She is outworldly. She has a keen eye for the unusual. She makes even the most ordinary space dreamy and artistic. More than anything, she has a ‘happy-go-lucky girl in the city, here to make a difference’ vibe to her, and that is reflected in her work. Meet Aditi Dubey, founder of Ruas.
Aditi works out of a humble setup in Mumbai, in the quaint village of Chuim, Bandra. It’s a 1 BHK turned into a two-room workstation. Don’t expect a modern, minimalist office setup here, Aditi has transformed this space into something indescribably beautiful, with little finds from her travel, fairy lights, embellished cushions, and a DIYed desk. Evidently, she is drawn towards art, especially handcrafted things. And it is this love for handicrafts that helped her achieve one of her goals – empower women.
It is through Ruas, that she gets to do all the things she loves – spreading the love for handicrafts, playing artist/designer, encouraging and empowering women artisans, and of course, travel…lots of it! We got chatting with her as she opened up and unfurled her intriguing personality, and her equally interesting enterprise.
WM: Take us to the beginning, how did Ruas happen?
AD: While I was growing up, I always wanted to help women. At that time, I didn’t know how, but I knew I wanted to help them. Once I came to Mumbai, completed my studies and started working as a writer, a photography gig just happened. I worked with this photographer called Mark Bennington. He is a documentary photographer, who is really good with head shots. He is one of those people, who would change your life, he is so positive. So, I finally bought my own camera, but the black strap was so annoying to me. The kind of person I am, I would not stick around with that black strap for long…I needed interesting colours, make it my own, or different. One fine day, it just hit me – I could have women artisans make it for me! And to me, that was like a “eureka” moment, I was so happy to finally come up with a way to help empower women by creating job opportunities for them. That’s how Ruas was born. Finally, everything I learnt came in handy, be it writing, photography, or even marketing.
I’m a part of Unltd. India, they’re a social incubator. Their help has been great!
WM: You’ve got us hooked, tell us more.
AD: We work at the grassroots level, getting our products right from the artisans, straight to the artists. We’re a small team, and for the first one year, I was not sure if this was going to work out or not. Till date, we haven’t even marketed it; we will be marketing Ruas soon though. In fact, our online store will be up and functional soon.
The concept itself has been huge encouragement. The first year we only dealt in camera straps, and through that I got to meet a lot of people. I call everyone artists…there’s a specific choice that everyone has and to me it’s very interesting how it’s all tied down to one’s personality. If I show some designs to Madhur here (WM photographer), he would very quickly point out and say, this is what he likes and this is what he doesn’t like. So, that’s the most enjoyable part for me.
WM: What about your products? Do you only make camera straps?
AD: No, in fact, now that we have many more products, our website is going to have them sorted based on what kind of an enthusiast you are – are you an art enthusiast or does photography interest you? Now, I think we have six to seven product types.
You already know about camera straps. Now we’re also dealing in canvas bags with embroidery in the front. These are not like your usual bags but they’re more utility-based, they’re bags for professionals. Like if you’re an artist, we have a bag which has sections to hold all your paint brushes and other things; if you’re a makeup artist, we have bags specifically to meet your needs. We also have smaller makeup pouches, embellished with bead work. We also have camera bags, and very soon, we’ll be starting with clothes.
WM: It’s evident that you’re drawn towards handicrafts and always have been. But that one thing aside, how has Ruas affected your personal style?
AD: I wouldn’t say that my style has changed much because of the work I do. But, I think over all, it’s the experiences I’ve had collectively that has developed my style. My father’s job in ONGC allowed me to travel to, and live in various parts of the country. That’s how I got drawn towards art – because art and artisans are everywhere. And in fact, Ruas is a juxtaposition of the two things I really love – one is helping women and the other is art. So, I think, my childhood and growing up years have played a very important role in shaping me as a person, and in what I do, but also what I wear.
I think that it has only evolved more and more, and since I have been lucky enough to travel to all sorts of places, I got to shop more and more. It may sound clichéd but, my personal style has evolved into boho meets cute and sparkly. I am as comfortable shopping in the markets of Bhuj – they have these amazing vintage markets – as I am in the streets of Bangkok. So, you’ll see one side of my table has a lot of cute stuff, and the other has traditional collectables. So, I feel like I’m a mix of everything, not one specific thing.
