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Fashion
November 30, 2017

How The Label Varana Was Born On A Boat In Varanasi

Text by Saumya Sinha

“We wanted to demonstrate that we could create superbly crafted products, on par with the world’s best”

“The idea behind Varana took shape when I was in a boat with my son, ferrying down the length of the Ganges in Varanasi — one of the world’s oldest cities and widely regarded as the soul of India. It was the night of Diwali, and as the sun set and the aarti commenced, we saw hundreds of little diyas floating along the surface of the river. It was magical. Varuna and the Asi, tributaries of the Ganges, converge at Varanasi. Derived from Sanskrit, the word varana variously means a river, a blessing, a benediction, a reward. I knew that night that I wanted to work on this new idea, and that the brand would be called Varana. So the brand’s logo evokes the image of the river, where the idea was born.”

“We have the largest number of artisans in the world, those who have absolute mastery of their craft. We have a vibrant domestic market but what was missing was an international approach to design, one that was needed to make our products relevant to markets beyond boundaries. I increasingly felt like we should attempt to create a brand that reinterpreted our heritage through a modern lens.”

“We wanted to demonstrate that we could create superbly crafted products, on par with the world’s best. Hence we launched the brand through a flagship store in Mayfair, London. We felt it was important to have a physical space where people could witness the quality for themselves. At the Dover Street store, we have customers from all corners of the globe — from not only the UK, but from countries all over Europe, Australia, the Middle East, as well as USA, Chile, Argentina, Japan, China, and, of course, India. The fact that people from all these regions appreciate Varana gives us the confidence that we can take it to other parts of the world too. We may open other stores in other geographies, including India, and will explore selling out of department stores as well. We also intend to sell online through our own e-commerce website as well as on other marketplaces.”

“The people come first. We have a lovely team from many countries working together at our studio in Bengaluru. We create a lot of our own fabrics and work with craft clusters as well as mills. We do print workshops from Kashmir in the north to Bengal in the east, Saurashtra in the west and Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the south. The textile designers are all trained at NID (National Institute of Design) and have an excellent understanding of India’s textile traditions. The garment designers are from Italy and France; our knitwear designer, from Japan. They have the knowledge and expertise in creating silhouettes and in pattern making. We’ve learnt that garment making is a highly technical field.”

“The luxury market is very crowded and competitive. On the other hand, we saw a market for Varana because of the difference we bring to the table based on our West-meets-East aesthetic. For example, you cannot normally find a block printed shirt with any luxury brand in London. At Varana, you can find a block printed shirt by the most skilled printers in the world. We have a different offering which certain kinds of people warm up to. Our ideal customer is a cosmopolitan, well-travelled woman, who wears her wardrobe with an individualistic sense of style that surpasses trends. Fortunately, we have found many such women with a penchant for Varana’s world.”

“Cashmere continues to hold a special place in my heart. Our Himalayan cashmere is unbelievably soft and very warm. I personally love the full-length cashmere cardigan, with long clean lines — simple and luxurious.”

“While we base our collections on themes that link back to craft, Varana’s approach is not revivalist. We marry craft with contemporary design and cross-pollinate ideas across techniques. For example we’ve woven bandhni patterns in jacquard with unusual new colours. I believe that looking at things with a fresh eye allows new ideas and innovations to bubble up. The concept for 2018 is Kutch, the striking desert region in Western India which is abundantly rich in creative traditions.”

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