The one thing you’d know if you’re remotely associated with the fashion world is that fashion isn’t fair. It’s great, but it isn’t always fair. From plagiarised designs to inexpensive copies, inequitable wages to undue credit, these are just a few of the things one has to deal with everywhere, most likely in this glam-filled industry. That said, you’ll find a fraction of people who make this space worth it. From ace designers to reputed labels, there are some who have not just taken efforts to bridge the gap between the maker and the wearer but have also tweaked their creations to do justice to both craftsmen as well as Indian heritage textiles and crafts, But they’re not the only ones who fill that fraction. There are some smaller brands who help with this enhancement, and SōnChiraiya is one such name. A year-old brand formed by two friends Preety Singh and Komal Rasania, Mumbai-based SōnChiraiya gets in touch with artisans and craftsmen across India to curate one-of-a-kind ethnic pieces for their consumers. Having interacted with them at WODROB Ensemble’s first edition, we decided to catch up with the duo to know more about their brainchild. Read on for excerpts from an interview.
Tell us about SōnChiraiya’s brand ethos.
Preety: It is essential to first understand the genesis and purpose of SōnChiraiya to define our ethos. Both Komal and I feel ethnic Indianwear celebrates the beauty of women the best, and we were pained to realise the pace at which we let our indigenous clothing die. That’s what led to the purpose; the idea was to reintroduce this to today’s woman and more importantly, make Indian art forms popular. So, we work with doyens, provide a platform to them, integrate traditional art with contemporary designs, and help them become financially viable to keep their dexterity alive. This is what drives our ethos — 1. Love for our soil; we belong here. 2. Respect for individuals as well as art. 3. Understanding customers, 4. Being contemporary, 5. Giving artists their dues.
Explain to us the research process involved when it comes to your curation?
Komal: You may have witnessed in our exhibitions, every single piece in our collection is unique and has a story to it. At SōnChiraiya, you will never find multiple pieces in a particular design. And to maintain such exclusivity that’s relevant to the customer, there’s a lot of work to be done. We focus our research on 3Cs — Customer, Craftsman, and Creativity. We talk to our customers for feedback, visit other shows and also read a lot on contemporary designs to understand what our customers want. Secondly, we travel a lot to seek for art forms and craftsmen across the country. And lastly, we work on our designs; we provide ideas to craftsmen associated with us so they can make products accordingly.
How did a doctor and an engineer join hands to come up with the idea of SōnChiraiya? Give us an insight.
Preety: Jaded by the hoopla of our friend’s ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’, we quietly slipped away for a silent drive on the outskirts of Jodhpur. As a dentist and an engineer, we have few things in common apart from our love for travel and Indian art forms. While talking about everyone’s attire at the wedding, we reached a small village on the outskirts of Jodhpur to understand more about an exquisite art form named dabu. It was fascinating to learn about those natural colours, the precisely-grinded mud, hand-block printing and of course the beautiful result. But we were told how the art form is now dying because of lesser buyers and cheaper alternatives that the market is filled with. We had heard such stories before but experiencing it first-hand left us upset. During our drive back, we decided to work on such art forms and revive them. And that was the start of SōnChiraiya (meaning the Golden Bird, that is India).
Is there a method to how you go about understanding various dying Indian art forms? Also, tell us how connect with these craftsmen?
Komal: Honestly, it was just our shared interest which has landed us here. We did not even know of many art forms on which are working today when we conceptualised SōnChiraiya. One thing led to another and I can tell you it’s fascinating to know about these forms. We started our journey from Rajasthan, and have travelled to Andhra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Dhaka in our pursuit. It’s heartening to meet with these masters from parts of India. We consider ourselves fortunate to work with them.
Which are some of your favourite pieces or art forms from, your curation, one’s that you can boast of?
Preety: This is something that we both keep fighting about (laughs). We actually fall in love with every new work that we get to see. When we go to check out the manufacturing and understand what goes into developing a single sari, we cannot help but be boastful about having them in our collection. Be it madhubani from Bihar or dabu from Marwar, gota made at Mewar, muga from Assam, pochampalli of Telangana, phulkari (Punjab) and so on… we love them all. Sometimes, we both will not be able to travel to a particular location together, and so one of who visits that place keeps teasing the other about her new favourite.
It’s a year-old brand… talk to us about how it has grown.
Komal: It’s taken a lot of hard work. And it hasn’t been easy leaving our established professional lives to work on something completely new. But our purpose is what keeps us ticking. Learning the intricacies of various arts and designs was difficult. So was travelling to these remote places. But when you love what you do, it turns out to be fun. Financially, we were able to break even early, and that is because of the demand that we could garner on the strength of our product quality. SōnChiraiya will shortly be showcasing their first exhibit in London later this year. But, the most satisfying thing is that we have already made some of our craftsmen financially viable and sustainable. Nothing is beyond that joy.
Brick-and-mortar stores work best for Indian consumers as they like to look and feel the product and fabric. But how about SōnChiraiya…does an online model suit your brand better?
Preety: We are strong propagators of traditional retail as we are of online stores. We understand that both serve different purposes and that’s the way to go in the future. Brick-and-mortar provide the experience of shopping, which we swear by. But it also has a problem of mass reach. On the other hand, e-stores take the product to every nook. That said, I wouldn’t buy a saree without touching, feeling, and maybe draping it on me. So that’s a delicate balance that we try to keep. We never miss a chance to exhibit our products in as many avenues as we can and also try and increase our online marking.
Tell us some of the traditional crafts or art forms that SōnChiraiya is working on?
Komal: Currently, we are working on 23 art forms. As much as we have seen, I don’t feel the customer will get so many choices at a single avenue anywhere. On top of that, none of our work is machine-made… it’s all 100% handcrafted and you’ll find zardozi, gota patti, dhakai, kota silk, dabu, madhubani and more.