state of depression.

Many would have given up at this point. With never-ending obstacles piling up in her way, Chalukya couldn’t see a clear path through to her future. She decided to take a year out from her Masters.

And this was when a mentor from Disability Student Allowance identified her as a carer, and suggested she get in touch with Harrow Young Carers.

"It was hard because I was on my own. Harrow Young Carers actually came into my life after my Masters. When I came here I was very depressed, burnt out and suicidal. I wish they were there when I did my degree.”

With only the faintest glimmer of hope still left within her, she followed the advice and got in touch with Harrow Young Carers. Kevin Lema (Young Adult Carers Lead) then called her directly and convinced her to come along to a session at the centre. Chalukya has been coming to the centre, almost every week, ever since.

“They’ve really helped me move on from my Masters. I felt like I ruined my Masters and ruined my life. Now with Harrow Young Carers, it’s been very different,” she said.

For the first time, Chalukya found herself in a supportive and understanding environment, and began to flourish. With the support of Kevin and the team, she bolstered her portfolio and experience as a men’s fashion designer – so much so that her work was recognised by the British Fashion Council. They invited her to come and network with key people in the industry and showcase her collection at London Fashion Week 2023.

“It’s been widely appreciated,” she said. “My work is all about giving middle-aged to older men a voice in fashion, showing the beauty of ageing and breaking down stigma associated with it.”  

Last August, she was also approached by Fashion Scout who wanted to create a film about her work. The film was made in collaboration with the team at Harrow and was launched for London Fashion Week 2024. “I’ve been able to achieve that with them [Harrow Young Carers],” she said. “They’ve really nurtured me and my talent and accepted me for who I am. It’s like another family really. I just wish they were in my life earlier. They’ve given me a lot of hope and made me realise what I want to achieve as a designer.”

Chalukya attributes a lot of her success to the support of Harrow Young Carers, but it’s clear that without her perseverance and resilience, she would not have made it to where she is today. And the driving force of her spirit is undoubtedly her passion for her work, for which she has always had a clear vision.

“My work is all about storytelling, telling the stories of real people, dressing real people. People like my dad model for me for that reason,” she said.

With Chalukya recently securing a position at a men’s fashion designers on Savile Row, her career path and general outlook is one of hope and optimism.

And as a young woman embarking on her career in the men’s fashion industry, we wanted to finally bring it back to International Women’s Day. So we asked Chalukya what this year’s theme – ‘Inspire Inclusion’ – means to her, and the role inclusivity has played throughout her journey.

"Inclusion is what will create a paradigm shift where human differences and experiences are seen as desirable and not something to be afraid of or rejected. It’s not about tolerance but about celebration.

It's an indescribable feeling when anyone appreciates and understands your work and what you are trying to accomplish with what you're creating. It felt even more humbling and an honour to have the support of the British Fashion Council (BFC) as I remember being a teenager and was always following everything they did and how they established themselves and running London Fashion Week. The fact Sarah Mower knows who I am is crazy! What's even better is that even though I've graduated, everyone I know from BFC still supports my work and keeps in touch with me. They make me more hopeful and determined to continue on this path and see where it takes me.”

 

 

 

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