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Young Carers Action Day series: Meet Chalukya – Men’s Fashion Designer

Fair Futures for Young Carers

 

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

 

This year Young Carers Action Day’s takes place under the theme of ‘Fair Futures for Young Carers’. But what does that really mean if you’re a young carer? We travelled to Harrow to meet four young adult carers to find out. They’re all on the path to their dream future now. But only after they got the right support at the right time to help them juggle the pressures of their caring role with getting their foot on the career ladder.

This is Chalukya's story 

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 Saville Row, her career path and general outlook is one of hope and optimism, and it’s clear how much she attributes this to Harrow Young Carers.

“Harrow Young Carers has really changed my life,” she said. “And I can’t put into words how thankful I am for that. I was a real mess when I came here, and I hope that I can keep coming here.”

With this year’s Young Carers Action Day theme in mind, we asked Chalukya, what does ‘Fair Futures for Young Carers’ mean to you?

She said, “If people in education could give young carers the space they deserve to help balance their responsibilities with their education. When I was at uni, it was very hard because they weren’t understanding – it was like ‘you need to accept it’, and ‘get on with it’, ‘no one’s going to help you’. That ignorance came from my own peers as well. If I got more support at university it would have been a lot easier to manage. If people were more educated on what a carer is, especially in education, they could put support in place for those people. There is a need to educate the educators.”

Find out more about Young Carers Action Day and this year’s theme of ‘Fair Futures for Young Carers’ here

 

 

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