Legacies of craft design: Jaypore Open House arrives in Chennai
Come for the block prints and weaves. Stay for the stories — that’s the tagline for the Open House session to be held at Amethyst this weekend, showcasing the brand Jaypore’s handcrafted apparel and jewellery.“We are trying to build an Indian artisanal story for our audience,” informs Shilpa Sharma, who co-founded Jaypore with Puneet Chawla in 2012. Among the Open House plans are workshops, and screenings of videos that offer a closer look at the craft processes, and anecdotal communications on a spread of craft techniques, from that of Maheswari Sarees and Dabu printing to Indigo dyeing and Ikat weaving, and more.
1. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind Jaypore Open House. How did you begin working on this as a design company?
Being an online company, and functioning in the digital realm since our conception in 2012, we have come to realise that having an offline engagement with our audience is very important in building a stronger brand value. No matter however much the modern Indian consumers shop online, there always is an added value to that touch and feel experience that gives the buyer an added sense of reassurance before purchasing.
Keeping this in mind, we decided that we needed to have physical touch points for our audience – a transit space where they get to take in the Jaypore experience physically as well as come to know our collections face to face, before going back to shopping online with us. The idea was to reassure them and show them what our designs look like in person which gives them that much more confidence when buying online – from fit and size to how a particular type of design looks on them.
Another reason behind the Jaypore Open House was to recreate that craft & design story that is the cornerstone of Jaypore’s brand equity – we wanted to bring the richness of Indian craft from across the country closer to our audience. Our byline for the Open House reads come for the block prints & weaves, stay for the stories – and we are trying to build that Indian artisanal story for our audience through our open houses, from interesting workshops and videos taking a closer look at the rich craft processes to anecdotal communications at the open house on the many interesting craft/techniques – from Maheswari Saris & Dabu printing to Indigo dyeing & Ikat weaving and so on.
2.Where there any particular lessons that you might have brought in from your prior experience at FabIndia?
My experience at FabIndia definitely has helped shape my overall fashion & lifestyle retail knowhow. Having worked for over 12 years in different capacities there – from driving the retail expansion to managing product buying & merchandising – there was a wealth of learning w.r.t. the Indian retail market dynamics, the fine nuances and challenges of selling Indian wear to modern Indian consumers and also a keener understanding of the design 7 craft network spread across the country.
The primary realisation post my experience at Fab India was that I had a keen eye for business within the Indian design segment, specifically in terms of retail formats, product curation and business development within the Indian craft & design segment.
One of the key learnings was understanding the psyche of contemporary Indian lifestyles, and accordingly the market demand for Indian wear – for example, it was at FabIndia that we realised the immense potential for ‘mix-and-match’ Indian wear separates (kurtas, pants, dupattas, shawls etc.). This is a trend that has continued to influence the product curation at most Indian wear retailers. At Jaypore, we have tried to introduce newer ways to make your Indian wardrobes that much more versatile – from kurtas that can be worn as dresses, a variety of Indian pants to create interesting looks and blouses that double up as crop tops.
3.How have you been working out the various tie-ups and collaborations with artisans and crafts groups? Could you give us an insight into your process of approaching artisan and crafts groups, and how does it work for them to create products for Jaypore House?
Our business model is such that we extensively work with grass root craft communities, not for profit organisations championing upliftment of Indian design and individual craftsmen themselves. From Day 1 of our operations, our key focus has been on building a platform that brings the best of Indian design & craft right to consumers in India and worldwide. Creating a direct bridge between the consumers and the artisans – to give the consumers access to the best and finest of Indian artisanal design, and the craftsmen a global platform and fair pricing policy to expand their business and safeguard their commercial interest
The association with these communities and craftsmen is a two-way street – it involves us approaching them, our buying team routinely travels across the country to identify interesting organisations/artisans we can collaborate with; and also the craftsmen/communities approaching us directly based on our work within the space. It is essentially a give and take relationship fueled by word of mouth of the people we work with and our own research on interesting people to work with.
Today we work with around 300 Indian design labels, craftsmen, craft communities directly and have a network of around 600 vendors at any given time.
4.How do you keep yourself updated about developments in the market? Do you keep a close look at the Crafts Council of India and similar groups, for instance?
Of course, it is impossible to work in isolation, especially in a segment as dynamic as ours. Since the core of our work involves interacting with the design and craft stakeholders of the country, it is important for us to keep abreast with the latest happenings in the segment.
We keep a close eye on all interesting initiatives, activities & events taking place around us, and also we try and be a part of the key conversations happening in the space. From the World Craft Council Ikat Symposium in September to the recently concluded Indigo Symposium by Sutra Textiles, we try to be amidst the interesting design & culture conversations around us.
