Anita Dongre: The First Indian Designer to Debut in NY
Arts India Lifestyle
Celebrated fashion designer Anita Dongre, who has been a part of Indian fashion industry for over two decades, is the first Indian designer to open a flagship store Grassroot in New York city earlier this July. Dongre, whose designs have been donned by the likes of Kareeena Kapoor Khan and Aditi Rao Hydari, was in global spotlight for a quirky dress Kate Middleton wore during her visit to India in 2016. So much so that her dress for Kate Middleton put her in one of the top google searches. That was the only dress selected for Kate Middleton by an Indian designer.
Summing up the essence of opening her first store in the Lower Manhattan, in a Facebook post she wrote:
“To the city that never sleeps, Grassroot brings a world of patience and crafts that don’t submit to a schedule. Every piece of fabric woven, block printed or embroidered is done by a group of artisans who give it the time and attention it deserves. This marriage of two distinct worlds is a dream come true.”
At her store in SoHo’s Broome street in the heart of the Big Apple, you see the words “Revive. Sustain. Empower” emblazoned in gold across the wall. That is the core philosophy of Dongre’s youngest brand. It was launched two years ago as a conscious expression of sustainable fashion that celebrates Indian handicrafts.
Her store itself is a reflection of her brand. The 1500 sq. ft. space is located in one of SoHo’s historic 1890 Romanesque Revival masonry building in brick and sandstone.
The flagship space is designed by architect Shonan Trehan to a brief that parallels the clothes themselves. The space is bathed in natural light and accented by elements in rose gold, cork and recycled wood.
Every detail is special in this store, from custom-made racks that give a nod to the humble shuttle (used to hand-weave fabric) and wall panels of handwoven chanderi and khadi that tell the journey of the brand.
First Stand-alone Presence
Speaking to The Hindu the Indian national daily, about the choice of New York and putting her brand out in foreign soil Dongre says, “I have always loved the multicultural vibe of New York City and its inherent sense of fashion. This makes it the perfect platform to present the finesse of India craftsmanship. Thankfully the numbers from online sales reinforce this belief. The silhouettes of the garments are global but the weaves and handcrafts are Indian, it’s hard for me to point to somebody who does the same thing.”
Dongre operates stores in Mumbai and Delhi. This store is her first stand-alone presence in US.
“I have always wanted to see Indian craftsmanship enjoy the attention of a global audience. My heart lies with the female artisans in villages who are the protectors of ancient textile crafts. With New York’s diversity and natural ability to bring out the best in fashion, I was keen to bring Grassroot to the epicenter of the world of fashion to present a point of view built on patience and heritage.”
Her son, Yash Dongre is spearheading the launch and running of her store in New York.
The Journey of Grassroot
Dongre’s Grassroot prides itself by working with several NGOs to provide steady opportunities to India’s skilled artisan communities through reinterpreting heirloom traditions from the heart of villages.
There are, of course, challenges to this. Says Dongre to the news agency IANS:
“The challenge that comes with an artisan is to understand their skill. India is so diverse that every region has its own stitch and weave, and interesting characteristics… So, working within that technical of what the artisan can do and then adapting it to contemporary design is a challenge, but it’s rewarding. It is not easy sometimes, to go into villages, stay there and work with them.”
An average of three months is taken for production of small batches– which overturns the ecological impact of mass production of fast fashion.
Started with Two Sewing Machines
Born and raised in Mumbai, Anita Dongre is also a vegan and member of PETA.
Anita has three very different labels under her name: AND (which re-branded itself as House of Anita Dongre in 2015) , Global Desi and Grassroot. AND was started in 1995. The brand showcases Indian aesthetics in contemporary language and its USP is versatile, lightweight designs. Her inspiration, comes from her roots in Rajasthan and her brands are available at 457 points of sale across India.
To think, it all started with two sewing machines in her friend’s garage. Her father loaned her some working capital and she moved her work to Dharavi with seven tailors. Her first store was a 300 sq ft space in Crossroads, Mumbai. She hasn’t looked back since. A store in Dubai, she told Vogue, is definitely on the road map.