Neerja Lakhani’s Neerg Organic uses organically produced textiles to make clothing and accessories.
Ahmedabad has long been the hot spot for young designers thanks to the presence of premier institutes such as National Institute of Design (NID), CEPT University for architecture, urban planning and interior design and National Institute of Fashion Technology-Gandhinagar.
Adding variety to the fame, the designer GenX here is now thinking out of the box and increasingly coming onto its own. “Earlier designers in Ahmedabad mainly took assignments or outsourced work. However, these days young designers in their 20s and 30s are making trendy, exclusive, fun or traditional products with their own labels–homeware, tableware, office accessories, clothing, footwear, ornaments,’’ says NIFT alumni Harita Kapur of Artisan’s Cottage, a store that stocks handmade products made by emerging designers, artisans and NGOs.
“A growing market for exclusive and bespoke products has boosted entrepreneurial confidence,” says Kapur.
Arihant of Intelligent Idiots, a shop for funky products, agrees. “Designers and the creatively inclined are waking up to up-market buyers. Incubation initiatives for young designers at NID and other institutes have also helped them come out with products like funky T-shirts,” he says.
“Neerg specialises in clothing and accessories, mainly handbags and clutch purses made from certified organic cotton fabrics and natural materials like jute, bamboo or silk,’’ explains 29-year old Neerja Lakhani. She aptly named this initiative of going back to green as N-E-E-R-G, which is green read backwards.
“My first exposure to design was when I was in ninth grade in Mauritius where my father was posted for a while. There, design was a subject and I got to learn the basics of fashion, textiles and colour matching,” she says. After completing school, Lakhani got into NIFT Gandhinagar. “After I graduated in 2007, I worked in Mumbai for a year and then returned home to launch Neerg Organic for eco-friendly garments.”
Her first challenge, however, was finding Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-certified companies to supply her fabric that was made from organically grown fibres and dyed with natural colours. “I am still working to spread awareness among buyers that GOTS-certified fabric is beneficial to the environment and also a measure of the ethical practices of the manufacturer. Wearing fabric that is free of toxins also benefits the skin. Sales have now picked up as well,” says Lakhani. “I also diversified into accessories to make use of the leftover fabric pieces,” she says. At present, Lakhani is working to launch a line of eco-friendly fabric lingerie under the label Inner Sense.
Though Bhoomi Dani always wanted to start a handicrafts business, it was only earlier this year that she took the plunge.
Dani teamed up with two friends to launch a clothing and accessories line using Ajrakh printed textiles under the label Vraj:Bhoomi.
“At NIFT, I worked on a project that gave me a chance to work with Ajrakh, a resist-and-mordant dyed cotton textile that is block-printed on both sides. This is a highly evolved process and requires much expertise from the artisans who practice it,” explains Dani (28). For Vraj:Bhoomi, she roped in her friend and former schoolmate Rajvi Merchant who has a PR and communications background and her NIFT batch-mate Vikas Manchanda.
“We exhibited our line at an event called Weekend Window at Goodies, a popular café in Ahmedabad and were surprised at the positive response we received. We found that a large number of people are willing to spend on high-end handcrafted products,” she says.
Vraj:Bhoomi specialises in clothing, stoles and scarves, accessories and footwear that are carefree and unconventional.
It was her mother-in-law who gave Krishna Amin the idea to set up Dazzle. “My mum-in-law, Sangita Nagori, has a clothing boutique in Ahmedabad. She suggested that I start providing custom-fitted women’s footwear because many of her customers had difficulty getting their size and choice of colours when it came to footwear,” says Amin.
Amin (26), who has a Masters’ in pharmacy, took the good advice and started Dazzle, which provides customized and readymade footwear for women. “My first exhibition at Rajpath Club about a year ago got a good response. This gave me confidence to launch the business. I have a team of artisans, including cobblers, tailors and craftspeople who specialise in different skills such as zardosi, Surat-style zari-work, embroidery, etc,” she says.
Her made-to-order range caters to customers with large foot sizes, who have a hard time finding attractive footwear for special occasions. “My bespoke footwear is made taking into account their apparels for the occasion. Priced between `1000 and `3000, Dazzle footwear is also sold on shopping websites and at a few boutiques,” she says.
“I wanted to start something with handloom woven fabrics because I love wearing khadi myself and believe that handlooms are essential to create employment,” says 33-year-old Aratrik Dev Varman.
Through his label Tilla, which means hill in Hindi, he wants to make fashion wear simple yet stylish. “When I started Tilla, I also began to realise that much of what is sold as fashion clothing is over-the-top and overtly ornamented. I decided to bring out clothing that is simple and practical but stylish. Say the fabric to be used in designer clothing for women’s daily wear should be light as air, layered and textured, in a no-fuss style that is easy to pack while travelling,” he says. Varman studied at the National Institute of Design.
While Varman has been designing clothes for some years now, Tilla recently diversified into textiles for lighting, furniture and home décor. “I exhibited my interiors textile line recently at BoConcept in Ahmedabad. My collection is strong on graphic sensibility. Since clothing and home linen are different in the technical and creative approach that goes into designing them, I am fulfilling my creative potential by making both,” he beams.