It’s always very exciting for us to discover new and different business concepts and London-based Varana is the latest addition to our ever-growing list of brand crushes. Taking inspiration from the diverse, vibrant and splendid Indian culture, Varana’s creative director Sujata channels the country’s spirit and craftsmanship heritage into the brand’s extravagantly luxurious pieces.
Intrigued by how a brand can amalgamate culture, tradition and the contemporary design scene, we sat down with Sujata to discuss her journey, the future of the brand and her insider tip for aspiring designers.
The Journey Thus Far
Sujata: The idea behind Varana took form when I was with my son on a boat on the river Ganges at Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities, widely regarded as the soul of India. It was Diwali night and as the sun set, there were hundreds of little diyas of light floating on the surface of the water. It was magical. The rivers Varuna and the Asi, tributaries of the Ganges, converge at Varanasi. Derived from Sanskrit, the word Varana variously means a river, a blessing, a reward.
I knew that night that I wanted to work on this new idea, and decided that the brand would be called Varana. As you can see, the logo evokes the river where the idea crystallised.
For very many years before that boat ride, I had been thinking about the fact that India has so much to offer the world in terms of its extraordinary textile and craft heritage. This is not just history but a living tradition… we have the largest number of living artisans in the world and the best of them have total mastery of their craft.
I felt that what was missing was a contemporary and international approach to design that was needed to make our products relevant to markets in other countries. I increasingly felt that we should attempt to create a brand that re-interpreted our heritage through a modern lens. A brand that was contemporary and interesting which global audiences could relate to. The mission was also to find new markets and patrons for our master craftsmen and women, to help them remain relevant as their extraordinary hand-skills are being lost due to lack of patronage.
Shortly after my visit to Varanasi, I discussed this idea with Ravi Prasad, who at the time was the Executive Chairman of the Ayurvedic company Himalaya. The idea really resonated with him and he became very excited at the thought of creating a luxury brand from India for the world. He brought the business perspective that was integral for us to make the project a reality. We then decided to go ahead and give it a shot.
We launched the brand two years ago through a flagship store in Dover Street, Mayfair, London. We felt it was important to have a physical space where people could touch and feel the fineness of the fabrics, to see the impeccable quality for themselves.
It’s been a hugely interesting journey so far… maddening and challenging on a daily basis but with immensely rewarding moments as well. We’ve just taken our baby steps out in the world and we plan to do many exciting things in the years ahead!
The Many Sources of Inspiration
Sujata: Unlike most other fashion brands, Varana’s collections are based on an annual concept or theme which centres our thinking and serves as the inspiration for all the work done in a single year, i.e. through spring, summer, autumn and winter. For example the first year our collections called “Eternal Love”, were based on The Taj Mahal. We decided to work on The Taj because it is rich in iconography with a variety of motifs and patterns used in the inlay work on the walls and the floor.
We start by creating a bank of images relating to patterns, motifs, textures and colours connected with the concept. We also identify the craft techniques that would fit conceptually with the theme. For example for the Taj concept, we worked with wood block printing, Aari embroidery and Jamdani weaving all of which were brought in by the Mughals and flourished under their patronage.
At this time when the ecology of our planet is increasingly under strain, we have chosen to highlight the idea of The Tree of Life.We all know that trees are fundamental to our existence, and that life on earth cannot exist without them. In acknowledgement of its endless giving, the symbolic “Tree of Life” is considered sacred across very many cultures both from the west and the east. Varana stands for history, craftsmanship and culture, and the sources and inspiration for the collections is derived from this.
An Usual Day With Team Varana
Sujata: No two people’s day would be identical, but we are a start-up so everyone is very busy trying to get a lot done each day. We’re based in two continents and we have a truly multicultural team. In our studio in Bangalore, we have Indian textile and graphic designers working alongside Italian, French and Japanese fashion designers. It is a very interesting laboratory of East meeting West. Design and production happens in India, while sales and marketing happen from Dover Street. The teams are always in touch working closely with each other.
We give a lot of freedom to our people to think and work independently in an entrepreneurial way.
5 Years From Now
Sujata: Since we launched we have customers from over fifty countries at the Dover Street store alone. While that tells you a lot about London, it also indicates that Varana has a truly international appeal that crosses borders.
We plan to take the brand forward through a hybrid model of our own stores; online through our own website and also to select boutiques and speciality stores in other countries. We’re also looking at direct to customer channels such as pop ups in different cities.
We have just started taking our baby steps out in the world and we plan to do many exciting things in the years ahead!
Follow Varana: @varanaworld