Anita Dongre: Sustainable Fashion Is About Making Conscious Choices
With five popular labels- Anita Dongre Couture, AND, Global Desi, Pinkcity Jewellery and now Grassroot- to her credit, Anita Dongre is one designer who hardly needs an introduction. Despite all her sartorial brilliance and sharp business skills, the designer continues to be a humble and modest artist at heart, a reflection of which is evident in her designs across all her labels.
Adding a fresh new leaf of victory to her life, Dongre opened a flagship store in New York City with the youngest label under the House of Anita Dongre umbrella, Grassroot. The fact that she’s the first Indian designer to have a flagship store in NYC, kind of made it mandatory for us to catch up with her and find out all about this exciting new chapter in her life. And so we did!
In an exclusive interview with Appearances, Anita spoke at length about her relatively new label, the new store and the new collection, while also throwing some light on what it’s like to manage so many successful labels simultaneously, her passion for the art, her source of inspiration and a lot, lot, more. Excerpts…
You recently opened a grand and beautiful store in Delhi and now this… how does it feel to be the first Indian to have a flagship store in NYC?
I am thrilled and nervous at the same time. Bringing Indian textile crafts to New York, The Fashion Capital of the World is a dream come true.
How did the whole thing come through?
Grassroot is the embodiment of my core passion- to design clothes that hold a purpose. Every piece in this collection celebrates the crafts of India in contemporary wear. What is fundamental to this brand and every collection within it, is the need to create beautiful tomorrows for our people, planet and crafts. To be honest, the question of launching in New York is one of need- these crafts need to be celebrated and respected on a global platform. New York is the biggest of the 4 fashion states in the world, its diversity and the vibe sets the perfect stage to celebrate the finesse of the craftspeople I work with to a global audience recognised for their fashion sensibilities.
There’s going to be a separate capsule collection for the NYC market over and above the SS17 collection. Please give tell us more about it.
Our new collection was planned in sync with the New York launch. And this is now also available in all other Grassroot stores and online.
What served as your inspiration for this collection?
Every piece in this brand celebrates the crafts of India in contemporary wear. We have worked on everything from Kala Cotton to Bandhani and Ahir embroidery to Chikankari. What ties this collection together is the soothing colour palettes inspired by the villages themselves. You’ll recognise the blue of the Narmada river, pink of a sunset in Rajasthan and the beiges and whites from weaving villages in Gujarat. Natural dyes like indigo, madder red and charcoal black find their way into this collection, reminiscent of tribal Indian traditions. Through embroidery, we see the birds, flowers and leaves that have lived in these villages longer than people have.
How is it different from the SS17 collection?
The brand has undergone a change with this collection to bring focus on indigenous crafts and textiles while keeping the silhouettes simple, modern and international.
What would you say is the ethos of the label?
The core philosophy of Grassroot is to empower craftsmen and sustain Indian crafts and weaves.
What urged you to join the sustainable club?
I’m amused at you calling it the sustainable club. To me, anything that is respectful of the lives it impacts- man, woman, animal and plant- is sustainable to me. Sustainable fashion in that sense is choosing clothes and accessories you truly love and will wear more than a couple of times, it’s choosing manufacturing processes that are conscious of the waste/pollutants produced (working towards minimising it) and lives of the artisans who make it. It’s a broad term that boils down to making conscious choices both as a customer and as a designer/retailer/manufacturer. I’ve always made these choices— we work out of a sprawling, non-invasive space in the hills. The office has gardens for balconies with Bougainvillea growing wild. We have large windows and high ceilings with vents to ensure the greatest use of natural light and cross ventilation thus greatly reducing the use of electricity. Every part of the wedding wear collection is made by hand by skilled artisans, significantly reducing carbon footprint- we even reuse water. I personally make choices on fabric to have organic material (often undyed) widely represented in each of my collections. Despite this being a luxury market that is catered to, I have never used leather or fur in any of my collections- besides being completely against my beliefs as a vegetarian, it is cruel and unsustainable. My design team has strict guidelines to follow on fabric waste; I do all my sketches digitally, there is absolutely no reason to cut down trees for this.
With Grassroot, that concept of sustainability is simply highlighted because I work in smaller villages and go back hundreds of years in production methods. I guess I’ve just found my voice with this brand but nothing has changed in who I am or what the Anita Dongre brands stand for.
How difficult was it to break into the segment given the current heavy competition?
Sustainability is a concept that has gained momentum over the past few years with more and more brands recognising its significance. And every brand has its unique aesthetic. The brands aren’t competing but they’re catering to the need of the well informed global citizen.
Grassroot clothing has a certain minimalistic vibe to it, which is very unlike your other designs. Please elaborate!
We have consciously kept the designs and silhouettes simple yet modern to focus on the crafts. The collections are inspired by the rural environment of India so the colour palette is made of natural hues.
Where do you usually look for inspiration?
In people and in nature 🙂
Could you run us through the entire process of constructing a garment- all the stages of materialising an idea into a gorgeous garment?
One of the first steps in working with artisans is visiting them and understanding their work. At this stage, we might discuss innovations with the artisans. The second stage is where we sketch out developments and designs we want to achieve. This is sent out into the village for sampling. With Grassroot, we typically have one village that weaves the fabric. This fabric reaches us, is marked up for embroidery and then sent to the right village (depending on the design and technique). This then comes back to us where a master cuts to the decided pattern and another stitches the piece. It then goes through a process of finishing and quality check. This usually takes at least 3 months. While this listing makes it seem like a steady process we have to keep in mind that this is handwork with no two pieces being exactly alike so very often one idea goes out and with all these crafts people working on the idea an entirely different (and often exciting) finished product comes back.
Would we see label Anita Dongre, AND and Global Desi going international too?
Yes, Anita Dongre bridal couture will be making its international debut soon. All the brands are also available online for our global audience.
Leaving aside the creative hard work, how difficult is it to run four different labels, from a strictly business point of view?
Five labels actually, which includes Pinkcity Jewellery. There are challenges, of course. I am a designer first, in terms of aptitude and education. And I believe I’ve inherited a keen sense of business from my father. With five brands, there’s never a moment of boredom! There is always something exciting to look forward to every day.
With all this success, how do you keep yourself as grounded as you are?
I started small and worked very hard to build successful brands under House of Anita Dongre. While the success makes me proud, for the most part, it feels surreal. I’m already on my next challenge keeping me grounded and true to my roots. I maintain a healthy work-life balance. In a nine-hour, six-days-a-week work life, I enjoy ‘me’ time as well. I practice yoga, listen to music, read, meet friends, travel to seek the beauty and tranquillity of nature… it all adds up to who I am.