Beej x Raag Workshop: Homage To India's Traditional Textile Skills Heritage

As a brand that proudly celebrates the heritage of Raag workshop with its tradition dating back to 1975, Beej draws upon a modern, moveable take on India's traditional textile skills. Whilst placing the highest importance on sourcing locally from different parts of the country, the uniqueness of Beej lies in making their clothes entirely in-house. The nature of Raag's repertoire of garments enhance a subtle self-confidence and ease of movement. We say 'yes' to wearing traditional feminine enigma paired with flawless fluency. 

Ikat Overlay Coat by Beej, 2016. 

Ikat Overlay Coat by Beej, 2016. 

Foreword:

Beej started with the idea of bringing Raag, started by Asha Sarabhai in 1975 and available in other parts of the world but not yet at home, to India. We are keen to complement the Raag line of clothes with other objects that share its ethos and so created Beej as an umbrella brand under which these products can be sold. We want to celebrate India’s rich heritage, stand for uncompromising quality and a delightful customer experience, and adhere to the highest ethical standards. The Beej and Raag logos, created by Ivan Chermayeff, emphasise the relationship between the two and the fact that we think of ourselves very much as a contemporary brand.

What are the sustainable solutions you have incorporated into the making of your garments?

All Raag clothes are made entirely with handloom fabrics, the production of which keeps alive rich traditions, provides employment opportunities to artisans and is far less resource intensive than mill made fabrics. The environmental impact of our production processes is negligible as our clothes are made by hand.

Our clothes are designed to be durable and make allowances for the wearer to gain or lose a few pounds. Construction techniques and finishing details such as the elimination of seams when possible, addition of gussets for ease of movement and the avoidance of zippers ensure that our clothes last well and give pleasure over the years. We further facilitate their use over time by offering free alterations and repairs for life. Customers who would like to recycle or repurpose an old garment, by making a stole out of a beloved old coat for example, are encouraged to send them to us.

"Overproduction, rampant consumerism and wastefulness, especially in the case of fast fashion, further compounds the adverse global impact that the fashion industry can have."

Where do you see the importance of ethical fashion stand today? Why are we only now starting to open our eyes to the downside of the fashion industry?

The way clothes are produced can often be extremely destructive to the environment and exploitative of the people who make them. Overproduction, rampant consumerism and wastefulness, especially in the case of fast fashion, further compounds the adverse global impact that the fashion industry can have.

An increased awareness about these issues has made people more conscious of the choices they make. The building collapse at a garment factory in Bangladesh, which tragically killed over a thousand workers in 2013, was a watershed moment and resulted in global outrage. It brought to the fore concerns that had been harbored for a long time and which could no longer be ignored.

In light of these realities, and given the huge increase in the number of brands that have launched in the Indian fashion industry in the recent past, an ethical and humane approach to fashion is especially relevant.

Wrap Top by Beej, 2016. 

Wrap Top by Beej, 2016. 

What were the main social concerns that led you to inventing a sustainable brand? 

We started out with the goal of making simple, durable, quality products, in an ethical manner, that we hope would bring pleasure to their users. We were keen to dispel the notion that good business practices make bad business sense by running a humane and efficient setup.

In the Indian fashion industry, it is common practice for many aspects of production to be outsourced. In such a situation, especially so in a developing country, it is very hard to ensure that the people making your products are working in a wholesome environment and are being treated fairly. We were adamant about wanting to make all our products entirely in-house. It enables us to guarantee that those involved in the making of our clothes get a fair wage and work healthy hours in an environment in which they are treated with dignity and respect. Having direct control over all production processes also enables us to maintain high quality standards. Very few companies, and none amongst our peers that we are aware of, make their own products entirely in-house.

"We were keen to dispel the notion that good business practices make bad business sense by running a humane and efficient setup."

What does the pairing India x Sustainable Fashion tell us today and possibly in the future? Where does its heritage stretch back in time? 

We’ve always thought of tradition as a continuous strand, incorporated in the contemporary – that’s what keeps it alive. India has a long tradition of minimizing waste. Recycling has always been an imaginative and inventive art and is very prevalent. Old saris, for example, are turned into quilts when they can no longer be worn. The sari itself, being an unstitched garment, essentially a piece of cloth that is given its dimensionality by the wearer, is an inspired heritage. It can be worn in many different ways, limited only by the imagination of the wearer, and places emphasis on her instead of on a brand. We feel fortunate to be part of this heritage.

Your pieces look modern and comfortable, and not traditional at all! Who is the customer Beej is aimed at? 

We hope Beej would appeal to those who have an understanding of detail and the feel of what they wear. Our audience is discerning women (age 25 and above) with a simple, understated aesthetic and a personal sense of style that isn’t dictated by trends. We envision our customers to have a wide range of interests, be global in outlook and have an appreciation and affection for India’s rich cultural heritage.

"The sari itself, being an unstitched garment, essentially a piece of cloth that is given its dimensionality by the wearer, is an inspired heritage."

What's the best opportunity that creating Beej has led you to? What has been the surprise element?

Appliqué cardigan by Beej, 2016. 

Appliqué cardigan by Beej, 2016. 

