From the handloom to the internet, all you need to know about India’s latest, hottest homegrown brand: Beej
Away from the spotlight, Asha Sarabhai has been quietly working in her Raag workshop in Gujarat since the ’70s. Centred on handloom fabrics and the idea of supporting local weavers, she has taken Indian weaving traditions onto the international stage. Her brand, Raag by Asha Sarabhai, showed at the Sogetsu Centre, Tokyo, under Issey Miyake in the late ’80s. Not only has she dressed the world’s cultural elite like writer Frances Partridge of the Bloomsbury Group and Asha and Zubin Mehta (writer and conductor respectively), she has also been a longstanding crusader for Indian textiles. Setting up the Raag workshop in Ahmedabad in the late ’70s, she single-handedly provided employment to a large weaving workforce that was neglecting time-honoured skills in the favour of mass manufacturing cloth for export.
Model in a Beej jacket
However, Asha Sarabhai’s clothes, though made in India, were rarely available to her patrons here. And to rectify that, Sarabhai’s nephew Ajay Mayor launched Beej—a digital platform that brings Raag back to India—in December 2016. By doing so, Mayor has managed to make a largely export-based label accessible to the Indian buyer.
Mayor recognised that the Sarabhai name and brand value were immense, and that, mixed with his entrepreneurial spirit, gave birth to Beej. “They (Asha and Sumit Sarabhai) wanted to do something in the retail space (in India). It had lineage and heritage behind it, and I knew it would be very exciting if we could do something around it.”
Today, Beejstore.com retails an entirely new line that reinterprets Asha Sarabhai’s original label, Raag. It references the Raag archives for patterns and designs but retains a contemporary touch. “It takes a lot from the Raag DNA: the design philosophy, the ethical practice of making the clothes, the long-standing relationships with the weavers,” informs Mayor.
Monochrome skirt for Beej
With the rise of sustainable practices and increased emphasis on ethical ways of making clothes in the Indian fashion industry, and a renewed enthusiasm that local fashion weeks and the Indian government seem to have injected in reviving craft and handloom, Beej is entering the online retail space at an encouraging time. “Of course, this artisan approach contributes to the price points,” which means it’s slightly expensive, “but we hope that people respond to the quality of the product and the ideas behind it,” says Mayor.
The Indian market has evolved to welcome artisanal and boutique brands in the last five years with many profit-making ventures among the Indian high street. Does this make the handloom sector a zero-sum-game as it competes with various fast fashion brands? “We have focused on the things that we are good at. You can’t design by committee—perhaps it’s naïve, but we are very focused on telling our own story and making a good product that stands on its own,” adds Mayor. Also, design language carves out its own niche. “The Beej line is aimed at a discerning audience that is simple, elegant, and responds to things that are well made with great attention to detail.”
A labour of love that started with two people (Sarabhai and Mayor), Beej now hopes to become an umbrella organisation that provides a platform for all things sustainable and birth more lines that follow the same ethos as Raag.
For more go to www.Beejstore.com
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