Contemporary And CHIC
Long before ready-to-wear garments became commonplace and the neighbourhood tailor was the personal couturier, a brand was born in Ahmedabad, experimenting with the ready-to-wear segment. Archana Shah, the woman behind Bandhej, was in Kochi the other day for the launch of its first franchise store in the city.
For city folks
The person responsible for the store is actor Cuckoo Parameswaran. A fan of the Bandhej brand, she wanted to ‘share' the experience with her ‘people' and hence the store. Making an impact with her costumes for films such as ‘Akale', ‘Ore Kadal' etc, Cuckoo has a keen eye for textiles. “It was on a trip to Ahmedabad to interview Mrinalini Sarabhai that I ‘encountered' Bandhej,” she says. The Kochi store is the result of Cuckoo's persistence, says Archana.
Archana belongs to an era before designers and their labels became haute in India. An alumna of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Archana set up Bandhej in 1980. She began working (mainly on home furnishings) and developing products for Fabindia around 1980.
If there is a person she would call mentor, it is John Bissell of Fabindia. “He encouraged me to start the company. I was making certain products such as dhurries for Fabindia. He told me to make much more than that and to advance beyond the dhurries.” She is grateful to him for having guided her on various aspects of running a business when Bandhej was in its nascence. It was only in 1985 that Archana tried her hand at garments. In 1985, she was involved in designing the decorations for the inauguration of the Festival of India in Paris and subsequently in Moscow, Tashkent and Leningrad in 1987.
While working on the inaugurals for the Festival of India in Paris, she got to work with a large number of artisans, which opened her eyes to the potential of these arts in such a way that the artists stand to gain. This was around the time she opened her first store in Ahmedabad. Almost 30 years later, Bandhej today has a chain of shops, two in Ahmedabad, one each in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and now in Kochi.
Through her label, she hopes to rejuvenate traditional crafts and craft techniques. Her garments incorporate a lot of the elements of the Indian crafts and handlooms. There is, of course, plenty of Gujarat and Rajasthan inspired prints and textiles. She relies on artisans from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kutch, Rajasthan etc.
In 1995 she launched a mail order catalogue (one of the first companies in India) in around 300 towns in India which gained unexpected popularity. The success and popularity of the catalogue was a surprise to Archana. “I was reaching the small towns. The catalogues reached 20,000-30,000 people in different parts of the country. Bandhej came to be known.”
Her pręt line boasts of an enviable collection of clothes for the mature Indian woman. Read that as one who wants to dress her age and yet be contemporary and modern. This is where the Bandhej knits come in. There are trousers, tunics and smart tops for the woman on the go. It is not just women that the brand caters to, there are garments for men too.
Indian body type
Archana calls it contemporary clothing which is not Western, looks Indian and suits (and fits) the Indian body type. Long before leggings came into vogue, this is the person who designed knit chudidars. “There is not much in the market for the mature woman who is in her 30s and beyond and wants to dress appropriately yet be smartly turned out,” says Archana. No need now to squeeze into clothes that belong to another generation to look smart!
The store in Kochi is divided into different segments. There is the formal Indian wear which includes silk saris (bandhej, leheriya etc), lehengas, tunics, kurtas/kurtis and some men's wear. Then there is the semi-formal and casual wear which includes cottons, knits etc. There are tempting skirts, tunics, tops, pants and shirts. The prices are reasonable. And surprise, surprise…it is not all Indian prints and handlooms. These garments are functional ethnic. Bandhej is located on Main Avenue of Panampilly Nagar.