Sanjay Garg Curated
Founder, Raw Mango
CURATED BY :
When you look back on why you started Raw Mango 10 years ago, your ideas at the time and your journey, does what inspired you then inspire you now?
I started by asking myself and I still ask myself – as citizens, what is our contribution to our society, and what is my contribution, specifically? And I felt that [in India] we’re thinking about every aspect of our country, except design. Parents don’t encourage their children to become designers – it does not even feature in the top 10 acceptable careers.I was training to be a chartered accountant but after I graduated, I wanted to study design. I trained as a textile designer, and I had these questions – what can design solve, and how can it be recognised as a part of our everyday lives? Not just in the sense of colours and motifs, because they keep changing, but in the context of the bigger picture. To me, design is a way of life. You need to think about how your home looks, what your world looks like, what do you need that design can offer you. For example, everyone talks about weavers, but why doesn’t anyone talk about the leather tanner and the potter? They are also artisans. Which is also why the word sustainability bothers me sometimes – I find it very limiting, abused and overused. It does not mean anything to me and it feels like it’s a borrowed word. Are we only going to sustain textiles? We look at shoes from Italy, but what about leather artisans in our own country? Are we going to support them? To me, design means that there has to be a relationship between the weaver, the saree, society and the ideas of sustainability and functionality. I must be able to make money and you must be able to make money. No one needs sympathy. We all need to work together. These are the ideas that drive me.
How would you define sustainability?
It is a fluid concept and it depends on the place and time. Earlier, sustainability meant something else and it means something else now. In India, we especially have to think about where we are coming from. Our four metropolitan cities cannot define what sustainable means. India is much bigger than them – the needs, income groups, lifestyles are very different outside these cities. Sustainability has to be a local concept and no-one can force their definition of it and system for it on anyone else.
Raw Mango is a unique brand. The palettes are filled with very Indian colours like lime green and rani pink. You don’t use models in your campaigns, and the images are very unlike the kind of fashion photography we are used to seeing. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you created this aesthetic?
I am always trying to push the envelope in every aspect of my work – I don’t know whether I am successful in doing so or not, but it is important that I work this way. And imagery is a part of this. When I started my label, I could find no references of fashion imagery in the Indian context that worked for me. There were Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings for example, but nothing else that really resonated with me. And personally, I liked the way Indira Gandhi wore the saree, even though she wore very little colour. Maybe that was because the references of colour at that time in India were taken from the West, or because there were not many options to choose from? Or because what was considered sophisticated at that time was not colourful? Now, that has changed. Indians are travelling, they have the power to buy, they are proud to be Indian and they no longer think that they have to go to America to be successful. When I launched my label in 2008, the conversations had just started about design and luxury and what these mean in India. People were becoming more confident and they wore my garments in lime green and rani pink. I never use models in my campaigns because I want to feature people who actually wear my clothes – they bring their own personality to the garments. For the shoots, they choose their jewellery themselves, and they wear their hair as they like – I never ask them to change any of that, because it makes my brand’s communication very positive, relatable and real. The people in our photographs are also of all ages and they represent the range of women who buy and wear Raw Mango. I stay in dialogue with my own work, mostly. And sometimes, my inspiration is something that angered me. For example, I hated the idea that lime green was considered a gavaaru [unsophisticated] colour but I feel that colour does not relate to social status. Where else will you wear colour if not in India? The light is very bright and colour looks good on us.
You place great emphasis on the experiencing of your brand in your stores. The sarees are placed in cupboards and are taken out to be shown to the customer and just that one practice harks back to the more traditional experience of retail in India. How does it help?