Also as a function of working closely with organisations like Crafts Council of India, AIACA, KGU, DAMA etc, we have the advantage of having first hand exposure to the interesting developments in the segment that helps us fine tune our own customer outreach and engagement.
5. Please tell us a little about the various workshops that Jaypore Open House supports. How specialised are these sessions?
Like I said earlier, for us it is equally important to highlight the dynamic Indian craft & design story to our customers along with selling our collections. We want to bring to light the vivid history, the unknown anecdotes and the interesting creation process of each of the design showcased – and from this point of view, we are trying to build interactive sessions for our customers at the Open house, to give them a closer look at the story of the design, to give them an immersive experience that is so much more than a mere see & shop touch point many exhibits can be.
We are in the initial stages of building these experiences – having hosted a couple of workshops till now at our Delhi & Mumbai Open Houses, and are trying to build them into a more engaging format going forward.
So far we have organized a Saree draping workshop with the noted authority on the topic, Rta Kapur Chishti and an interactive block printing workshop with Shyamala Rao. Both workshops included an in depth introduction to the topic, from the rich legacy of the many Saree drapes of India to the evolution of the intricate art of block printing in India; followed by a do it yourself experience where the audience got a chance to try draping that saree in the lesser known ways to block print themselves a small keepsake – idea is to present an engaging interface to get our customers interested in the craft on a deeper level.
6.How much of your focus will be on the online space, as opposed to a traditional retail set-up? How are you geared to sell things differently, across mediums, in the years to follow?
We are always going to be an online first company, our first priority is to build an artisanal Indian platform that is accessible to everyone without the confines of geographies, time zones etc.
Having said that, we do want to create a retail experience that offers the best of everything to our customers – and that has been the main reason for us to foray into the physical space with our Open Houses. Like said before, we want to build in a physical touch and feel experience to complement our online offering and with that in mind, we will be focusing heavily in having physical experiences for our customers across India in the months to come.
As for other retail medium innovations, it is still too early for us to make any claims, you’ll have to wait and watch!
7.How did you go about extending your product lines from apparel and accessories to personal care products, jewellery and home accents? Was it a natural extension of your offerings?
We started in 2012 with a small representation of scarves and stoles, from there we have come a long way to quite an expansive range across apparel, jewelry, footwear, bags, home décor, art, books, personal care etc.
Our idea was always to bring the best of Indian design – across categories – under one roof. And from that perspective, yes it was a natural progression – starting from the limited range we had to the fairly extensive one we have today.
8.We admit, we're quite unfamiliar with techniques such as of dabu resist-dyeing, fadat prints, leheriya, Bagru and Sanganeri block-printing. How unique are these methods, and what did it take for you to bring them into the mainstream?
Each of the techniques mentioned by you comes with its own gripping legacy, an origin story peculiar to its place of origin and a process that is spell binding to say the least. So any of each them are rightfully different from the other, each with its own set of unique highlights that makes it almost a work of art.
We can’t claim that we have brought any of these to mainstream by ourselves – it is still a work in progress, and a collective effort by the many champions of Indian craft revival movement. So while we are doing our small bit by taking part in seminal initiatives, creating content on these craft/techniques through our website, blog & social media; and holding workshops we mentioned earlier – there is still immense scope for us and everyone in the segment to bring Indian artisanal legacy to the limelight it deserves.
9. Were there any techniques that involved a sort of revival? What challenges did you face, and did it ever get difficult to encourage these lesser-known forms?
Like mentioned above, we are part of the collective effort to revive Indian craft & design, and by ourselves can’t take the credit of bringing forth the revival.
Having said that, we have always tried to promote the Indian craft products along with the story behind that craft – mainly through content, and our focus has always been in giving the consumer an insight into the many facets of that particular craft to build a deeper engagement. We also work with many not for profit organisations that are championing this revival and we hope in our small way, we are able to make some difference in the upliftment of Indian craft & design segments.
10. Give us your vision for expansion - how do you see Jaypore Open House growing, and expanding, in the following seasons?
We are quite ambitious with our Open Houses, idea being to make it into a traveling concept – taking it to cities big and small across India in the coming months. We have had editions in Delhi, Mumbai & Bangalore so far and are coming to Chennai this November 17-18. We plan to travel to Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Kolkata next. And that is just the ones tentatively confirmed, with many more in the pipeline.
At Amethyst, November 17-18, 11 am-7 pm. Details: 4599-1630. Visit jaypore.com