Concept Retail in India

Living Free is a sustainable lifestyle store in Kolkata. We spoke with Anita Kanoi, the founder to understand her vision for retail of handcrafted designer luxury products. Secondly we spoke to Rajee sood, an interior stylist about her journey in crafts so far and opening her flagship store in Gurgaon.

designer intervenes with the craft and creates a new age product. This “marriage” of craft and design is vital.

Idea and conceptualisation

Living Free was conceptualised in 2012. It came from my personal experience of not finding the right space for artisans to reach out to a larger audience. I felt a lack of awareness all around. Thus, I did a bit of search and felt the need to do this myself in a small way. I also work for an NGO Ektara, where I help with the health, environment & income generation programmes, and this also made me realise how much skill was untapped. I started with Kolkata as I belong here and other cities were out of my reach.


Indian retail has seen a major shift

I think social media, TV shows,Ted Talks awareness at school level all together have created the impact. Across all ages, the options are becoming more natural and towards an understanding buyer. Customers do take interest in why they should buy a certain product, and not one which is made via unfair trade practices. More awareness, is required though.

Balance of modern and traditional

We at Living Free, have come across many young designers who take interest in reviving local arts & crafts. So this is a very important step, where the exposed designer intervenes with the craft and creates a new age product. This "marriage" of craft and design is vital. The more this will happen, more growth and opportunity for dyeing arts will be created. We work with many such designers across India, that is our way of support, by retailing their wares. Examples are- Varnam-crafts of Chennapatnam, Peoli-hand knitting in Almora, Tara Books-folk arts & storytelling, etc.

A piece of textile is both a work of art and design

This inter-weaving is what actually culminates into a valuable product. Without either of these textile is incomplete. Only when an image-inspiration is woven does it make a textile. Art-craft-design all have to be present together for a creation.

Craft from Bengal

Bengal has such an offering of craft & art, it would be unfair to single out. Albeit, the humble water-hyacinth is fascinating, and its varied usage in Bengal is as meaningful. It has some intervention from artists, but i do feel it can be explored a lot more. It grows in the wetlands in abundance, and is difficult to use, long process, similar to that of Shola, which has been exploited much more. If a young design student were to intervene after an in depth study of the material and its nature, it can be place in the form of products to a larger audience across India. With the need for bio-degradable products, this raw material can be a great option.

To participate write to us at sayali@cocoaandjasmine.com

The Craft Project wishes to document tangible anthropology i.e material culture of a place and comment on its relevance in the contemporary space. We also wish to bring together a community of cultural travelers and craft entrepreneurs and create a collective of common motivation. The Craft Project celebrates Diversity in culture through objects, folk arts, crafts, and design.  Through this project, we will be conducting community-sourced primary research and publishing about crafts and will involve brands, NGOs, collectives, makers, designers, curators, thought leaders, other publications etc. 

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'The Alchemist' by  Shorshe Clothing  , brings together rich hues and metallic accents, handcrafted to create the perfect festive collection.


'The Alchemist' by Shorshe Clothing , brings together rich hues and metallic accents, handcrafted to create the perfect festive collection.

'The Alchemist' by  Shorshe Clothing  , brings together rich hues and metallic accents, handcrafted to create the perfect festive collection.

'The Alchemist' by Shorshe Clothing , brings together rich hues and metallic accents, handcrafted to create the perfect festive collection.

Journey with Design and Textiles
My love for designing and textile originates from the fact that I am an army brat and we all grow with such a multicultural and aesthetically enriched living that. One takes them for granted and it
is difficult to tell when it becomes your life. My strongest influences were my parents. Collectors in their own right. All the textiles we had at home from their travels and postings, prints from Gujrat, unbelievably beautiful weaves from North east, Bagh prints from Madhya Pradesh, all my Mom’s beautiful collection of silks from across India. My home state of Jammu and Kashmir has imbibed the true love of design in me too. And I do hope that one day I shall do a collection a true ode to my love for the land my family finds its roots from.
The store was a dream since I realised to be able to truly express my own style and the freedom  to do so comes by creating my own platform. While I lived in California, I made friends with an Interior Designer, Linda Studebaker who sadly is no more. But back then I was so madly in love with her store in Burlingame called Tribeca and all her stories of her inspirations and how she loved all things Indian. I wondered  then if I could indulge in the dream of such a gorgeous store of my own guess the universe starts to work around what you deeply wish for.