[Yes] and this is an important part of our brand. Across the board, our references of visual merchandising are taken from the West these days. And it is not that I wanted to prove a point, but because I did not relate to those references, they did not burden me, and I chose to go the old-fashioned way. For example, in Rajasthan, when two diamond merchants are conducting a trade, they sit on white gaddas [mattresses] in a room and there are no displays. The stock is stored in cupboards in another room, and it is taken out, wrapped in green paper. In Varanasi, I observed that saree merchants use brown wrapping paper. So this is a very Indian concept of minimalism and I wanted to bring it back. You will see that I have no mannequins in my stores and there are no boards outside though we get complaints about that. We don’t have trial rooms – a customer can drape a saree anywhere in the store but now that we stock blouses and kurtas, I am thinking about adding in trial rooms. And most important – in our store, you cannot really see the merchandise. Every cupboard has curtains so when you walk in, it looks very clean.
When a customer starts browsing your collection, it feels like unveiling a surprise. Is this some kind of technique you use for your business?
Exactly, that is the experience – it is luxurious, and it visually different from what you might expect. This was my sole purpose, but it is coming directly from those traditional practices. Because there is enough minimalism and everyday luxury in Indian design.
You pay attention to the details, but you don’t overwhelm your customer. Why so?
Yes, and it’s very instinctive and I have to work hard to strike that balance.
These days, there is a lot of talk about how sarees are being revived. Do you think that this is a very narrow approach to the conversation when there are whole sections of the country in which the saree has never died?
Yes. And people might disagree with me but I think this is true because through our lens, we only see Delhi and Mumbai. So this conversation that the saree is being revived is a very high-end drawing room story. It’s only a [concern] for some people. Women all over the country are wearing the saree but I don’t like the divide that the saree is a traditional outfit, which automatically makes it passé. To me, traditional is a part of the present and will be a part of the future. If we can correct this divide between cool and traditional, I think we will be okay.
What have been your personal milestones over this decade?
A milestone for me was when we opened our first store-in-store in Bengaluru – it gave me a lot of joy and it showed me that I can grow my business. When you start out, you don’t know where this journey will take you and you think that you will have to always tend to every aspect of it. But opening that store showed me that we had become a brand which can grow without me being there personally. We are now opening a stand-alone store on Lavelle Road in Bengaluru, which is great. When I learnt how to work with mashru, and brocade, it’s not that anyone else knew or noticed. But when I saw the first saree or garment, it meant something to me, because working with new textiles was a challenge I fixed for myself. Sales are numbers. Once you crack that, you don’t really feel a rush. It’s the same – you are successful, bread-butter aa raha hain, aap badhte ja rahe ho. [You are making your bread and butter, and growing.] Numbers are fine, but you cannot stick only to the number game. You have to creatively challenge yourself. I always thought [my label] should be worn in Lucknow and in Mumbai. I love that I am successful in Chennai and Bengaluru.
What do you find most exciting and, conversely, most challenging about being a part of Indian fashion now?
Maybe this is not a real challenge but now [Raw Mango’s] success has come to imply somehow that my brand is unaffordable. This [perception] does not make me happy and it is not true because I still stock sarees for Rs 4,000. But it is an interesting time to be a designer in India. Earlier, fashion brands tended to have a sense of regionality but I think newer labels have broken out of that – for example, labels like Péro and Bodice are pan-Indian [in their appeal]. I feel like we’re all part of this new movement that thinks about organic food, being aware of what you are buying, environmental consciousness, etc. There is [a school of thought] that if you don’t understand politics or economics, you cannot design something. Everything happens for a bigger reason.
Do you see a new Indian aesthetic being created?
How do we define India? There could be a hundred definitions. This question is very difficult, just like asking if paneer is a national dish. I can put the aesthetic in three categories. One is kitschy like truck art, Bollywood-inspired art, street fashion – it’s a bhel puri of everything. The second is the India of the maharajas – with elaborate enamel work, the Taj Mahal and the palaces. The third is rural India – missi roti, chutney and kora kapda. So [it is] impossible to say if we have a common aesthetic.
You have said in the past that you are not taken in by recognition from international museums or organisations. Why do you feel that way?
I respect the work that they do, don’t get me wrong. And I appreciate the attention but to me, it is important to think about creating our own institutions. Can we study design better and do something on our own? Because a foreign museum does not have our point of view. We need to create something within our own context. What happens abroad does not make any difference to people in Panipat or Sonepat or Nagpur. Will what happens in a museum in Kochi or in a palace in Rajasthan matter to someone abroad? No. So it’s the same thing. We have to create [our own] institutions and evolve. We cannot keep examining only our past.
