It takes immense courage – and a healthy dose of madness – to give up on what is perhaps a stable life choice and pursue your passion. Doing what you love and loving what you do definitely makes it easier to get out of bed and off to work in the morning, but it’s never as simple as it sounds – especially when your real calling pushes the boundaries of societal conventions, finds itself in a tricky terrain and/or difficult to parlay into a viable job or business.
We spoke to individuals across the country that threw caution to the wind and have trodden down the path less taken – brands and people who were more or less the first-movers in their field. One’s who set the stage for others to follow by doing what they’re doing and carving out a new space with something fresh and unique entirely.
Today, we look at the individual journeys of such people who through experimental music, street style and hip-hop culture, and fashion have created a platform for themselves as well as for dialogues and recognition for the alternative and subcultures that have been brewing across the board.
I. Abhineet Singh, Anand Ahuja and Emilia Bergmans | VegNonVeg
When it comes to burgeoning street style and sneaker culture, the impact that Abhineet Singh, Anand Ahuja and Emilia Bergmans have had is undeniable. The founders of VegNonVeg, a sneaker store, have been fuelling the national capital with their incredible curation of the highest quality sneakers from around the world.
Speaking to them about their origin, we get an almost automated response – “A love for sneakers and a frustration that the good stuff wasn’t making its way to India!” VegNonVeg has introduced the Indian market to a whole new world of sneakers, widening a previously limited avenue of sports shoes, for the more adventurous and stylistically creative. While Ahuja spearheads Bhane, and Singh and Bergmans run a creative agency called the Brewhouse, the triad works seamlessly in a true collaboration as their roles diversified and a new venture was born.
Needless to say, starting India’s first multi-brand sneaker store could not have been an easy idea to execute, much less a financially safe one. The fears and challenges were real, considering that the sneaker and street culture were still in the nascent brick and mortar stage with no guarantee of taking off. It took approximately five years for the company to get off the blueprints and hit the market. “It was a calculated leap that we needed to take but we were also pretty confident that the scene here would takeoff. The challenge remains to always be a thought leader in this segment, and of course, working closely with brands to bring the most coveted sneakers to India,” said Bergmans. The idea began to take shape when the trio met one of the ‘big boys’ of adidas back in 2011, who taught them about size rolls, minimum orders and the amount they would need to initially invest – a healthy sum, to put it mildly.
Going down this path what they questioned the most was what their sneaker store would mean – how would it stand apart and above the others? “We didn’t want to do it exactly how you see it in the west but what make sure we don’t forget our heritage or Indian origins. It’s an underlying theme that we are constantly concerned with in all our decisions,” they share.
The team walks us through their spectrum of emotions during the first two years of setting up the company – ranging from love, passion and satisfaction to rejection, nervousness, frustration, and exhilaration. VegNonVeg was started as a leap of faith and the team confesses there is a still lot of work to do. “Ask us in ten years how we felt at the beginning,” quips Bergmans, brimming with laughter.
The response they’ve gotten from brands and the community at large has been amazing, and anyone with even a pinky toe in this subculture can vouch for that. The rising popularity of streetwear teamed with people really knowing what they want now with the advent of technology and social media has given VegNonVeg an encouraging nod to only grow and expand our horizons even further.
When posed with what we, the community, have to look forward to at VegNonVeg the straight answer is: there’s always a new Yeezy coming! The company is also going to be adding streetwear to their collection and is looking to open their store in a new city. Over the course of our conversation, it becomes pretty clear that VegNonVeg isn’t here to simply sell shoes but to feed a growing culture and lifestyle revolution in India.
II. Gaurav Malaker – BLOT!
Gaurav Malaker introduced BLOT! to the Indian music scene at a time when there were only a scattered few who indulged in electronic and techno music. With a handful of musicians actually playing minimal techno, Malaker was shaking things up, creating an alternative music choice for all to experience and transform the indie music scene. Fast forward to ten years later, after the genre finally gained momentum and now has a sizeable audience, BLOT! can indisputably be attributed to bringing about this revolution, as a name and face that has constantly been at the forefront of the new wave of musicians.
