Designers Ramona Saboo and Manju Lulla have a keen sense of aesthetics, a social consciousness and responsibility that is at the centre of their work
The exhibition space at Raintree is placid on a rainy Sunday afternoon. So I walked through the cavernous rooms of the bungalow, organised with showcases of jewellery and showpieces. A ceramic owl here, a scented candle there, a pop-art cushion cover, an ornate mirror, my mind flitted from one quaint artefact to another – till I finally found the women I was looking for – Ramona Saboo of Forty Red Bangles and Manju Lulla of Ashtar.
It was a squeeze, as women jostled each other for vantage point between the elaborate chikankari suits and the handmade toys, and jewellery and cutesy pajamas for kids. I first get a hold of Ramona Saboo. Born and brought up in Melbourne, she moved to India after marriage and Forty Red Bangles is her attempt at trying to connect with her country. The company is a socially conscious organisation that is principled on sustainable development. “We do small quantities of niche collections – for instance we did an Amchi Mumbai collection which was kurta-pajamas for kids with local Bombay motifs such as the taxiwala and chaiwala,” she explains.
Ramona works with a women’s development organisation in Jodhpur, and that explains the heavy Rajasthan influence in their merchandise. Ramona is working towards a flagship store and organic café in Jodhpur.
The name Forty Red Bangles is loaded with metaphors, and Ramona explains, “It symbolises the wedding chooda, a marriage of sustainability and design – we do things that are eco-friendly and as a brand we are conscious of our carbon footprint. It also reflects the change in my life post getting married; I had no idea what I was getting myself into when we decided to move to India.”
Manju Lulla caught up with me for five minutes and she talked about how she tries to encourage Indian artisans by eliminating the middle man. “We work directly with the artisans – we place our orders on the phone and the designers give them colour schemes and other ideas. An example I can give you is this method of printing called ajrak block printing, which is a tradition only a couple of families were involved in. Now we are getting more families into it and helping them innovate and work with new ideas,” she explains.
“The designers who work with me also help create new designs, for instance we have an Indo-western line of shirts made from the Maheshwari fabric, giving women the option to wear it casually,” she said as she hurried back to her clients who were there to make the most of the one day exhibition