A little more than three years ago, when Yosha Gupta walked into a soiree in Hong Kong with her Gucci bag, people started asking her whether it was a limited-edition piece from the Italian couture label.
For this bag wasn’t the usual Gucci fare—it had exquisite hand-painted motifs on it—and that made it the cynosure of attention not only on that evening but everywhere else she carried it thereafter. What Gupta had done was to get a Madhubani artist, Ranjeet Jha, to paint on her designer bag, making it even more designed than ever.
It was through this appreciation from her social circle that the idea for MeMeraki was born, Gupta recalls. She knew Ranjeet already as her mother, an art aficionado and an artist herself, had gotten everything from the window blinds to some of the furniture and the arches in their Gurgaon home hand-painted by him.
"I also learnt of several artists during my volunteering work for Spic Macay and I decided to contact them and launch my new label in Hong Kong founded on the principle of globalising Indian indigenous folk art through accessory fashion," explains Gupta.
Gupta’s passion project of crafting exquisite designer bags combines impactful art and technology. The fantastically finished bags, purses and clutches, hand-painted by folk artists from all over India, not only showcase the richness of India’s craft heritage but also speak volumes about how the label has fashionably merged the divide between handicraft and couture.
From a financial technology background, the young fashion entrepreneur took a leap of faith when she decided to start MeMeraki. "We have approached the business in a different manner from how anyone with a traditional design background might have. Our central focus are the artists, their art and bringing patronage back to these arts. Fashion is one medium of being able to do that amongst many other mediums," explains Gupta.
Indeed, MeMeraki is a fine instance of how Indian folk art can form the crux of a host of stunning handbags and clutches placing them in the realm of high fashion accessories. The label uses about 100 artists and 20 styles of art to embellish pre-manufactured bags.
These include Madhubani, Gond, Pattachitra, Kashmir Papier Mache, Miniature Art, Thangka Art, Warli, Pichwai, Saura, Mata ni Pachedi, Kerela Mural, Phad, Assamese scroll, Kalamkari, Kangra miniatures, Pithora, Chittara and Bhil.
“We design and get the bags manufactured first, then we work with the artists to co-create the artwork. Once the artwork is finalised, we send them the bags to work their magic. The artists are extensively trained about new colour palettes, techniques for painting on different materials. After the bags come back, we finally finish them at our workshop. Every collection takes almost five months to be made,” says Gupta, throwing light on the supply chain.
On the demand side, she avers that it’s been hard to break the mould of ‘handmade and cheap’ as in India there’s a general mindset that handmade products are not very high quality and thus should not be expensive. "It has taken a while to familiarise people with the concept that artisanal and handcrafted are high quality and merit a higher price. While the young entrepreneur was advised by naysayers to just use the artwork as prints if at all and to contemporise the artworks a lot more as otherwise the products would be too ‘crafty’ and not high fashion, she stuck to her gut.
"I find this mindset sad. Instead of celebrating local arts and crafts and creating our own unique identity, we (designers, customers and others in the fashion ecosystem) run after what is popular in the West. I am glad that MeMeraki, as a label, has a unique soul and is totally differentiated," he said
Clearly, if ever there was a bridge between folk art and high fashion, this is it.