In October of 2015, Tejashree Bhanawala decided to tread the path of entrepreneurship and The Co Company was born, an e-commerce platform that connects beautiful traditional fashion created by craftsmen in villages of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and more, to urban consumers. Along with enabling the work of these craftsmen to reach a larger audience, her endeavour also incorporates all the codes and ethics that the 30-year-old stands for herself. ‘No animal cruelty’ is one of the principles at the core of her business, ruling out silk and leather while focusing purely on cotton, linen, handloom products and natural dyes. As fascinating as this endeavour is, the path getting here was quite a twisty and tumultuous one.
“I wanted to do something with reverse migration,” Bhanawala tells us, seated in her beautiful home in Bhandup designed with a minimalistic charm. Dressed in a pristine sari, she explains how her interest was piqued when she observed several people migrating to urban spaces such as Mumbai only to be met with a very low standard of living, and she wondered why they thought it was worth it. Originally from Surat, she moved to the coastal city three years ago. Bhanawala began to invest time and effort in learning more about this, and she found the space she wanted to work in–water conservation and food forests. From visiting a watershed management organisation in Pune named WOTR to living amongst the trees in Auroville with no electricity, her experiences taught her introduced her to the many ways of conservation. Rural Communes, an NGO working with water conservation and livelihood generation, was Bhanawala’s learning ground for a year. And eventually, the entrepreneurial light bulb stuck.
While her intention was to work in rural areas to inspire water conservation measures and build food forests, several barriers stood in the way. Convincing communities to participate or work towards water shed development was a task, made harder by the language barrier. Eventually in 2015, she travelled to Kutch and saw the delicate, skilled work of local karigars there, and a new dream was born. The Co Company sourced fabric and saris from craftsmen in Ajrakhpur and Bhujodi, and the first lot was sold out almost instantly in 2015. As Bhanawala expanded her horizon to work from different states, her inventory reflected a blend of various designs, materials, patterns and handiwork. “I don’t want to work with very big craftsmen,” she explains, describing how her intention is to mobilise smaller workers. With no background in design or fashion, her learning curve was a big one. From working in an IT start-up in Bangalore where she started her career to running an e-commerce business that builds a bridge between rural and urban Indian fashion, Bhanawala has come a long way with her husband and family by her side. And her eyes are still set on her water management and food forests dream, which will hopefully see the light of day in the future.
Behind the wardrobe doors
As the 30-year-old describes her beliefs of minimal living, no animal cruelty and sustainable fashion, her closet is a manifestation of every word. With gorgeous block prints in bright colours adorning cotton shirts, simple yet beautiful saris hanging above, and short piles of linen and khadi sitting upon the shelves, her wardrobe is like an ode to her personality. The Co Company’s products feature in the mix along with various other designs, all adding up to an effortless collection. As uncluttered as possible, her wardrobe represents her style which she describes as, “simple, clean garments.”
Saris and western wear are her primary choice, nothing too tight or clingy. She even gets khadi, linen and cotton spun into beautiful western-style A-line dresses that are airy, comfortable and perfectly encapsulate her style. As we move from clothes to accessories, her box of jewellery emerges to display beautiful designs carved into silver in the form of earrings, bangles and rings. A few colourful pieces stand out in the glorious mix, each one uniquely beautiful in its own way.
Comfortable, loose and airy clothes in khadi, linen and cotton are her staple, accessorised with intricate silver earrings. While she does own three printed handbags, her bag of choice is a black and purple backpack that she carries with everything she wears, even saris. She explains her preference with a laugh, confiding that with so many things to carry every day, that was the most practical option. Only a few pairs of simple, comfortable shoes fill her footwear drawer, and the only thing decorating her face is a perfect, circular bindi. Her style embodies ethics, simplicity, minimalism and traditional chic, much like her personality.
WM: Who are your favourite designers to follow?
TB: “I love the work that Runaway Bicycle, KharaKapas, Péro, and Anavila are doing.”
WM: Which item in your closet is your favourite?
TB: “My organic, handloom saris. I love them.”
WM: If you could choose any other career path, which would it be?
TB: “Well I’ve changed so many and tried so many different things. Now I’ll stick to this one!”
WM: What are you doing when you’re not not working?
TB: “I read, watch movies. I love thrillers and suspense films.”
WM: Are you a pack rat?
TB: “I believe in as little as possible. I don’t like clutter at all. I like small piles, because things get lost if there’s too much. A minimal closet gives you clarity.”
WM: If you had to get rid of one thing from your closet right now, which would it be?
TB: “Probably some old salwar kameez.”
WM: What’s the most interesting item in your closet?
TB: “That black-and-white striped handbag is a hand woven waste plastic bag!”