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Anita Dongre has designed clothes for many celebrities, including some high profile women in the world, yet her designs are also accessible to the ordinary woman, and sustainable.
Fashion designer Anita Dongre, 54, enjoyed global spotlight in 2016 after Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wore her dress on a trip to India. Her website crashed with the most orders originating from the US; and she was the the seventh-most-searched designer on Google by the end of the year.
Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton in an Anita Dongre creation
She worked for around a decade after college, before launching her first brand AND in 1995. 20 years later, she now runs five brands.
What started as a small workshop with her sister in her bedroom balcony, has now grown 35 years later into a vast empire with over 2,000 employees.
How did she do it? “Back in the 90s fashion designing wasn’t considered a real profession,” she says. “I come from a traditional family where the women always have been homemakers.”
She and her sister started designing for family, friends, and local boutiques. Seeing her unrelenting passion, her father gave in, and supported her to start a small factory of her own.“Ever since, there has been no looking back,” she says.
ANITA DONGRE New York store
She supplied clothes to boutiques for twelve years before launching her first brand AND in 1995. AND was launched when her designs – wherein she did not cater to market forces – were rejected by every other store.
In July last year, she opened her first store in the US – of her brand Grassroot. This is her entry in the US market, besides already selling her designs in India, the Middle East, and Africa.
When asked about her most ‘pinch-me’ moment in her long and successful career, she says, “there have been a lot of special moments!”
“However, I always look at the future.”
Looking towards the future is also the philosophy behind her latest brand Grassroot, launched in August 2015. I want to “create beautiful clothes that at the same time create beautiful tomorrows for our people and the planet,” she says of the sustainable fashion brand.
Inside the New York store
“My core passion is to design clothes that hold a purpose,” she adds.
Working with twenty craft clusters and independent artisans across India, Grassroots is an attempt to bring work back to the villages, making every village an economically self-sustaining unit.
Grassroot sells contemporary clothes that use traditional handweaves, embroideries and other textile crafts like block printing and bandhani that are thousands of years old.
SEWA artisans at work
This juxtaposition – getting the best of both worlds – the new and the old – is present across her work, brands, and clientele.
Her clothes have been worn by every day Indian women, as well as Bollywood celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Sonam Kapoor, and the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Ms Trudeau; her jewellery designs go with traditional suits as well as western gowns; she had carried her son to work as a creative entrepreneur; and she gets inspired from the outside beauty while she does what her heart wishes.
“I love fashion, which for me is also an emotion,” she says, “so for me, everything aligns together beautifully to complement one other.”
Her other brands also grew out to fill a need in the market. AND was created to fill a void in affordable everyday western wear that otherwise had only global brands which were not available in India at the time. Global Desi is predominantly India-inspired and delves deep into our rich heritage of colours, textures and prints. Anita Dongre offers bridal wear for the new-age bride – lehngas with pockets. Anita Dongre Fine Jewellery is an extension of the bridal line.
When asked, what makes her foresee the changes in culture and society – the changing Indian bride; the Indian art dying – that leads to the launch of new brands, she says that “research is an integral part of the creative process.”
“As a designer, the more I travel within the interiors of India in search of inspiration and resources, the more I am amazed at how much our country’s heritage has to offer.”
“Every experience with the rural artisans has impacted me and influenced my work,” she adds, “Grassroot was born out of these experiences.”
When asked about the initial challenges, she says it is “the little things that stand out”, like her struggles with mall owners regarding store space, or “to be taken seriously by everyone at work”. “It took determination, hard work, and absolute faith in my vision to keep moving ahead, amidst the challenges,” she says.
As the business grew, one of her greatest challenges had been “staying true to my core beliefs when very few believed in changing the status quo,” she says. She had always held that men, women and animals deserved the same respect, hence refused to use leather in her bags and accessories since day one. “The greatest challenge with sustainable clothing is changing the perspective to fashion,” she says.
Sakhi, Gauriben, Anita Dongre and Courtney Sharma
“With Grassroot, our greatest learning has been that handcrafts take time and they won’t submit to a schedule. In respecting the care that goes into each piece these villages produce, each season is broken down into months, delivering product as they come in—giving fashion the slow, steadfast care it deserves,” she says. “We have certainly learnt patience as far as Grassroot and slow fashion is concerned.”
What’s her success mantra, and any advice for young ones? “My mantra is to simply love what you do passionately, and to work hard to get to your dreams… work hard and be disciplined, because there’s no substitute for hard work.”
Images source: Anita Dongre
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