At a time when it is increasingly becoming important for brands to find relevance in the local context – be it through design or sustainable practices – Sanjay Garg’s vision for his label Raw Mango, founded in 2008, stands clear and strong: Modernity needs to complement design rather than define it. As Raw Mango completes a decade, Garg has ensured that tradition remains at the heart of the brand. Be it the use of colours that appeal to contemporary audience (rani pink, parrot green); motifs that are quintessentially Indian (marigold flowers, elephants, and peacocks); or campaigns where Indian customs and rituals are celebrated, every warp and weft in a Raw Mango saree is a nod to the past with an eye on the future.
Garg’s tryst with handlooms began in Mubarikpur, a village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, where he was raised. As a child, his design vocabulary was fed by the visual references he found in his surroundings, particularly in local women wearing ethnic pieces in striking hues. The influence of local textiles and silhouettes is still present in his experiments with chanderi and ikats.
Garg pursued his B.Com from Jaipur and it was here that he got to know of NIFT; he joined the Delhi campus after a short course on textiles from Indian Institute of Craft and Design. At NIFT he gained a strong sense of Indian textiles. Soon after his graduation, he started working with the décor and fashion label, Shades of India, but like every fashion enthusiast, he aspired to study at Central Saint Martins, London. In order to pay for his course, he started working on a couple of projects, one of which led to a textile project in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh in 2006. With it, Garg’s obsession with sarees was sealed.
Today, his label is defined by the use of brocade and chikankaari, zari work and silks. He has reimagined forgotten fabrics such as the Gujarati mashru in a variety of colours and patterns. Jamdani, mul and Benarasi brocades, all part of India’s rich craft weaving techniques, are an inseparable part of Raw Mango’s DNA.
The brand Garg launched by borrowing Rs 90,000 from his father has now become one of the most celebrated ethnic labels of India. It has flagship stores in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, and is also stocked at Ensemble, Amethyst and Good Earth. In 2015, its sarees were showcased as part of ‘The Fabric of India’ exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum, London; he also showcased at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2017 as a part of ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’.
Garg speaks to Lifestyle Asia about his decade in the business and his undiluted love for Indian textiles.
Raw Mango is a decade old. What does this milestone mean to you?
With this milestone, planning for growth of the business and new opportunities is top of mind. Especially to not become complacent with a narrow definition of design. We will continue to expand the boundaries of the brand, and what I am as a designer through more stores of our own, and sell our products to a larger audience both in India and globally. I’d like to think of myself as a design thinker and contributor – to keep up and start conversations about not just the niche ‘fashion’ subjects, but also design, craftsmanship, culture, which encompass textile, the human condition, socio-economic realities, design challenges, and cultural touch points.
How do you describe the essence of your brand?
As the name suggests, Raw Mango speaks to the raw and imperfect idea of beauty, and this embodies my vision and journey.
What inspires you to create?
India is an eventful country – from the diversity in cuisine to weather to politics, we are full of stories and interpretations. There isn’t a moment in our day-to-day lives when something mad or bizarre isn’t heard or seen. So inspiration comes from everywhere.
You walk the line between tradition and modernity. Do you find this difficult in times when people only talk about trends?
I think it’s important to not get carried away by trends, and instead, explore your culture, tradition, and heritage. Modernity only exists within the context and is extremely subjective. There is no way to particularly ‘modernise’ weaves. To me, the sari is the most modern garment, one which can be perceived in so many different ways.
With many labels focusing on ‘Made in India’ and going back to the roots, how do you infuse your label with a unique voice?
‘Make in India’ to me is the support we can give back to local businesses and communities in order to preserve craftsmanship and promote a successful socio-economic environment for all. I believe in the ‘Zero Kilometer Design Philosophy’, which also means that focus needs to be on creating an impact that brings about development in the long run. We need to be held responsible for everything around us and our complete ecosystem.
Your work with Chanderi has garnered applause world over. How did you experiment with it and more importantly, use it in a contemporary way?
Tradition and modernity are very subjective, but I think it’s nice to get a balance of both. We have always tried to engage with the visual vocabulary of India through measured interventions within traditional practices, and also by revisiting earlier processes of engineering garment patterns on the handloom. The pursuit of these questions and interventions continue to inform each collection.
How well do you think weavers are placed in the current fashion climate?
After many years of working with weavers all over the country and building a team that is like family, I believe that they naturally feel part of the system when they are getting fair business and wages, as long as they have work and are treated ethically they are satisfied.
Producer & Director: Nanki Jassal
Director of photography: Raoul Tandon
Post Production: Raoul Tandon
Assistant Director: Pankajakshi Kumari
Hair & Makeup: Supreet Dhillon