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Friday, 4 May 2007

What Happened to Banyan Tree Kurtas?

Did not think twice. The way I launched my line without studying the basics of the apparel industry still gives me shivers. Staking my meagre savings of an year as a journalist… to collect loom samples powered by love for art and some faint memory of few classes at a fashion technology institute... that I left to attend to other priorities... I set start to have my own line of kurtas… with a small stitching unit of three part-time tailors who used random stitching machines at a tailoring avenue in Navi Mumbai. Banyan Tree Kurtas was born on a summer day in 2004… in looms collected over two years of backpack trips across the country.

A patachitra from Banyan Tree Kurta line… after many washes … clicked after 10 years in 2014
It all began from a random chat at work. The discussion was around some show on fashion TV. "They call it fashion but how is it even wearable".  Somebody answered, "But then ramp wear is not always prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear). They are just expressions of art and evolution as it happens in the fashion industry in that part of the world." To this another voice asked, "So why is all this happening only in Paris?" Somebody else responded, "Because the French have maximum stake in FTV."

The Mumbai desk had more fashion and cinema news. It was far from news desks in New Delhi. There the fashion news was a part of the page 3 team of fashionable journalists. Though high-street fashion was affordable and available everywhere in Mumbai, it was made out of sub-standard material which you could dispose after a wear or two. And shops that sold better quality wears were definitely not for the common Mumbaikars.

My first canon digicam saw the finished Banyan Tree Kurtas before anyone else.

My roommate and I modelled... and shot each other... in the finished products before it went online. Clearly we were neither models nor ace photographers.
Close up of a design on the stole… have no clue what happened to the last batch of these. Perhaps my grandmother's almirah's last compartment houses them still.

From my travels to various states in the country I was fascinated by the traditional art forms. I could not change the world around me but was seeking non-factory-made authentic art and its representation in my adaptations.

Patachitra, amrapali paintings, legends and gods in different moods… all took centre stage on the chest of my Kurtas. Hand-painted and embroidered… sometimes late into the night and lo! I had enough to announce to the world. A friend suggested a friend who may be keen to launch a website and experiment a bit with e-com. Voila! was online. 

This is how the website looked. Just like you search for lost items in the most unprovable corners in desperation… i found this link when I googled for a website that does not exist. And felt very lucky to have found it. Bit tacky to my eyes today, those days it used to make my eyes sparkle in a dream-come-true manner. Too many firsts need not always result in a blockbuster. Lessons on cutting, stitching, marketing, presenting, walking alone late night with bundles of clothes on either hands, keeping off without arguing large-scale business ideas of other business friends... everything had to be learnt to support the passion.

The kurtas sold like hot cakes. And some ordered for copies. Ideally at this point I must feel very good, but then that is when I realised I don't want to make copies and the genre am addressing to do not get the point. They did not get the reason why my looms came from across the states. It was not important of them to know why oriya silk kurta had patachitra. In fact it did not even matter if there was a silk called as tusser.

Some samples were left at offices of established boutique brands found in large shopping malls with detailed manuscript of each kurta's journey and mind. Big mistake. There was no copyright or revenue model in place. Found one of my patterns (cuts including design and hand painted art) copied… hanging in bulk in various sizes in its store... without permission from its creator (me). Stealing is an offence but nobody is scared of that really! This taught me that what catches the eye is what sold in India, not necessarily what goes behind it as such. I got the answer why art had no interest among it multi-billion populi who spent millions in multiplexes or its billionaires acquiring pride by building 13 storey houses in the middle of the city.

Lot of people wanted to promote the kurtas for free! My support system sucked. Lot of them wanted it as gifts and I was not seeing any returns. I couldn't put a proper price to various trips for eligible material or my man hours in research and development… as well as art creation. I could not crib because anyone I spoke to would ask 'what my problem was despite a great job, youth and no responsibilities'. I had no answers than wonder what made them truly happy and feel bad sometimes or be completely frustrated.

Happy costumers and friends sent pictures wearing the kurtas on festivals like Diwali. This one is dated 11/8/2005 sent by a dear friend.
Soon my ATM slips showed balance nearing an all time drop. Nothing or nobody could stop me from going broke. It was another first. The lesson learnt under the banyan tree venture has been priceless… it has helped me bridge better relationships… find like-minded-innovative-creative-friends… a network that believed in independent life lives on their own terms etc. 

For all valid reasons BTK did not take off as a successful business in 2004… but am happy people loved the kurtas. It was also the first time I allowed myself the popular belief - that it is better to do a mistake than do nothing!

To those who asked how I find the time to do all this… I mean continue to do beautiful mistakes I had an answer those days - if career is what helps you earn then your calling is where you spend it. And to those who din't ask in appreciation or ask why the hell am I doing so many things I satisfied them by smiley icons because my face won't make so many wonderful gestures even if I tried ;)

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