Women Series | July Edit
Women series is a monthly edit to explore creative entrepreneurship amongst women globally. Through this series, we wish to understand creative journeys, challenges, inspirations and develop a community. For the July edit, we have interviewed Anavila and Payal Khandwala, Both Fashion and Textile designers who are popularly known for their saris.
Tell me about how your creative journey started. Did you have creative influences growing up? What education/ training did you receive?
Design and textiles have always been something I had been interested in from early childhood. My sister and I used to play dress-up, for which my mother generously lent us her saris. I always had a keen interest in design which manifested in many ways through my childhood. I used to design clothes for myself and my dolls. Under the guidance of my mother I learnt embroidery, knitting, sewing and painting at home. My father’s love for everything natural and our well-kept garden and kitchen gardens have a strong role to play in my love for nature and all things raw and organic. So choosing my path was quite easy, thanks to the support and encouragement I got at home. After finishing my undergraduate diploma in business management I did my post-graduation in knitwear design from NIFT Delhi and graduated in 2000. I worked for corporate's like Madura garments and ITC as an assistant designer, and then began working on a craft cluster development project, in 2004, for NIFT in association with the Ministry of Rural Development. During this time, I traveled the length and breadth of these rural craft clusters and that’s when I saw the immense possibility they held. I feel the BBA hons gave me a base to organize my work in a certain way and a firm grounding on how to look at the business side of things. It helped me structure and plan my time and work. We even created a brand and store under the project.
What has been the source of inspiration for you (people, travel, places, cultures etc)?
The SGSY, craft cluster development project with NIFT and ministry of rural development was something that paved the way to my creating my brand "Anavila". Travel of course has always been a huge source of inspiration for me. During the three year tenure I traveled across the rural clusters of the country, meeting artisans, spending time with them and going through their product cycles and processes. It gave a different perspective to my understanding of the made in India, handmade and handcrafted culture and opened up my mind to the immense possibilities of working with Indian textiles. It slowly started defining my work, the personality of my brand and the broad framework in which I wanted to work. Overall, it was a slow process.
Can you also talk about your experience of working in The Textile and fashion industry in India? Do you think your cultural identity brought influences at work? How does a sari fit into this intersection of culture and fashion?
I had a mixed cultural value system at home which lead to recognition and acceptance. It also made the house hold very open minded and forward looking.
Comfort and ease were the major influencers and I feel my endevour to simplify the sari and make it an easy option must have stemmed out of there. Sari as an attire has stood the test of time. It has evolved with the changing times and found its place in Indian fashion and tradition. Its the only textile which has independently evolved and found expression in different parts of India keeping the heritage but evolving yet the same.
What is the step forward for your brand? Would you like to share any? Could you comment about 'being a creative soul' and how does travel facilitate your ideas?
Anavila is a journey that will evolve by staying true to its core and its ethos and women will join this journey. Urban fashion or the lack of it is cyclical and as a brand we will continue to be relevant to our consumers. Our extension into other women categories is a reflection of it, not only from a sari garment evolution but also our home line. Our homes are ultimately the extension of our own selves. So I think it’s the journey that I enjoy and will continue to evolve. We recently introduced a handmade dolls and toy collection called "Busa and friends", which is doing really well. On the brand front we want to start working closely with our environment to ask questions and find solutions, as such creating sustainable livelihoods. These are abstract dreams. I love design and I love to create. The entire process gives me a high and keeps me going. Travel is the best teacher, looking at nature and what it has created makes you appreciate life. Moving around places with different religion, cultures and sub-cultures with different ethnicities open up my mind to various possibilities.
Could you comment on the current landscape of independent artists/designers and how brands are more open to experimentation? Could you share any experience/ story with us of working with artisans? Any challenges of a woman entrepreneur?
India currently is going through a very exciting time. We have found our own voice and are confidently finding artistic expressions. The design landscape is full of young designers eager to work with Indian craft and textile heritage and create beautiful products which are true representation of the unique skill set of our artisans and weavers. This is resulting in unique products with inherent USP. I create for women, the ethos of what you create is what you wear comes naturally to women. Also from an expression point of view I have always found the kind of work I do is far more dexterously done when it comes to women artisans. I think the challenge lies in balancing your home, children and work and as creators you want to fully participate in all aspects of your life.
1. Tell me about how your creative journey started. Did you have creative influences growing up? What education/training did you receive?