WM: Your style sensibilities are a melting pot of various style tribes, yet, there must be certain specific things dominating your wardrobe.
AD: Oh yes, of course there are. Typically, I like wearing plain clothes and then adding layers or accessories on them. I have lots and lots of skirts, and of all kinds – plain, printed, surface embellished – you name it and I’ll have it. I invest a lot of money on different kinds of skirts. Then I pair them with plain tops, and if it’s too plain, then I would add in a few accessories.
WM: Anything in particular in your wardrobe that you’d like to get rid of, or do not wear anymore?
AD: I’ve stopped wearing black over a period of time. There was a time back in school when I would wear black very often, but now I’ve just stopped wearing it. Now, I wear grey more, but really I’m a lot into playing with colours, I love colour blocking. It also somewhere along comes with my work. I feel that your clothes are completely tied to your voice. If I wear black I don’t feel as comfortable in it anymore. So, my sisters have got all my blacks.
WM: And accessories? You mentioned you like to accessorize, so which part of your body do you like to accessorize most?
AD: If you meet me 8 on 10 times, I’ll probably have a headband on. I LOVE headbands. In jewellery, I love earrings. I love collecting them. I remember, I came across these copper earrings at the Kolkatta airport, and I fell in love with them. I also get earrings from Kachch. Actually, I’m not sure if I invest more in earrings or neckpieces. I think more than anything if it’s the work on it that interests me, I’d pick it up.
WM: Coming back to your work, you say you’ve always been into handicrafts, so you’d be able to answer this well. Sometimes, people call it very expensive, especially when a brand is selling it, what do you have to say to them?
AD: That’s a good question because people really do come from two different schools of thought – one who believes art should be inexpensive and accessible, and the other set of people who don’t mind paying a premium for it. I think I’m someone who has always been somewhere in the middle. And that’s exactly why I have strategically priced products at Ruas. They would usually not exceed Rs.2000. So then, even if you’re a college-goer, you can easily save up for your guitar strap. The reason I chose the middle ground is because firstly, I don’t think art should be very easily accessible. It’s hand work, it takes a lot more time and effort than machine made products, and artisans do work hard on these. And when you buy a product from an artisan, you’re making a lot more contribution to the society, so I do not support cheap art at all. But I also do not support extremely expensive things, because then I don’t think any art and craft form can be preserved. There are so many of these dying because someone like you does not have access to it and you’re surely not going to be spending Rs.15,000-20,000 on buying one thing, right? You want something that’s more affordable. So, that’s the thought behind our pricing.
WM: Are you someone who goes by brands?
AD: I have a very clear idea about what I want, so I just care about that. I love good fabrics, so branded or not, if there’s something made in good fabric, I’ll buy it. But that said, there are brands that I am loyal to, but again, not obsessed with any. I would prefer mixing and matching.
WM: Coming to styling, how would you suggest, say a musician to pick the perfect strap for them?
AD: I like to personally get involved in the process of understanding the client. I would research on the band, what their style is, etc. For example, if there’s a metal band, and they’re going to be wearing black when performing, I would want to make something subtle for them. Ruas is a core design concept, where we’re basically trying to make the artisans the designers. So then based on my understanding of the band, I give the brief to the artisans that this is the musician and this is their style, and then I let them come up with a design accordingly. For a lot of guitarists, we also see the colour of their guitar, so we can accordingly customize a strap. Now because they’re musicians, they’re very opinionated and know what they want. So, what I do is that I have a catalogue that I show them, based on which they tell us what work they like and then we tailor make it for them. That’s the best part really, we get to create something from the start, and it’s a great feeling to see it on them when they’re up on the stage. Tejas Menon had got this strap from us, and when I saw him on stage, it was such a great feeling – he’s not a loud guy, he’d usually wear plain shirts, and we managed to make a strap that gave his look a good contrast. So that was pretty awesome.