It has been a tremendous privilege for us to get to work with Asha Sarabhai and to get the opportunity to bring Raag to customers in India. Being a small, and young, company we can be nimble and we want to make the most of this by transforming ourselves with each collection. Our first collection takes inspiration from the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich to reinterpret Raag classics and we have exciting plans for future collections. Each collection, while rooted in the values, sensibilities, and the design language of Raag, will hopefully seem fresh and vital. Exploring a different theme for each collection has been great fun and an intellectually and creatively stimulating experience.

https://www.beejstore.com

Textile Designer Nelly Rose: Honouring Global Artisanship with a Voice

For the London-based textile designer Nelly Rose, on top of placing elements of traditional craftsmanship and up-cycling in the centre of her eccentric textile artwork, the power of collaboration is key. The main themes running through her expressive textile lines are female empowerment and creating a ‘voice’ through her conscious craftsmanship. Nelly Rose is extremely concerned about the de-valuing and vanishing of traditional techniques that should be cherished and preserved instead. Through her vibrant, empowering prints — forever, if we may.

Photo by  Marilu Venditti.  

Photo by Marilu Venditti.  

What led you to sustainable approach in textile design? How unique is your approach in London vs on a wider, global scale? 

I have studied Print, Knitwear and Embellishment, and all of these have led me to make more conscious decisions about the materials I was using and where the techniques derived from. In London, my approach is very much inspired by the concept of 'upcycling' and DIY-culture. On a global scale, my work is lead by my curiosity and passion for handcrafts and discovering their origin; nothing excites me more than being able to include them in my collections. I am currently exploring Japan, absorbing the culture and discovering all kinds of beautiful craftsmanship [from the region].

What are the values your brand encompasses? What are the main themes you are keen to explore? 

My values as a brand lie in working on projects which focus around female empowerment and creating a voice through a creative medium. I have worked in various projects from ‘shop window stitch-ins’, raising awareness about the Rana Plaza factory collapse, to the first modest wear runway collection in the UK made entirely in artisan houses in Indonesia.  

I tend to use a lot of typography in my work, which I guess contributes to the idea of raising a ‘voice’. Overall, the main themes I explore in my work are: Handcraft, Messages and Storylines, Protest and Equality, Printed Textiles, Creative Campaigns.  

"The brand I strive to create is my expressive vision of what I consider to be ethical in my own way, whilst still being loud, bold and a little eccentric." 

Photo by  Marilu Venditti.  

Photo by Marilu Venditti.  

How does Nelly Rose as a person and as a brand differ, if at all?  

Interesting question! I would say my personality as Nelly Rose mainly focuses on networking and bringing people together, who have similar mindsets about changing the world in creative ways. I guess Nelly Rose is my rainbow vision, my compassion and my voice.  The brand I strive to create is my expressive vision of what I consider to be ethical in my own way, whilst still being loud, bold and a little eccentric.  

Your work was recently showcased at the Green Fashion Week in Milan. What does the experience mean to you? 

Green Fashion Week was a brilliant experience as it fused together my interest in global climate change, as well as having fashion at the forefront.  The new collection I showed was of hand painted up-cycled garments, ranging from denim to leather, which I salvaged from a textile waste plant.  My highlight of the experience was the photo shoot I directed at the Bosco Verticale alongside designer Silvia Giovanardi. It fused the relationship between sustainable fashion and architecture, and it was very inspiring to witness my work being a part of that. 

Although I love the ‘calendar’ fashion weeks, I also have to express my love and connection to other global fashion events such as AFWL (Africa Fashion Week London) and the recently participated in GFW. I find that there is an open dialogue and a more personal level of fashion presented.  

"I tend to use a lot of typography in my work, which I guess contributes to the idea of raising a ‘voice’."

Photo by   Marilu Venditti.  

Photo by Marilu Venditti.  

What are the most meaningful collaborations you have done so far? What do you consider perhaps your biggest accomplishment? 

I consider my biggest accomplishment to date the Co-Identity collection which has been showed at the Jakarta Fashion Week and then London Fashion week via Fashion Scout. The collection was a collaboration with Dian Pelangi and Odette Steele in which involved fully immersing myself in Indonesia as an inhabitant and creating the textiles for the full 24 Looks of Modest Womenswear. These consisted of fully hand rendered techniques ranging from hand painted gowns, Batik and Songket weaving.  

Making of: Nelly Rose Artisanal Textiles. 

Making of: Nelly Rose Artisanal Textiles. 

What irritates you about the fast fashion industry? Why do we need a slower approach? 

The fast fashion industry irritates me mainly because of mass consumption and the de-valuing and plagiarising of traditional techniques.  I believe in a slower approach to prevent the de-humanisation of garment workers in the supply chain, thus preventing the capitalisation of poverty.  We take such an avid interest in the ingredients that go into our body or our pharmaceuticals, so I don’t understand why we don’t have the same mindset about what we wear on our skin.  The industry deliberately makes it hard to question, and easy to ignore, so it is imperative we constantly ask #whomademyclothes.  

Do you personally feel it is more difficult to deliver work using ethical and artisanal approach? 

I believe that in order to deliver a luxury product, there should be a transparent process. In my personal work, the initial process is more difficult, as it can be more costly as a young emerging designer; however I am constantly trying to inform myself in ways I can maximise the artisanal approach. I have a vision of working with artisan communities across the world to collaborate on beautiful creative outcomes, and I will carry on finding the most efficient ways to deliver these collaborations.  

"The fast fashion industry irritates me mainly because of mass consumption and the de-valuing and plagiarising of traditional techniques." 

 Nelly Rose, credits: Laila Cohen / Imprint Magazine. 

 Nelly Rose, credits: Laila Cohen / Imprint Magazine. 

How would you categorise yourself in the fashion world? What's the most important message you aim to deliver as an artist? 

I predominantly refer to myself as a designer because I like to create wearable pieces which tell a story. However, as designer refers to the process prior to a piece being created, I also refer to myself as a creative director because I love to work with a concept in various forms, such as film and installation. Ultimately, I aim to deliver an outcome through the power of collaboration, which reflects the journey and honours the craft. 

http://www.nelly-rose.com