Balance of modern and traditional
The treasure trove that Indian art and crafts are is because of centuries of being a global melting pot. We can go on reinventing our designs and still not be over with the traditional technics. Where we
were suffering was in updating the aesthetics of those arts, crafts and the designs with changing lifestyles.
The collectors and the discerning  find our collections which are rediscovering Indian art and crafts fit right in their spaces and home because we work very hard in creating looks and designs that are a fresh take of our traditional heritage.
A lot of those working in age old crafts will agree that bringing a fresh perspective in the sense of colors redefining of traditional motifs and prints techniques, suddenly revives and art form that may
have been a dying a slow death for lack of any new uniqueness in the design and feel of it.
Block printed textile with a whole new aesthetic input is as unique part of modern day homes. As are so many more age old textile forms. We even work at converting old pieces into accents for modern homes. And they fit right in an eclectic home. Each of such pieces brings into our lives a story all its own. Adding so much depth and thought into our lives.

Cultural background and aesthetics
Being Indian, being a designer, being and avid traveller, being a history buff gives me the best position to be in the world. While designers plan trips to come work and develop designs in India. I work in my backyard with my own people at my own time. Developing designs that have a universal appeal.

We have been working with Kantha Textiles for about 8 years now. I fell in love with the vibrant colours and the charm of the plain running stitch. We have used this textile most of which is made by
women in Bengal encouraged by their local co-operatives to continue with this craft and at the same time become self reliant. We have fashioned into Cushions, covers and cases for modern day technology pieces combining them with other collectible textiles and have not been able to discontinue this line all these years. Our clients love the simplicity of the textile and with no overbearing pattern or motif these pieces eclectic and beautifully fresh for any urban home.

Indian and Asian Crafts globally
Internationally design has always found inspiration in India and Asia.It is not always for economical reasons the uniqueness and details and even the vast treasure trove of patterns the very intricate and advance understanding of the techniques available in such a concentrated geographical region is a result of patronage of arts over ages. With technology today wider reach both ways is possible for the craftsmen to reach their audience and for people to discover crafts from all exotic corners of the continent. The challenges I see arising are from quality standards and innovation of design. Crafts can also get caught up in the cycle of trends but to continue to be evergreen constant innovation is a must. As is the understanding of aesthetic preferences of different global regions. Not compromising on the standards of quality is also a big factor poor quality of products wastes away new potential.

'A piece of textile is both a work of art and design'
If you see the process of making of yarn to weaving of the textiles each style of weave requiring its own unique technique the influence on the design because of the human factor. The craftsman’s
inspiration, the influences on his style all of these will make you realise it is in fact a very intricate art and under appreciated design which has developed over ages.

Experience visiting craftsmen
Like a lot of conscientious design houses, we are exploring the use of natural fibre for developing into products for use in an urban home with urban sensibilities, some of these natural fibres were being used for basic living in villages. But today they too are looking to attempt innovating their basic craft into marketable products. There are a lot many NGO’s looking to help them we as designers bring in
the design and aesthetic aspect to this whole effort to rural community.

By working with such communities, we bring to our store products that have a very strong nature connect as well as a craftsman’s story attached. Handmade is truly beautiful for all its imperfections for it was made by someone who had his heart in his craft.

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To participate, write to us at sayali@cocoaandjasmine.com

The Craft Project wishes to document tangible anthropology i.e material culture of a place and comment on its relevance in the contemporary space. We also wish to bring together a community of cultural travelers and craft entrepreneurs and create a collective of common motivation. The Craft Project celebrates Diversity in culture through objects, folk arts, crafts, and design.  Through this project, we will be conducting community-sourced primary research and publishing about crafts from around the work and will involve brands, NGOs, collectives, makers, designers, curators, thought leaders, other publications etc.