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IN CONVERSATION WITH GAUTAM GUPTA

— GAUTAM GUPTA

'Asha Gautam', established in 1998, is rooted in indigenous craftsmanship. After successful collaborations in Varanasi, the duo travelled to clusters Uppada, Kutch, Patan, Paithani, Kaithoon, Limbdi and Pochampalli to work with weavers at the grassroot level, supporting and promoting the revival of handmade textile craft. In conversation with Gautam Gupta.

 

"The pandemic is devastating. The situation is tough and our priority was basics for ourselves and our artisans; we ensured they had basic food, shelter and medical support from our side. Post Corona- we now have a fair idea how the market will move. People will move out when it is important, maintaining stringent safety and social distancing. The way to engage with them is online and for the same we have recently launched a website. We are also assessing consumer behaviour so we can alter our design narratives and pricing strategy. And we also plan to launch new segments like menswear and prêt to expand our market.

 

What remain constant is our focus on textile craft. I was seventeen when my mother began working on Indian craft so I used to see beautiful textiles, embroideries and colours all around me. I visited artisan' karkhanas and watched them work diligently for days at a stretch to transform a motif into a saree border… they did it with a lot of passion. When the saree was worn by a bride or her family member, the happiness it brought on their faces made me speechless. Five years later, I went to Varanasi and it was magical to see how a fabric is made with weavers' hands. I fell in love with the process right from from yarn to fabric and embroideries — all done by hand. It was 2003 when I decided that I would work with hand crafted textiles and textures. This determination motivated us to travel to more than fifteen clusters in seven states and work with over twenty- five crafts. Since, we get our designs handmade by artisans. I have committed our labels to Indian craft and will continue working in this space. As far as sustainability goes, we have to work harder to call ourselves a holistic sustainable brand but we are fair to all our stakeholders. We use natural yarns and mostly vegetable dyes but there is scope to improve waste management. We have improved utilisation of raw material and are looking for ways to improve packaging and use recycled fabrics. Our production takes place in clusters and only assembling happens here. Artisans feel happier working close to home with family around; it improves efficiency and reduces carbon footprints. We are recycling and upcycling since twenty- two years and are proud about how we curbed wastage. We have fair wage system and have both insurance and healthcare for our artisans. Lastly we have a zero waste policy and are evaluating how to use technology in designing and execution. The day we have our own manufacturing unit it will be completely solar to conserve electricity.

 

That said, there are crucial issues I see cropping up in Indian fashion, post- pandemic. I feel we are producing too much and there is chaos; everyone has a right to do what they want to but do we really need so many clothes? Another issue is fast fashion; with global brands practice of cheap clothes made in horrifying labor conditions… it has made matters worse. The wastage fast fashion creates is common knowledge and before lockdown we were at the worst stage. Consumption without knowledge is an issue as some don't know and some don't care so we need to educate people about the effects of irresponsible buying and also 'what to buy' and 'where to buy'. Till the time we don't talk more, write more, influencers don't voice it, consumers don't promote it and the government doesn't act on it… this mess will remain. Water pollution, landfills and water depletion are not far so we shouldn't wait for another crisis to get our act together; as a citizen and a stakeholder of fashion it's our duty to voice our opinion.

 

Consumers have the right to ask retailers, designers and stores where the product is made. Sometimes it is wrongly sold as handmade when it is sourced from power looms or mills in India or China. Consumers can do a little auditing online or ask people about the brand to learn about its authenticity. The more we buy from artisans and weavers, or brands which support them, the better it will be. We should also think of using Indian crafts not only in clothing but in our lifestyle so there is an increase in demand for handmade textiles, embroideries and crafts. There are artisans' fairs, exhibitions and online information where one can know more about this and once we create demand there will be creative intervention.

 

Today, considering social distancing is the new normal it is hard to know when customers will feel safe to shop again. We have always wanted to open an e-store as there was a lot we wanted to do with the textile craft we create. Selling everything through brick and mortar stores isn't possible as rental of retail spaces are sky high in metro cities. Yes, once the lockdown happened this idea became more relevant as now the prototype of retail has changed. We know people will not come out to shop and a lot of overseas clients won't travel to buy so this was imperative. The e-store has empowered us to make our craft reach locations where we wanted to grow. We are confident that the e-store has a space in fashion and retail irrespective of time; we just have to work hard on product lines, unique collaborations and innovative marketing."
 

Asha Gautam
Gautam Gupta
 
Asha Gautam
Asha Gautam
 
Asha Gautam
Asha Gautam
 
03-AUGUST-2020
 
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