NEW DELHI — Sanjay Garg, a designer known for his commitment to traditional Indian textiles, began celebrating 10 years of his label last month with a small get-together in New Delhi.
But the main part of the celebration is to come later this year with the opening of two stores, one in New Delhi, and the other in Bengaluru.
“That will be a big expansion for us,” Garg told WWD, as he discussed his growth over the last decade and his status as a leader of a wave of Indian designers who favor simplicity, sustainable apparel and design that is fabric-driven.
His concepts are reflected in his existing retail office and showroom in the Chhatarpur area, where the sun shines through an open courtyard, bringing out the variety of the shades displayed, and the fine weaves of his fabrics.
This year will also mark a range of new colors and patterns, said Garg. “We have not worked with chikankari before, launching this year. Although we will continue with chanderi and mashru, which I absolutely love,” he said of his use of traditional textiles.
Here, Garg talks with WWD about his business, how hand looms can be considered luxury, and the pleasures of sustainability.
WWD: You’ve become the buzzword in Indian fashion and retail, even though your style is unassuming and low key. Is that a surprise?
Sanjay Garg: Things happen at the right moment, and this is the time. When we started in 2008, it [handloomed textiles] was important to us. Now it is our 10th year, and everyone is talking about it. In this time, we are developing something, we are expressing ourselves in different mediums. I always thought that design is a way of life, not something that is only about textiles.
WWD: Did it give you a kick to have your design displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York earlier this year?
S.G.: MoMA was great! We were part of the exhibit at the V&A [Victoria and Albert Museum] in London as well. But it would be even more great if we can be celebrated in Nagpur and Kota and all the smaller cities in India. I don’t think that we have to turn to the West for a stamp of recognition — to me it is more about the journey about making this growth sustainable. I think it is important to grow organically and within your own people.
WWD: But does that recognition make you fly higher?
S.G.: I am high on life. No, it hasn’t changed my life. In fact, I’ve been worrying about the fact that the handloom seems to be a bit trendy, and a bit of a fad.
WWD: Isn’t it good if handloom is trendy?
S.G.: No, if it is organic, it is good. It is all very transient in fashion. The question is, will this interest stay forever, or will we just kill it because we’re talking about the same thing, and it is a fad? Or do we transform it to design of handloom and functionality and wearability rather than just talking about saving the handlooms? It should be more than that. I’m just thinking how do we sustain this for a longer period.
WWD: How are you going to ensure this happens?
S.G.: I think I should do that through design, and different techniques that people have not seen or talked about. I think my job as a designer is to introduce many more materials in the market. I want to work on traditional embroidery, for example. Many people who work with handloom think that machines are bad. I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t wear polyester, but that’s a personal reason; it’s a practical design, it covers people all over the world. Can I make cotton like that? It’s a challenge for me. And in handloom. That’s why we are in the luxury market. I’m not making it for the masses.
WWD: Didn’t your style work because it was a step away from the bling and the embroidery?
S.G.: Exactly, and at the same time I wanted to say that the weaver wasn’t bad and it’s just that embroidery isn’t bad, nor are the artisans who do it. I want to create and strike that balance and that’s what I’m saying: I’m an expert on textiles and good aesthetic, and not on embroidery. But if I can do weaving, I can do embroidery, too. And I don’t want to divide people that way. It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong. There is an imbalance in the market that needs a correction. I want to strike that balance.
WWD: Are your two labels completely different from each other?
S.G.: Raw Mango started in 2008 as only a sari brand, and Sanjay Garg, which began in 2014, is my line of garments [lehengas, dresses, coats and separates]. The DNA is the same, the textile development process is as involved, however, the intention behind Sanjay Garg was to give occasionwear options to women when they were not wearing a sari.
WWD: The fact that Raw Mango did almost entirely saris, does it mean that saris have made a comeback in India?
S.G.: The concept of saris only went away in high society. My mother, for example, would not even know what are the trends. Fashion is so small in India — Delhi, Mumbai Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai — that’s the Indian fashion industry.
WWD: Your sari blouses are far more traditional, not too revealing. Is it in the form of a moral police?
S.G.: I’m not a moral police. I think they can wear a bikini, I’m not against it. But why does the blouse have to be backless? We’ve made it a completely covered back, and see what it’s done for fashion. No, I think women wanted to show they were liberal and show skin, but today a woman doesn’t have to show cleavage to show she is liberal and sexy. See, that’s what it does to fashion when you have a different point of view.
WWD: What does the Indian customer want?
S.G.: I think they are hungry. They are looking for many new designs and change. They are quite educated. I don’t think my clients are born somewhere special, but they do care for design more, they are paying more for the styling and the textiles, they are more aware. They have money, so they are spending. Once your basic necessities are done, you think of all this.
There has definitely been a shift in perception. Fashion has changed much more in the last 10 years in India than in the last 30 years. The perception is that people are buying cotton, they never thought they would pay 30,000 rupees for cotton, so many brands have emerged that the concept of minimalism and that less is more would catch on so much. There are people investing 250,000 rupees [$3,800] in one garment.
WWD: Your showroom is not in any retail area; how do you get business so far away?
S.G.: You haven’t seen our sales. There is no place to stand. We have no mannequins, no windows. So much of our retail style is borrowed from the West, the retail style, but we need to create our own fashion cycles. Our weather — what does the winter season mean? Most of India does not have winter, but we are showing a winter collection. It is laughable.
WWD: How did your parents react to you making a career in fashion?
S.G.: They had no clue. They said we’re not worried about ourselves, but we are worried about you, can you fill your stomach? There was a disagreement. But it was what I wanted.
I’m not limiting myself in any way, I want to do everything in design, across mediums — pottery, furniture — I really wish to be a house of design.