Swati Wadhwa was walking through Dilli Haat–a government-run food and craft bazaar in New Delhi– when inspiration hit. Somewhere between the Mutwa embroidered shawls and the Odisha ikat weaves, Swati spotted a woman painting what looked like a box. She reached out and befriended the woman, Sarita Devi, a Madhubani artist, and their conversation subsequently gave birth to Swarang Designs.
In the 1980s, Miuccia Prada created what would become one of the most iconic fashion accessories: a nylon parachute fabric backpack trimmed in leather. Available in black or brown with nothing but a minuscule triangle label, this bag was utilitarian and armed with a hefty price tag–$450 to be precise! The roaring success of this bag marked a catalyst in the fashion landscape. Fashion writer Dana Tomas describes it best in her book “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster”. The Prada backpack, she states, was “the emblem of the radical change that luxury was undergoing at the time: the shift from small family businesses of beautifully handcrafted goods to global corporations selling to the middle market”. Three decades later, we find ourselves in a world where advertising budgets are constantly multiplying, leaving hand-craftsmanship and quality materials at the sacrifcial altar. Data has a seat at the head of the design table; where aesthetics, design and creation answer to costs, margins and marketability.
In the midst of this bleak fashion scenery, a sliver of hope shines out of India. A country of paradoxes, while India continues on its path of economic development, there’s also an increased focus on heritage–especially through art, handicrafts and textiles. Fashion continues to be one of the clearest mirrors of these shifts in society, and we’re seeing an emergence of brands that weave contemporary design sensibilities with centuries old Indian crafts seamlessly.
Sarita Devi’s beautifully crafted work was Swati’s in to the colorful world of Madhubani art. Legend has it that Madhubani art dates back to the time of the Ramayana, when an artist was commissioned to capture Princess Sita’s wedding with Prince Rama. An art with origins in Bihar where it is still practiced, most Madhubani artists are women. Traditionally, Madhubani paintings are created using fingers, twigs and matchsticks, with walls and floors acting as the canvas.
Although inspired by an age-old art, Swati took to technology to bring her designs to life. In 2016 she ran a crowd-funding campaign on Bitgiving, raising enough capital to move Swarang Design’s first collection to production. Her very first design, the Mithali Collection Harness Sling Bag continues to be her most popular. Soft, supple leather and Madhubani handpainted blocks of wood together become the frame of this bag. Customised printed cotton fabric lines the interior of the bag, adding another handcrafted design element to this one-of-a-kind accessory. Clean lines, harmonizing colors and a dash of brilliant art, Swarang Design’s accessories stand out in the over-saturated fashion accessories’ market.
Success aside, Swati is proud that Swarang is part of a larger movement to support and empower Indian artisans. “Our country’s rich heritage of handicrafts is an infnite pool of inspiration. Each collection of Swarang will be designed incorporating a unique Indian craft.”
You can check Swarang Designs out here.