March 10, 2023 FDCI

‘Life is my muse’

Sudheer Rajbhar is set to go global with a show in Canada, this April, as his FDCI X Lakme line titled “Boot Polish” highlights inequality and class divide that still persist.

By Asmita Aggarwal

He paid his fees at the Vasai Art School, by giving tuitions to children and managed to launch his eponymous line of hand-made products titled Chamar Studio, through a visionary approach. It was three-pronged —- elevating the Dalit (Chamar community), not working with leather and starting a conversation around sustainability. Sudheer Rajbhar grew up in a household with limited income, but a genius mind- his father worked at the post office and mother, a homemaker. In the slums of Kandivali, as a child he watched craftsmen make goods using just their hands, minus mechanization, this fascinated him. “I was a failure at academics, but amazing at drawing,” he laughs. His art teacher saw this untapped talent and encouraged him to study fine arts, to enable him to get a job as an art teacher.

Serendipity played a part, and providence struck, when Sudheer, didn’t have funds to do his masters, but worked with various artists, all over Mumbai, being his innate passion. He slowly realized, the assistants never got their due, and that was the genesis of his first show where the invisible faces came to the forefront. “I realized it was also a ‘class issue’, if you can’t speak English, you are segregated. I wanted to bring these unspoken issues to the fore,” he explains.

Art can be used to reach out to various people, the mediums may differ, he chose fashion, and realized the upper class had more accessibility, while ‘talent’ took time to reach its destination, in a trek wrought with stumbles and innumerable challenges.  That’s why his store, (he doesn’t like to call it so), in Colaba, is not a glossy take on product-making, but a homage to artisans. It is an interactive space, where you can come and talk, learn and exchange ideas. “Somewhere you are also bridging the status gap, I see it as an open playground,” he admits.

The uphill task when he began the label was also to convince the set in their ways artisans to not work with leather, a skin they were stereotyped with for generations. He used recycled rubber or re-rubber, made from discarded tyres. “It is biodegradable, and 100 per cent hand-made, we have tied up with a rubber factory in Pune. The advantages of this are its durability, strength and longevity,” he says.

It is this fortitude that propelled Sudheer forward, with Guggenheim Museum offering a glowing recommendation and Rome giving him a generous grant. Now he is set to showcase for the first time globally in Toronto on April 27. His FDCI X Lakme line is titled “Boot Polish”, an ode to the young boys who are often spotted on railway stations and the nooks and crannies of big cities, offering a shine to your shoes. “I recall my teacher in school telling me, “Sudheer, I should never see you polishing shoes’. Today I want to send him an invitation to my show,” he says.  The faces will be painted black and only the accessories will be vibrant, to showcase the inequality in both thought and action.

His inspirations come from everyday life, this season, he has not used thread to bind the rubber, but substituted it with rubber to give a bolder look, keeping the shape classic. “If you are curious, you will learn faster, life is my muse,” he confesses. Sudheer has also launched the Chamar Foundation, to not just support the Dalit community but all artisans, an open platform for discussions. “I have admired the work of Manish Arora, he was the only one who moved away from florals and traditional motifs to create a brand with a unique identity. I also admire Loewe for its inimitable leather products,” he says. Adding that Chamar is a “Made in India Hermes”, an Indian brand, with an iconic workforce, which will have a global presence. “Indians are ready to pay for a European brand, we are at par, these products are artworks, and must get their due. Till now I am self-funded, but I am open to corporate investment, not commercialization,” he concludes.


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