‘I want it to be a textile mecca’

As a child, Palak Shah would spend hours being surrounded by colourful fabrics at her home and the offices of their family-run Banarasi saree enterprise, started by her great grandfather who moved to Varanasi from Gujarat. “I used to sit in my dad’s back office and play with katran (fabric cuttings) trying to create sarees for my dolls. I’ve always been surrounded by creativity. Maybe that’s why I have always had an inkling towards it,” says Shah, CEO Ekaya Banaras.

Contemporary leap

Originally though, the 28-year-old had other plans. Shah has studied business management from King’s College, London; and has an MBA in entrepreneurship from Babson College, Massachusetts. In 2012, Shah moved to Delhi (her family still lives in Varanasi) and began working with her father who launched Ekaya. Longing to start a label that would spearhead their 120-year-old Banarasi saree business into a new era, her father – Bharat Shah – asked her to join the family business. The idea was to be free to design pieces that weren’t being made to satisfy wholesale purchasers. While the label also offered a new variety of the classic Banarasi saree, Ekaya also launched Banarasi lehengas, one of the first designers to do so, just about when the heritage fabric made a huge comeback in the Indian fashion scene. In a span of five years, Ekaya has opened stores in Delhi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Shah also launched Thaan in 2017, an offshoot of the mother label which specialises in handwoven unstitched fabric.

‘I want it to be a textile mecca’

Lure of the city

The father-daughter duo had wanted to open a store in Mumbai right after their Delhi launch, a dream which finally materialised as they opened doors to their Kala Ghoda store on November 21. “Mumbai’s been on our radar for a very long time. And Kala Ghoda resonated with our product. Instead of just being in an up-and-coming trendy area, we needed to be at a hub where people understand textiles. I wanted it to be a textile mecca, for when you think handweaving, and pieces that aren’t seasonal or trendy, you think Ekaya,” says Shah, seated on a huge traditional baithak style seating lounge, a design ode to the traditional saree shops.

The pieces we eye behind Shah – a mixture of dragonfly motifs and traditional butis – make sense in a contemporary setting. The massive store has pockets dedicated to different categories of their products – lehengas, stitched garments, sarees and Thaan, which Shah considers her baby.

With their textile innovations and collaborations with other designers such as Masaba Gupta and Archana Rao, Ekaya has made traditional fabrics appealing to the design-conscious millennial buyer looking to move away from blingtastic 10-kilo lehengas. But running a design label that relies solely on weavers isn’t an easy task. “It can be frustrating in terms of the production as it’s still an unorganised industry. There’s often rejection from them as they are used to a way of working for generations. The technology we are used to in the cities is different, there have been times when we have sent images for the production of a beige lehenga and received a white one. But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and I feel like we have come a long way, especially since the time we started the ecom website. Luckily my dad and I work as a team, where I am 100% focused on marketing and expansion and he focuses on production, we have the same vision,” Shah tells us proudly.

Streamlining the business

Being present on the floor at her stores, Shah also understands the pulse of the consumer and okays each design before it hits the stores.

Shah feels that the weaving industry needs systems and processes, as people are ready to invest in it but need a structure to understand if they will receive profits in return and to achieve consistency in products. It’s when the weavers are sure that their product will find a market, that they are open to experimentation and innovation, “Our weavers are textile engineers but they are treated as third-class citizens”. Shah adds that the government’s support to the Varanasi weaving sector has helped the industry positively too. So much that every big couture designer launched capsule collections made with Banarasi weaves in the recent past, thus making it trend. For Ekaya though, it’s a constant, as the Banarasi weave is the only one they focus on.

Celebrity circle

Another reason why Ekaya wanted a Mumbai presence was to ease the sourcing process for celebrities. “It’s great that celebrities show our designs to the world. [While] I feel it would be better if they chose their own theme though, rather than wearing multiple styles, [as] it doesn’t leave room to showcase individual style. For example, Rekha has stuck to her Kanjivarams forever and it’s her signature. When young stars wear everything, it really defeats the purpose of dressing them up.”

Shah is looking forward to the global tourists who frequent the area. A Mumbai store, gives Ekaya international exposure, will in turn help showcasing the true potential of Banaras. “It's nicer to be in the city where the buzz is,” she emphasises. Shah has ensured that the Mumbai store also stocks their latest collection, ‘The Crossing’ – which has nature-inspired motifs from Mughal miniatures interspersed with chevron pattern. “The long term vision is to create an India-inspired luxury store, a global brand, like Hermès is to Paris,” she states with confidence.

Ekaya, Ador House, Kala Ghoda; 22022888; time: from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 10:39:35 AM |

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