There is huge interest now in buying textiles and engaging with weavers and artisans, both as consumers and designers. Share with us your point of view about this.
I would really like to say two things about this. One is that if you only focus on making handloom, when are you going to start educating people about textiles? How will people know the difference between khadi and other kinds of cotton? How will they know the difference between pashmina wool and Merino wool? People say handlooms are special but if they don’t understand what makes them special, what is the point? How will they value them? We need much more education about textiles, much more awareness.And the second thing is that we still look at weavers through the lens of class and hierarchy. It’s still a very casteist issue. Weavers only marry weavers. But when a weaver gets his daughter married, he looks at what skills she will share and learn – if she knows how to weave a kota saree, maybe she can marry into a family that will teach her how to weave a maheshwari saree. A bride takes her skills and her loom with her. This is a complex but interesting reality. My point is that weaving and working with handloom textiles need to become an acceptable career choice. And this is also true for all kinds of craft. We have no famous glassware designers. In this country of over a billion people, we have no really famous footwear designers. Or furniture designers. Are there any names we can actually celebrate?
What are your goals and hopes for the next decade, not just for Raw Mango but also for the industry?
I think there is a lot of interest in what we are all doing, and there is a hunger for it, which is great. And I have been able to achieve all of this on my own, without a godfather. We are making money. I am able to do whatever I want to do. And this is stimulating enough for me. The day I am not able to do things, I will start complaining – I hope that does not happen. And I think India can become the next big global hub for handloom textiles, like France is the global hub for perfumes. If we can all come together as an industry with the right support, we can achieve this. We have to create Indian brands that can do well globally.
Raw Mango has set a very distinctive tone for itself as a brand because, instead of the typical Bollywood glam that involves a lot of bling, it has been focused on beautiful handlooms and reviving in young women their love for saris. Tell us the thought behind it.
Raw Mango is a sari brand, and Sanjay Garg is our line of garments (lehengas, dresses, coats and separates). The DNA is the same, the textile development process is as involved, however, the intention behind Sanjay Garg was to give occasion wear options to women when they were not wearing a sari.
Have you always had a love for the handloom? Did you feel it needed a revival?
Handloom is special to me because it speaks to ones’ culture, community, craft and much more. There has definitely been more awareness about handloom than before, but it is still too early to see whether this revival has brought about change and importantly, we need more numbers associated with progress. Access to simple data is still an issue, it is hard to judge change without that.
Because of this modern age, the art of sari draping is dying. More and more women don’t know how to drape and avoid saris because they find it difficult. How do you believe the sari will survive in our modern age? Do you find this is a problem you consider and try to address when designing your collections?
Our Raw Mango campaigns are always photographed on real women, most of whom wear the sari and are comfortable with it in their wardrobes. We don’t design with the intention to change that but are actively involved in that conversation as well. For instance, I’ve been on the Advisory Board and very involved in www.thesariseries.com — a digital anthology of drape that recently released and creates access to over 90 short how-to drape films. Projects like these have the potential to impact change in this space and are deeply connected to the world of Raw Mango.
Can you describe the Raw Mango woman? Do you have a muse? Is there a woman who inspires you when you are designing?
The idea of one woman is an unrealistic ideal — our designs range from saris with monkeys, flamingoes, rabbits and more to the antique trellis of florals. The options are endless, and we are fortunate to be able to cater to all kinds of women — whether they choose minimalistic options like our gold tissue sari, a sooti sari, simply color block, our textiles, or opt for a banarasi silk.
Is there a type of silk sari that is your favorite?
If I had to pick five saris, they would be Kanchipuram, Pondru, Varanasi, Lahariya, and Chanderi.
