Lotuses and mango designs, the crescent moon, roses, peacocks, and the odd fish - traditional Indian motifs are irrefutably iconic and have been embraced the world over. Yet at home, there is still a dearth of people who embrace their innate Indianness. The lifestyle and cultural products of our country are closely entwined with our identity, which ought to be celebrated, not hidden away.
But this isn't a piece scoping for people to wear sarees and salwar to college over convenience, but rather about someone who is giving Indian fashion its dues, in her own way. Anu Merton has become a style inspiration for those looking to reach across the chasm of traditional Indian fashion and global fashion trends. While she is originally from Bihar, she has grown up all over the country and describes herself as an entrepreneur who creates and curates fashion, under her eponymous label.
We caught up with her, to delve deeper into her journey as a designer and entrepreneur whose brand and personal style is ‘handmade in India’.
How would you describe yourself - a designer/ a curator/ a creator/ an entrepreneur or something else?
I think I would describe myself as an entrepreneur who creates and curates. For my brand, I create designs and curate products, but at the end of the day, it is a company that I started with my husband and I have a team that reports to me. We work around the clock to do our best to represent the concept of ‘handmade in India’ that we believe in, and to juggle creativity and technology in our work.
In your previous interviews, you mentioned that growing up all over India is what truly helped you find your inspiration - I’d love to know more about this.
My dad was in forest services and had a transferable job. Although I studied at a boarding school in Dehradun, I would come back and visit my parents, in whichever town they were in, during holidays. These trips are what attuned me to the everyday beauty that India has, especially in the smaller towns.
Each of these towns is distinct in its own way. From the way people dress to the colors they prefer, the jewelry they wear is all slightly different, if not entirely. Weather, nature, season, all the physical aspects as well as the historical and cultural aspects of the towns come to play in a very interesting way. Even the way the sun shines through on a winter morning in Bangalore is very different from how it is in Jaipur and these small yet interesting details are what truly made me appreciate the beauty in the finer details.
How did the brand come to be?
For me, the whole process happened very organically. I always had my jewelry custom-made and grew up seeing my mum and my grandmother doing so. A couple of years ago, friends started asking if I could recreate some of my personal pieces for them, which slowly became friends of friends asking for the same. Initially, it was just me with notebooks and excel sheets trying to design and deliver jewelry on order. During COVID, my husband eventually took pity on me and we started the website to simplify the process. He did all the tech bits of the website, while I worked on the content for it.
What is the process that is followed when creating new designs for your brand?
Most of the time, my designs stem from how I’m feeling. I could be reading something while I am in Jaipur, and it could trigger something and the imagination just takes flight. Of course, I romanticize a lot of my life. So I’m really drawn to literature and poetry especially and a small spark while reading Faiz or Rumi may prompt me to capture the emotion or a moment in design. Even the twinkle in the eyes of a new acquaintance, during an animated conversation, is something that can set me off on the path to creating something new. Suffice it to say, nature, poetry, people, and movement are often my biggest inspirations.
There is the initial spark. But how does it transpire into the final product?
The best way to talk about this is considering my product Rusthom ring. The falcon is a bird that I’ve always considered to be my spirit animal. While the majesty of falcons has always amazed me, reading Guru Gobind Singhji, and the symbolism of falcons in Khalsa. This then led me to start thinking of how I’d want to wear Rusthom on me and what form it should be in. I finally went with clear quartz, one of my favorite materials, with beautiful inclusions. I have an amazing team of Karigars in Jaipur and Patna who could carve the design out. It was then about drawing the design out, getting the rough design done, cutting the stone, figuring out the sizes, and going back to the drawing board when needed.
What is kept in mind when you are creating your pieces?
Making sure you work on your today, for a better tomorrow - is something that we follow throughout our brand. In manufacturing, we’re seeking to ensure quality and attention to detail are consistent, so that our products last. I care about the people that shop with me and want to ensure that the pieces they get from us become a part of their wardrobe for a long time.
The concept of ‘Travelling Dukaan’ is something that I have previously not heard of. Where did the thread for this begin?
‘Traveling Dukaan is a part of what I do that I enjoy immensely. It started when I visited Jaipur for the first time, after the lockdown. Things were slowly opening up, and I was having a conversation with my husband about all the lovely things in Jaipur that Karigars have made but because of the pandemic were simply not being looked at or purchased. But so many people sitting at home would wish to see it, and even would like to buy it. So it would be a great opportunity for the Kaarigars, who haven’t had business as well as for customers who wish they could acquire these things from artisans. It was September 2020, and travel was still very restricted, but I went ahead and did the first edition. It was a really fun experience and it just had to be done again and again and now we’re on the eleventh edition. Now I curate pieces that are different perhaps from my style and I style them in a lot of different ways to show the pieces off.
Your style is something that has become much loved by your audience. How would you describe it?
I think of personal style as non-verbal language. How you dress and how you carry yourself is something that comes from within. I think style is also very subjective - what I consider classic might not be so, for another person. I would say that my style comes from my country. It is the style of someone who grew up in India, has read literature from around the world, and watched global movies, but whose identity is still deeply rooted in India. This is also why I seek to wear things that are made here. It’s not a forced decision, but seeing a particular embroidery or handspun fabric evokes emotion and connection, as opposed to shopping at a retail brand. But I also think that dressing up should be fun and I like experimenting and expressing who I am through my clothes.
Versatility and functionality are something that truly shines through your collections - was that an active decision, or something that occurred naturally?
As someone who loves her jewelry, I’ve seen a great number of brands. But there is always the question of how many times I am going to wear it and where I am going to wear it. For me, it is so important that you are wearing it often and in a lot of different ways and it gives you joy.
When I look at jewelry or clothes, I don’t believe in occasion wear. I prefer whatever I buy to transcend occasions. I believe that the pieces in your wardrobe should be something that makes you feel great about yourself.
What are the hopes that you carry for Anu Merton, as a brand, and as a person?
For the brand, I hope that the team at Anu Merton - our team of eight at Jaipur and the extended network of Karigars - are all happy and healthy. We’re planning on launching apparel very soon, and relaunching the website, which would be easier to navigate and more user-friendly. Customer service is also something that I would like to focus more on. I also hope that we can work with more bright, young people who believe in the cause of Handmade in India to join me.
On a personal note, I have a 9-year-old son, who is caring and kind and constantly inspires me. So I feel lucky for the family and support system that I have and hope to be more empathetic, and caring like my son. The big dream would be to inspire more people to embrace their dreams and overcome their fears and do work that takes India to the whole world and make us all proud.