A producer and DJ, electronic music was something Malaker always enjoyed. “To be honest, there were many people exploring it globally and it was no match to Bollywood in India. It took a while before electronic music caught momentum. I just did it because it’s something I enjoyed and it resonated with my sensibilities,” he tells us. “Every musician/artist has their own preferences and mediums to express what they can. I’m more inclined towards using hardware and vintage synthesisers and analog outboard gear. That’s not to say that it is a necessity to make electronic music. There are no tricks to starting out. Spend time on it, set goals that are in line with your vision and gently plan your way towards it. If you continue working hard in what you believe in, the chances of it not working out are quite slim.”
With the incredible technological advancements, access to the internet and advent of social media, we ask him how similar, or dissimilar, he finds his own journey to break into the music industry compared to that of the younger electronic musicians of today. It’s incomparable, according to Malaker, as each is a very personal experience. “The constants of the journey are interpreted based on each of our own goals and motivations. That being said, we live in a far more connected world now than what it was when I started out. Access to information was a challenge because the internet was a challenge. While this industry is still growing, it was at a very nascent stage when I dipped my toes into it. Every artist’s journey is challenging and rewarding in equal measure and as long as you’re getting what you want from your craft the journey can be quite enriching,” he says.
A DJ for over five years before he founded BLOT!, he recounts how he started off his career by playing at “the most random parties in colony parks, wedding engagements and sangeets,” carrying his equipment in the back of a truck. What did this help him grasp, though, is the ability to read his crowd.
A product of love, passion and immense hard work and grit, talking about his journey Malaker shares, “I’ve always received support from my parents and my friends. I learned all the technical stuff myself and I credit that to my obsession with technology and gadgets. It’s been great fun. I’m very lucky and fortunate to have a great set of people to work with, the performer or the artist is only the tiny tip of the iceberg there are many people, ideas and systems behind him/her, that makes the journey memorable.”
BLOT! explored a terrain very people in the country had considered traversing, especially as a career path, and Malaker does it beautifully – bringing his talent, skills, experience and pure passion together to put up more than a music show, but an immersive experience.
III. Shyma Shetty and Pranav Misra | HUEMN
With a hunger so powerful, a desire to learn everything and expand one’s knowledge and make a change, two very creative individuals, Shyma Shetty and Pranav Misra embarked on a journey to establish one of the most distinct fashion brands in the Indian landscape –Huemn. A play on the words ‘hue’ and ‘human,’ the brand stands for relevance and freshness. It is for the fearless, free-spirited individual who realises his/her importance in and impact on society. In a time when fashion is continuously evolving, warily veering towards token gestures of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’, Huemn exudes an authenticity that extends from the label’s core philosophies – fashion as a response to the ever-changing socio-economic and political landscape of the country.
The brand reflects the personalities of its co-founders, the dynamic duo of Misra and Shetty. As a passionate and sincere person, Shetty brings a certain purity and humbleness to the brand. Her understanding of the community and the impact that they, as individuals and a brand can create is very strong. She is aware that a piece of art can affect society as a whole and this is what she is conscious of while working. Misra, on the other hand, is emotional, yet driven. His work is a byproduct of these feelings and emotions and he finds inspiration in the chaos of the youth.
Huemn has constantly evolved over the years to be a reflection of society. ‘Huemn Stories,’ a photo series, is one of the initiatives by Shetty and Misra that celebrates the beautiful diversity in the world and shows sensitivity to the environment. They celebrate the ordinary and the beauty of being different, of being individual. A contextual approach to fashion is Huemn’s biggest strength and Huemn Stories plays to it beautifully. Diverse sizing, female masturbation, androgyny and non-binary relationships are just a few of the things that are gloriously celebrated in this spread, but they are also visuals and subjects that make a lot of people in the country pretty uncomfortable. “Praise and criticism are both fleeting and don’t affect us too much. The objective of our stories has always been to provoke dialogue or thought and as far as it piques our viewer’s interest enough for them to spent time on it, we are happy,” they tell us.
The heart of Huemn lies in the various individual experiences that they have encountered, the hours of intimate conversations they have had with heterogeneous people and how it has shaped them, enriched their mind and widened their perspectives.
‘Quality, relevance and stories’ are the three words that define Huemn. It is genuine, and so are the stories they share – authentic, real and inspiring. Shetty and Misra have always sought to be a source of influence, to change the game, pick up on the stereotypes and taboos that stir society. That is the foundation on which Huemn stands and blazes its way forward.
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