An Indian designer is turning humble handwoven textiles into museum-worthy works of art
Reposted from: Quartz
This month, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) launched an exhibition dedicated to what its curators describe as influential garments and accessories from around the world.
Alongside items such as Levis 501 jeans, Repetto ballet flats, a Hijab, and a Kente textile from Ghana, is a sari made by Raw Mango, the Indian contemporary textiles brand founded by designer Sanjay Garg.
Since its launch in 2008, Raw Mango has developed a bit of a cult following across India with its unconventional handwoven saris and textiles that feature quirky motifs, bright colours, and unusual silhouettes. In an ethnic clothing market where customers are spoiled for choice, the Delhi-based brand has carved out a niche for itself with its minimalist approach and commitment to crafts. Today, the saris from its collections are worn by Bollywood celebrities such as Kiran Rao and Sonam Kapoor, as well as ordinary shoppers, young and old.
But this isn’t the first time that a Raw Mango sari has made it to a museum: The Victoria and Albert Museum in London holds a couple of Garg’s pieces, including an orange Chanderi silk sari with a hot pink crow motif. The MoMA show, then, is just another achievement for a designer who has come a long way from his small-town roots in Rajasthan.
Textiles for the 21st century
Born and raised in the small village of Mubarikpur in Rajasthan, where he studied at a Hindi-medium school, Sanjay Garg went on to hone his skills as a designer at the Indian Institute of Craft & Design in Jaipur. He then left to join the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, where he studied textile design.
After graduating, Garg worked at the home goods store Shades of India for a few years. But an opportunity to work on a development programme in Madhya Pradesh, promoted by India’s textile ministry, introduced him to the world of Chanderi weavers, who have been producing fine saris in the state for centuries. This sparked the beginning of Raw Mango, named for what Garg describes as an unripe and imperfect idea of beauty that embodies his vision for the brand, and his own journey in life.
“The whole interest of the brand is how do we give life to the crafts and sustain it,” Garg told Quartz. Since his first brush with the Chanderi weavers, he has gone on to work with as many as 400 craftspeople in Varanasi, Lucknow, and West Bengal, translating the country’s rich heritage of handwoven textiles for the modern Indian customer.
Today, Raw Mango sells its textile products through four retail stores, including one small and particularly serene space in Bengaluru, where wooden wardrobes open up to reveal the jewel tones of brocade blouses and saris featuring intricate embroidery, all arranged by colour. The saris can take up to a month to produce, and previous collections have featured contemporary motifs such as sparrows, lotuses, and even cows.
“You’ve never seen saris presented this way,” Nonita Kalra, editor of Harper’s Bazaar magazine in India, told Quartz, adding that Raw Mango’s unusual designs have helped the brand stand out from the crowd.
The article was first published in Quartz