March 17, 2021 Asmita Aggarwal

Life 3.0

Keeping an eye on the future, Akshat Bansal FDCI’s ‘emerging talent’ focuses on high-tech replete with Indian craft nuances favouring the ubiquitous tie and dye

By Asmita Aggarwal

Most of the time, as history would attest, small town boys have the most fabulous ideas, which are rooted in tradition yet brimming with a contemporary edge. So Akshat Bansal, a Central Saint Martins’ graduate, knows that even though Bloni stands for everything new-age and experimental it will always have a niche market. As India, as diverse as it may be, likes to “invest” mostly in Indian wear.

However, time may prove Bansal wrong, as the new generation, young and restless bred on iPads and iPhones want to push the envelope. That’s why his line this year celebrates sustainability in its raw avatar by using marine plastic waste. The biggest challenge when you work with fabrics made out of this is sourcing and then convincing mills to weave and blend it. But that’s what really makes Akshat’s journey exciting.

The hurdles make him think on his feet, rejections helped him make his resolve firmer and of course; being with his parents in Hisar, after 14 years, made everything so much easier. “Times have  changed, people want to buy a garment not because it makes them look good, but feel good, that’s the twist I see today when buyers come,” he adds.

Few know that there are no segregations in retail stores of menswear and womenswear in his line, it is gender and size neutral, with a pattern cutter who creates these interchangeable ensembles. This took years of research to perfect as genders have different shapes, and must be commercially viable like his bestsellers—Saris with bralets or the futuristic faux leather patti six yard drapes in tie and dye and  organza.

Almost 70 per cent of the line is made out of recycled marine plastic waste, blended with cotton and then given a unique Indian handwriting with tie and dye, also a signature of the label. Akshat believes in a strong brand narrative, the story behind each garment is what makes it potent, creating sustainable and ethical footprints. “We need to save the entire eco-system and not just a cluster,” he admits.

Working with ingenious, high tech materials is also an expensive affair which sometimes makes customers question his price points. But patience he feels in the end will pay off. Often counselled by his father who runs a sari store for the last 40 years in Hisar, the old man advises Akshat to dabble in Indian wear, as he is not only good at it but also the potential is massive.  “I know my reach will always be limited to a few who will wear my chainmail dress from Bloni, that we have painstakingly created this season, linking metal loops together, but this is what makes it a high point of the collection,” he smiles.

Interestingly, the designer has always stayed away from home and even when he ever visited, it was for 3-4 days at a stretch.  Now that he has been in Hisar for a year since the Pandemic, it taught him to value the city and its heritage like the Indus Valley civilisation ruins, an integral part of its history. Thus, the birth of his menswear label,  “Shehar” created out of the desire to honour his place of birth and also give livelihood to artisans who were abandoning the craft to work in cities from his town during Covid.

The result: a 2,000 square foot store in Hisar, replete with nostalgia, opened in December 2020, using almost 200-year-old techniques of construction for Shehar. Glass inlays in floors, mud used extensively, with an earthy palette of gerua  (red-ochre) and mustard, overflowing with antique collectibles (sindoor boxes, lamps, lunch box etc) he procured from all over the city, a vivid documentation of old world charm.

“It takes me back to the times I played with marbles, pithoo, and hide and seek,” he adds. His bandhgalas, sherwanis and chinos reflect his experience working at Savile Row, England and he plans to start e-retail for this label soon.

His virtual show many be futuristic with robotic eyes and shimmer capes but he knows what will work in the future is a brand with a business acumen not resting on creative cosplay!

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