Trend for upcycling and sustainable fashion and decor
We interviewed Sanju Rao the Founder of Sihasn he shares how the trend for upcycling and sustainable fashion and decor is definitely on the rise and is certainly underrated. Sihasn used traditional and heritage fabric and uses them in upholstery and thus carving a niche for them in the furniture decor market.
Please do share the founding journey of Sihasn
Prior to Sihasn, I had professional exposure and experience in microfinance and construction. I’d studied Economics at the University of Chicago, and then, Urban Design at the London School of Economics. I’d wanted to do something in the space of urban planning especially after doing a stint in Israel, where I researched urban water treatment solutions for my Masters thesis. But when I returned to India, I felt that I should turn to think-tank work and get involved in public policy at a later point in life – that this would be the best time to do something enterprising.So I reached out to my best friend, Ganesh Shankar, and asked him to help me plan and build a startup. He was a CFO in a prestigious construction company and I was lucky to have his help. He has a strong background in finance and business, both with his professional experience and with his educational background with an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. In a record 8 months, we put together a supply-chain for sourcing textiles, contract-manufacturing furniture, managing warehousing and logistics, developing basic design principles for our products, and creating a website. We were blessed with an incredible team that worked day-in and day-out. Our Quality Head, Praveen, has juggled so many roles and worn so many hats in this past year. We have hired and trained women from Usha Schools who are ace upholstery workers. And we lucked out with amazing response from the media and press. Everyone has been generous to us and so incredibly supportive of our vision and that’s why Sihasn happened – because at every turn in the past year-and-a-half, we’ve asked for help and we’ve received it in abundance.
What is the founding philosophy of Sihasn ? Please share the saga of growth
Our founding philosophy: a very basic and passionate love for Indian handicrafts and the Indian aesthetic and a belief that we have not branded and marketed the craftsmanship and diversity of our textile crafts in India and around the world. We started as a B2C company with a strictly online face. But we’re growing our business by converting a B2B sales pipeline. The B2C face (website and social media) is important for building and embedding a strong brand identity. The B2B strategy is important for improving our monthly cashflows. We’re strictly a product brand that is going to grow by increasing our product verticals – so we’re going to introduce fabric screen dividers for living rooms and fabric wall paneling – and also expanding geographically; so we’re exploring strategic tie-ups abroad to export our products. At Sihasn, we’ve decided to grow organically and not by pursuing a customer-acquisition growth story like most e-commerce companies are doing today; because if we do the latter, we will end up being a data company and we could potentially compromise our mission to build a strong Indian product brand. So that is our focus right now. We want to be an Indian furniture business the way Bharat Floorings has successfully positioned itself as an Indian tile business, and Jaipur Rugs has become an Indian rug business. They have strong brand identities, are unapologetically Indian, and are lauded for their quality.
Share a little about what actually is the USP of Sihas
We took heritage textiles and used them as upholstery. We were discouraged so often and by so many people – that this was not sustainable, not durable, not aesthetically appealing. All kinds of negative feedback was given to us. But then we showed that you can use industrial bonding to bond fragile and/ or old fabrics. We showed that you can do unusual things with what is typically used in apparel only. And I believe that is Sihasn’s USP. That we’ve taken something that was not conceivable or believable, and after much trial-and-error, much sweat and toil, and much stress, made it possible. We’ve been blessed with an amazing team and support from unlikely corners.
Please throw light on the textile conservation steps we need to do as a nation
The most important step, I personally believe, is treating weavers and craftsmen with dignity and respect. Till very recently they were at the mercy of moneylenders and middlemen. But companies like FabIndia, and technological advancements (including microfinance banking and the internet), have made it possible for them to access the markets on their own. Weavers and craftsmen have, until recently, felt that they’ve been treated like sweatshop workers and, as a result, they’ve not wanted to pass on their incredible crafts to their children and the next generation. Kunbi weaving, which is indigenous to Goa, went extinct about 5 years ago when the last weaver of Goa burned all of his 16 remaining looms. He was tired of managing relationships with middlemen. This is why we need to be grateful to incredible personalities like John and William Bissell of FabIndia, who have single-handedly given the right of negotiation directly to the weavers and promoted quality control in the handicrafts space. They set the trend for everything awesome that is happening in handwoven textiles, apparel, and furnishings today.
What is your take on upcycling textiles?
It is such an exciting, underrated, and unexplored space. Brands like Pero are making it really trendy, but we still have miles to go before it is really embraced in India. For instance, I’ve had some Indian clients ask me if they’re “actually sitting on garbage” when they’ve tried out our fuons upholstered with upcycled fabric. Even though the futon, is the funkiest and aesthetically one of the most vibrant futons you’ll find anywhere in the world, there are people who actually react to it as if it is well, “trash.” But the trend for upcycling and sustainable fashion and decor is definitely on the rise and it’s going to be thrilling to see just what creative and innovative stuff comes out of it.
Sharing his personal weaves he says ‘Personally, and for ideological reasons, khadi cotton. It is really the ultimate weave of our nation and, since I was a child, I have loved walking into Khadi Bhandar and picking up fabrics and skincare products from there. Gandhi was the first person who recognized the importance of handloom weaving – that it was the ultimate activity for achieving economic self-sufficiency, and no person is too superior or imporant to spin yarn and weave khadi; every weaver had the right to weave khadi and to do so with dignity. Khadi cotton is symbolically very important for our country and that’s why I love it the most.’
Sanju Rao can be reached on email@example.com