Let’s talk about the collection, ‘Cloud People.’ Could you tell us about this collection, especially the name? You offer a pantsuit in a Bordeaux brocade, which took my breath away. Should we expect more separates and, for lack of a better word, Western silhouettes?
‘Cloud People’ invokes a celestial spell, bringing to earth winged messengers and unearthly spirits — mythical symbols of hope and guardianship. Requiring close appreciation, minute collection details reveal soft feathers and scalloped clouds of angels in flight, made through hand embroidery, Bengal mul, zardozi, and brocade. Menswear of the Awadh region informed many of ‘Cloud People’s’ silhouettes including dresses, kurtas, trousers, jackets and more.
Share a piece of style advice with us.
I think it’s important to not get carried away by trends, instead, explore your culture, tradition, and heritage and think about the uniqueness each textile or fabric can bring, and of course, dress for your body type.
How does Raw Mango plan to bring Indian handlooms and textiles on the world map?
We complete a decade this year, and the realisation of this milestone and planning for the future in terms of the growth of the business and new opportunities is top of mind. Especially to not become complacent within a narrow definition of design. We will continue to expand boundaries of the brand, and what I am as a designer through more stores of our own, and to sell our products to a larger audience both in India and globally.
When you started designing, what is it that you had set out to achieve?
I always wanted to change the world and I still want to. I don’t agree with the aesthetic of a woman dressing up too much. Why does she have to carry so much baggage? Bollywood is now going the simple route. Earlier they would deck up top to bottom; they would go minimal when it came to western clothing. So, I would be like, is minimal only a western concept? Does minimalism mean nothing in India? I would be angry. I disagreed with the system so much. I thought why is a sari not fashion first of all? Why is it not modern? Why is it not for a young woman? Why is handloom not cool? IICD changed my mindset; I learnt that craft was everything.
How did your love affair with the sari start?
I started Raw Mango in 2008. Before that I wanted to go abroad to study, and come back and do textile designing. To pool in money, I took up a government project that used to pay me Rs 30,000 a month. That’s how I got introduced to Chanderi. And when I went there, I fell in love. There were offers from two-three colleges in London, but I never went. I would always wonder, can design change something? Can design bring back the sari to another world? How does design solve a purpose? I always wanted to make the sari the hero because I felt it was the need of the time. As a countryman, that is my identity. There were beautiful designs, so what was the problem? I was a nationalist since then and I think it has become a bad word today. Today I also understand the value of the handmade. You look at things differently. When you are buying old textiles or a statue, you value it all the more. That system of valuing, I wanted to change in everyone’s head. Why are only Italy-made shoes valuable and not your jootis? Why are made-in-Italy suits so expensive and not the Indian ones? So, when people say handloom is expensive, I say why not?! Why do you need to suffer because you are doing handloom? Paisa galat cheez hai, I disagreed with that also. I wanted to work on my terms. I realised I would have to make money, which I could invest in my innovation and research. That was my model. I named it Raw Mango because I love the beauty of imperfection. And I wanted a bit of a surprise... Indian, but very different and edgy. You also feel that tangy taste! I started off as a one-man army. Then there were three people for two-and-a-half years. Earlier, I was in a very small house in Vasant Kunj (in Delhi) for five years. Then I went to Chhattarpur (on the outskirts of Delhi). People said no one would come; now it has become so happening. Everything happened with a lot of risk. Everyone works hard, but I think I was lucky. I happened to be at the right moment. I did Chanderi, mushroo, brocade lehngas; now, so many people are doing brocade. You feel good. Heer (his festive collection) was not shot in a palatial place. We did it in a house. We have no almirahs or mannequins in the stores, the saris are all in the cupboards.
Do you remember the first sari you designed?
It was a beige sari with a gold border, tone-on-tone. Then there was a pink-and-red striped one with a silver border. There was a white sari with a one-inch silver border with small checks on the pallu. There was one sari in organza and cotton vertical stripes, tone-on-tone. Then I did my bird sari, which became a hit. There was a mango on the sari too. Over the years we have retained the solid-hued ones. I started with Chanderi, then I went to Benaras, after that it was Mussoorie . Then I did Bengal jamdani and I still do it. You evolve every single day.