I grew up in a household where both my mother and my grandmother painted and sewed. In that respect I was hardwired to do both as I was growing up. I studied fashion at SNDT in Mumbai and left to pursue Fine Art at Parsons in New York. I lived there for 8 years and on my return, painted full time for a decade before an opportunity arose to show at fashion week.
I could never find clothes that I wanted to wear, simple, comfortable clothes that were well made, luxurious and dramatic but in a minimal way. So I decided I would just make them. I had studied design so it was easier but my background in art set us apart from the rest. Also there was no one else at the time making pret with an India modern voice, so the timing was great. The business grew speedily and organically, but it was never a strategic move, just a shift in canvas.
2. What has been the source of inspiration for you (people, travel, places, cultures etc)?
Intrinsically I'm inspired by colour, paintings, architecture, minimalism, proportion, line, drape, structure, and bold graphics. I always look towards tribal cultures across the world for their art, jewellery and clothing. Flea markets when I travel are my favourite places to be refreshed. I can be inspired by something as simple as a flower or a carpet, or something more complex like geometry or music. If you keep yourself open I think the inspiration finds you.
3. Can you also talk about your experience of working in The Textile and fashion industry in India? Do you think your cultural identity brought influences at work? How does a sari fit into this intersection of culture and fashion?
I thrive on the vast resources that our country has to offer. I love our history of textiles and my clothes are deeply rooted in them. I've always wanted to retain the spirit of India but suggest clothing that transcends geographical boundaries. So my work now and even my art is entrenched in my cultural identity, but in a way that is not overt. The sari is one of those perfect garments that needs no intervention. It’s timeless and modern and taken out of its traditional context it can just as easily be part of the voice of a new India. We have so much to offer as a country, colour, textiles, shapes, drapes, this is our differentiator, just as long as it’s not predictable and lazy.
4. Could you share how you conceived the idea of your latest collection GEMINI? What is the step forward for your brand? Would you like to share any other projects(textile, sustainability or women oriented) ? Could you comment about 'being a creative soul' and how does travel facilitate your ideas?
As a Gemini and a sari lover myself, I’ve always wondered how to make the sari even more multipurpose than it already is. What if we could wear the same sari twice, with the same drape and same blouse yet somehow make it look different both times? This was the starting point. How does one innovate an Indian essential that is already perfect?I love separates because they can be teamed differently each time they are worn.But I wanted to extend this experience to the sari, so that it can in some way become a little more creative than it already is. So I conceived it to be reversible. It’s designed in a way that it can simply be flipped so that when rotated it can be worn two ways. There are two contrasting pallus, extended in length for maximum impact. The body of the sari remains the same, whilst it works seamlessly with either end. Reimagined to be modular,this way we can reuse and repeat the same sari twice without it looking the same. I think this duality lends itself perfectly to my own personality and this twin zodiac. Its unpredictable, versatile and expressive it allows the wearer freedom and flexibility.I'm committed to making clothes for women that are designed by a woman. As a philosophy we make clothes that are season less and focus more on personal style, than They do on fashion or trends. Separates that are timeless, can be teamed with different wardrobe staples each time you wear them can add breadth to your closet, without having to buy new ones each time. What this collection suggests is a way to buy less but better.I believe very strongly that conscious consumption is integral to shifting the paradigm from fast and cheap fashion to slow fashion. The planet doesn’t need any more clothes that are dispensable and end up in landfills. To be truly sustainable we must find ways to reuse, recycle and repeat our clothes. And the onus lies both on the manufacturer and the consumer.
So I hope to continue in a small but significant way to suggest ideas that support this way of thinking. As a creative person travels really ignites ideas. It’s the prism with which you see the world that ultimately informs your decisions. And travelling to different parts of the world exposes you to various cultures and different ways of thinking and different ways of seeing. This can be both energising and engaging.
5. Could you comment on the current landscape of independent artists/designers and how brands are more open to experimentation. Could you share any experience/ story with us of working with artisans. Any challenges of a woman entrepreneur?
I think this a great time for artists and designers to flourish. People are more open than ever before, to experimentation and this will be a breath of fresh air for creativity in general. Having said that brands must be careful not to fall into the trap of recycling ideas because authenticity is as important as experimentation. Without a voice that is unique, we cannot propose something new. Innovation only thrives when we do not borrow.I have been very fortunate however. I don't have any more challenges being a woman in this industry than I would if I were a man. In fact being a woman making clothes for women is in fact a tremendous advantage for me. It makes our clothes more real and helps me connect with my audience. Sometimes I find that it can be hard for men to take direction from women, but I think that for the most part it has never been a hindrance.