In a country like India, where sex and sexuality are subjects often relegated to the sidelines of any conversation, concepts like kink and fetish are far-removed from the public’s collective imagination. Thanks to a limited (and possibly warped) understanding of erotic fetishism and how individuals include kink in their lifestyles, the practice has been further alienated from the mainstream dialogue on sex and wellness. In such a scenario, the emergence of a brand like Subculture is a refreshing deviation from the norm. Founded by designer Randhir Singh, Subculture is a unique platform that seamlessly blends leather fetish, fashion and utility. A brand that believes in breaking stereotypes and reimagining leather as kink, Subculture offers a range of products in leather including harnesses, corsets, handcuffs, chokers and lots more. At the heart of Subculture is a desire to start a revolution, the kind that prioritises sex-positivity and “celebrates all kinds of love and all shapes of people.”
Speaking to Gaysi, Randhir Singh explains the inspiration behind this revolutionary new brand: “Six years ago I was in my second year of university at NIFT Delhi studying Leather Design. I looked up to Madonna, Moschino, Lady Gaga among others, and I wanted to dress up like them. I wanted to wear those harnesses and to my surprise, I couldn’t find a single Indian brand that would make those beautiful body harnesses let alone dabble in fetish with utility.” He continues, “ I started researching about it and at so many points wanted to include it in my collections at college. As I understood it more, the more I wanted to explore it and it eventually became my passion. It was then a dream that someday I would introduce this whole new culture to India that [has] existed in the [contemporary] west for decades now. Therefore Subculture was also born to fill the void in the Indian market.”
With the help of social media, Randhir was able to successfully spread the word about Subculture and build a loyal customer base. “I started promoting and reaching out to friends on social media through behind-the-scenes, posts with Indian cultural references on sex positivity and even through opening conversations at the parties. The word started to spread about my brand and more people started to connect with me,” explains Randhir.
Establishing Subculture hasn’t been a journey without its hurdles. Randhir was inspired and keen to start his dream project but it took him a while to find the right artisans who were willing to learn and experiment with him. He says, “In January 2020, after a trip to Bali, I was determined to start my dream project. I even began practicing patterns, designs, and techniques to make leather body harnesses. However, I had to trial different artisans for months before I could find the right match. The pandemic further slowed down the process. Finally, in February 2021 I launched my first trans-seasonal collection that we called ‘Culture by Subculture’.” Randhir has also ensured that his brand works with local artisans and craftsmen who are open-minded and curious. “I work with a family of six where each of them is trained to be able to take certain tasks. Unfortunately, insufficient pay and lack of demand have driven many craftsmen from their generational craft to cities for corporate jobs or to work for larger companies. My craftsmen are passionate about their work and I make sure I pay fairly for their time. Together we experiment with modern techniques & contemporary designs.”
When it comes to working with models for Subculture, Randhir believes that they aren’t merely mannequins for his products but brand ambassadors that are “bold and ostentatious”. The models that work with Subculture have beliefs that align with the brand and Randhir hopes to continue working with more such progressive individuals. “For our first campaign, I worked with Nimisha, Shilo, and Omkaar. None of them are models by profession but they all have strong and unique personas. Nimisha is a metaphysical anatomy practitioner, Shilo is an artist & activist and Omkaar is a designer. Our fourth model Sher is our professional model and brought his style of showcasing the commercial aspect of Subculture tying the show together.”
Some might see Subculture as a controversial brand given the products and lifestyle it chooses to endorse. Has this led to any significant pushback from society? Fortunately for Randhir, Subculture has been well-received so far. “I get so many messages from people telling me what a great revolution it is and it was time it finally happened in India,” he says. “There have been no pushbacks so far, part of the reason also is that either people understand it or they just don’t and the ones who don’t aren’t my customers.” Randhir is on a mission to help destigmatise erotic fetishism through healthy conversation via his brand. He believes that “change doesn’t happen overnight”, but in time the India market will acclimatise to a brand like Subculture and all that it stands for. “I make sure to reference how ancient Indian history was far more open about sex and sexuality and hope that more such conversations will change the way people think today.”
As a queer person himself, Randhir believes that the radical nature of kink and BDSM bares a resemblance to queer culture and their fight against refusing to succumb to heteronormative expectations. According to Randhir, the intersection of queerness and kink is about community-building. He says, “The BDSM and kink community has long been a circle within which queer individuals of various orientations and backgrounds have engaged. Queer people have always been at the forefront of the sex positivity movement. Queerness bleeds into kink for so many individuals because it allows us to determine the parameters for our sexual behaviour in a world where the rulebook does not apply to us. Queerness can be about lust, love, or both, but by that same token, kink, leather, and BDSM aren’t exclusively about sex; to a large extent, they’re about community-building.”
For Randhir, kink is an integral part of queer history and offering a safe space for the queer community to explore kink is what he endeavours to do. “It is important to centre kink as a valid part of queer history—because, without it, we are erasing an essential part of our heritage. Offering this kind of safe space for exploration is one of kink’s great virtues, as it provides another option for relationship-building and sexual expression that doesn’t subscribe to traditional notions of how these structures should exist,” highlights Randhir. Subculture has made important strides in offering erotic fetishism and BDSM a valid platform that individuals in the kink community can seek out. The brand and its products are not just about fetish, fashion and utility but a symbol of inclusivity for all kinds of sexual preferences and desires.