Why do you think your saris became so popular?
I think my saris became cool because I edited a lot through design. I made them so simple. The bold colours and combinations, the uniqueness of the motifs, the layout of the sari, the different uses of zari and the drape of it. I was washing every single sari; it wasn’t starched, it was flowy on the body. And that’s what the woman wanted because she’s always on the move.
What exactly do you love so much about the sari?
The sari is so romantic. When I see a Marathi woman in her sari with a khand blouse, or a cotton sari in Bengal or a lady in a Kanjeevaram with flowers in her hair, it is something else. Bengalis have great aesthetics. I want to see that in the crowd. I want to see at least 15 per cent women wearing cotton saris beautifully. Sometimes I miss that when I come to Calcutta. The red bindi... that whole romance of Calcutta that I have in my head. You fall in love with it. I am not saying every woman needs to wear a sari but till I die, the sari will be my first love. More than a particular weave, I like the simple aesthetics of the sari. There is a kind of imagery in my head. I love the sensibility of a Kanjeevaram with a gold border, or a white-on-white jamdani.
Do you think the sari has shed its ‘uncool’ tag?
I think the idea of modernity and coolness has changed. People think a sari is not modern, but a sari is actually an evolved outfit. You don’t have to worry about sizes and you can tie it in 50 different ways! Modern is a mix of many things. Who you are, the way you wear things with confidence. My sister always wears a sari with a bustier, she feels a sari doesn’t require a blouse. That’s what they wore here before, in Bengal and Odisha. I think we also need to come out of that phase where wearing a sari is a statement. I don’t believe in it. This ‘in’ and ‘out’ business is bad. There is a culture you have inherited, you need to belong where you come from. People definitely buy saris for their trousseau, but my idea of a sari is not for the trousseau alone. I’ll be unsuccessful if I only become a wedding brand. That’s why in my store, there is a sari worth Rs 5,000 also, because the idea that a sari is to be worn only at shaadis annoys me. I am not imposing, but you can wear it to a night-out or a dinner. Find your own reason and comfort.
You have launched your garments line too. Tell us about it.
In 2014, I started doing garments, in a bid to reach out to more people. I could also use many more looms. And a lot of young girls come and buy now. I am doing objects with glass, loha and bronze. I want to explore, but the idea of the design will remain the same. If I can retain that sensibility irrespective of what I make, toh main hoon. I am all about revival as well as innovation. Some of my collections, like Monkey Business and Cloud People, did not have traditional motifs. Then again, I would do one which is completely traditional. I think life is about that — balance. This country needs the right representation and a balance, which I try while I am designing. Sometimes I think India mein minimalism hotey the kya, or am I forcing it?
What’s coming up in the next season?
We are working on our summer collection that features thousands of flowers. We have also done Lucknow chikankari. The experiment continues. I wouldn’t say I would ever be able to master textile. I don’t think anyone can. One lifetime is not enough for one textile.
Why do you maintain a distance from the fashion industry?
I don’t belong in this world of fashion. When you say people think twice before touching my pieces, I feel bad. Being expensive is okay because of the craftsmanship, but not because it is fashionable. Sometimes, “fashion designer” sounds like a gaali to me. Call me a textile designer or someone who is working with textiles. I don’t want to belong here, I am in a happy space. I don’t care what they say, but yeh anger bana rehna chahiye.
What is your favourite motif, favourite colour and favourite fabric?
That little chidiya, which we don’t see any more and I like green a lot and Mushroo is my favourite fabric.
What are your thoughts on the handloom versus powerloom battle?
It’s okay to love handloom, I love handloom too. But why does that have to mean you hate powerloom? I don’t understand that face-off. You can create something beautiful and unique out of the hand, but you can also create something lovely from a machine. I don’t think we can remove machines from our day-to-day life. Other essentials come from machines, like our cars, computers and mobiles. There we want updated technology. Then how are we suddenly so anti-machine when it comes to this? The Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, is impractical unless it is properly implemented. We’ll keep the law, but it’s not like we know how to follow it. Other than saris, protected items include towels, mekhala chaddar, durri, loi, dhotis, etc. But how many cases have there been of actually prosecuting violations? Should we be making laws without following them and which nobody wants to implement? It’s more important to create awareness around it.
The concern was that if you take out saris from the handloom act, it would just kill the handloom industry because saris are by far the most visible and popular product. How do you propose addressing that?
Jo ban chuka hai usme aapne kya bachaa liya (What have you managed to save so far)? The more important work is left. How does a customer know to distinguish between handloom and powerloom? Creating noise around this supposed denotification is not helpful at all; it is just massaging our egos. The real question is, how do we create awareness around handloom? How do we differentiate between handloom and powerloom?
What are your thoughts on the current sari revival movement?
You revive the sari, then tomorrow it dies again. Maybe it’s not a great design — I know people will attack me for saying that — but many fabrics don’t drape very well, you can’t wash them in the washing machine, they bleed, they can’t be put out in the sun, a worker can’t afford them. That’s where machines come in, to address those gaps. It’s not the enemy, it’s just balancing the act so everyone can still wear saris. I’m all for handloom but I don’t want sympathy around it. So when you say it’s India’s pride and culture, I understand that, but for me it doesn’t work for a longer period because you’ve created this pity and that’s why people buy, to “save the culture”, but if it’s not practical, people won’t wear it, they’ll just fold it and keep it in a cupboard. Real revival would be to come up with changes according to the times, suited to the lifestyle, the way we did at Raw Mango.
How did you popularise handloom saris among contemporary women?
At Raw Mango, we worked on the drape of the sari. People who traditionally wore handloom saris stopped not because they didn’t want to wear handloom but because they needed fabrics that would drape well. And we see they’re coming back now. We also introduced a new colour palette and different kinds of zaris. In terms of design, we simplified the sari layout, reduced the visual clutter and introduced a new vocabulary of motifs. Then, of course, there is the quality of our product. And we created awareness about its history and uniqueness. There should be no distinction between a sari and your everyday clothes. Why should the sari be regarded as a different garment? When you label one as traditional and the other as modern, that whole classification is wrong to me. When you come in a t-shirt and jeans, I don’t notice you. The minute you come in a sari, I start noticing you, why? Why does the sari have this baggage? The day the sari becomes like any normal garment, it won’t have to deal with the threat of reviving or surviving.
Do you think a campaign like “save the handloom culture” is counterproductive?
Yes. Until young blood comes in, in terms of designers, textile engineers, you can’t innovate. Handloom is not a sustainable business and until it becomes one, it will need constant rescue. It has to go beyond the sentiment that “yeh NGO waalon ka kaam hai”. You don’t have success stories coming out of handloom, so how will it attract new talent? You have to have role models and demonstrate that it is profitable to be a weaver, as much as to be a designer. Or you can’t have entrepreneurship.
Given that The Victoria and Albert Museum and The Museum of Modern Art have displayed some of your pieces, when does a piece of garment become an art work?
I am still questioning if art has to be unique. Who decides that art can’t be functional. If you look at our history, the word kala (art), was part of our day-to-day life. Kala of cooking, kala of stitching, embroidery... the separation happened later and I totally disagree with it. Some of our rituals and customs are like performances. What are mandanas, the floor paintings in Rajasthan? And yes, it is a great thing to have your works acquired by such well-known museums but I would have been happier if they were acquired by, say a museum in Aurangabad or Nagpur. Why does it happen that we have to become well-known outside the country and only then get some credit back home?
For as long as we remember, we have only heard sad stories about our weavers. After GST came in, we heard, that weavers in Banaras, are quitting their profession and some of them have become auto-rickshaw drivers. Is the field of weaving gradually heading towards danger?
We have heard these stories because we have always liked to hear these stories. We have been sold these poignant stories of a bechara-gareeb weaver. I am not saying things are great there or they are same as they were some 100 years ago. A lot needs to be done to make their conditions better and to improve the quality of the weavers. We need a lot of awareness to understand the issue well. I have added 50 more looms in Varanasi last week.
Since you add one new textile to your stable every year, what was it for 2018?
It was chikankari. We have done it on georgette, on Bengal mull, zardozi and handwoven brocade with an imagery which is very different from the usual floral and geometric motifs. There are mythical symbols, clouds, angels in flight. I would also like to work with Mangalagiri, Venkatgiri, Kanche cotton and Gadwal which have lost their charm but I think it’s already too late.
Any suggestions to improve the condition of our weavers?
I think by just practising ethical business, we can do our bit. And as designers, we have to keep coming up with better ideas to create and then sustain the interest of our buyers. All my Chanderi looms, Mashru looms and Banaras looms are working to their full capacity.
They say you have single-handedly made the modern Indian woman salivate at the Benarasi and Chanderi.
We've made tradition more relevant. Tradition is ridden with ideas of the past and history. What we have done is simplified tradition by factoring in functionality, which is necessary with time.
Who do you cater to, the mother or her daughter?
Both. My god, even we are surprised at the diverse client profile. Our oldest client is 70. The younger client is not impressed by trends but by societal changes unfolding around her. She is someone who subscribes to an organic lifestyle, feels strongly about women's issues, and looks at our brand through several filters, including packaging of goods.
At one time, your sarees were a lesson in botany. I believe your team made 500 drawings of flowers and fruit for the Vana collection. Why monkeys this time?
Simple and sober designs stand the risk of being elitist. Monkey Business was a deliberate effort to add a disturbing element; the species is notorious for quirk. Why can't we have fun with craft? Most craft historians will be upset with the monkey motifs. Thankfully, I am not burdened by tradition. I remember meeting surprise when I used the cow motif in my previous collection. Now, I see cows everywhere. We have elephants, peacocks, cows and now monkeys. After all, we are a country that worships Hanuman. The vibe of the collection is of madness, based on the monkey-see-monkey-do concept depicted in look-book images.
Describe the primary difference between your Delhi and Mumbai buyer?
There is no difference, actually. Am I being politically correct? Well, I sold my very first saree in Mumbai at the Prince of Wales Museum exhibition, when handmade was not trending. I'd say Mumbai clients are bold and adventurous, while Delhi is safe, and their choices are determined by culture.
How do you do your research?
I don't want to sound like I am preaching, but I am very patriotic. My research is driven by how I contribute to my country. The idea of Monkey Business originated when I visited the Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh with crafts historian Rosemary Crill. Commissioned by emperor Ashoka, the stupa was built in third century BCE. There is the belief that Buddha was a monkey in an earlier life. I sent my team over to sketch details of how female monkeys were carved in stone. They came back with over 100 drawings. We then invested six months in sampling and developing Benarasi weaves. The thing about monkeys is they adapt to any environment. I see a similarity with craft; it must evolve with time.
You say you are a textiles guy, not a designer. What compelled you to move from saree to stitched garments?
Honestly, I did it because I needed to increase loom production to provide steady work to my weavers. We use the loom to create fabrics for stitched garments as well as sarees. I also wished to appeal to a wider audience, the 22 to 40-year-old, who prefers the ease of the stitched garment.
Your worst nightmare during this transition – can you relive it for us?
Sizing and cuts were hurdles. Indian women come in myriad sizes. How do you work around that? I don't like the idea of leaving margins, which makes my task stickier. We are still learning.
You’ve socked the populist idea of stylish in the face – your campaigns seem to say, it’s not about cleavage, heels or make-up. Is it sustainable?
Of course. Don't I have enough of tribe? I am not afraid to challenge norms.
Share one unique fact about the Chanderi and Benarasi that may come as a surprise to the textile connoisseur.
Most think that the Chanderi is merely silk-cotton, but it uses the same weaving technique as Jamdani. The Benarasi is the mother of textiles. Not many are aware that apart from it, Varanasi makes superb organza and tissue too.