October 13, 2023 FDCI

Social Intelligence

Anjali Mehta Patel, a first timer in Delhi is hoping to wow buyers with her au naturale offerings constructed with Bemberg, replete with India stories done in heady prints.

By Asmita Aggarwal

She is the granddaughter of H V R Iengar, a member of the Indian Civil Service, former Chairman of State Bank of India, before being appointed as the Governor of the Reserve Bank. And it is no surprise that Anjali Patel Mehta’s label Verandah raised US $1.2 million as seed funding, from Mike Novogratz (Galaxy Investment Partners), Neeraj Arora (formerly WhatsApp), Lydia Jett (Softbank) and PDS Venture. This is within 11 years of the launch, she has achieved what many can’t dream of doing in 30 years.

Studying at Indian School of Business (ISB), she worked in New York at Goldman Sachs and Deutsch bank for ten years, before a back problem forced her to take a break, and she returned home to Mumbai. In this short span, her focus has been commendable, as she retails from not just Bergdorf Goodman, but also Neiman Marcus among many others internationally. Though she is proudest of her store in Goa, a place she grew to love, and lived during the pandemic exposing her to hidden corners and treasures she has never been to before. Anjali was also a model for Savio Jon, one of the most respected names in fashion, a quiet label which has been doing meaningful work for decades.

Coming from a family which revered arts, mom a painter, father, a chemical engineer, placed more value on education than success. When she decided to do resort wear, she only won their enormous support. “I used to make my own clothes, as a therapeutic exercise, and my friends loved it. It started from trunk shows, and capsule collection to becoming a full-blown label, among my South Mumbai buddies,” she explains.

As a mom of two kids, this way she also has a work-life balance, which aided the healing process, also golf, which has been a passion for many years now. Her husband being in the garment export business, Anjali enjoyed the small successes, she got along the way—from Krishna Kumar’s wife ordering her pieces for Taj Khazana, she knew she had to come up with a name for her clothing.

Calling it “Anjali” was too overt, and as she was sitting in her parents’ Verandah, it gave her peace, calm and a sense of well-being, just like the ideology of her offerings. At her ISB reunion in 2014, her friends suggested she participate in fashion week, but the family found it amusing. Fast forward to today, and Anjali is showcasing at the LFW sustainable day, admitting her ‘second head’ is in the social sector. If you teach a fisherman to fish, he will never go hungry as the adage goes and this was her take on charity, rather than donating, equip them with skill sets.

In 2019, she launched a line for the Miami Swim Week, which is available at Moda Operandi, among 70 other points of sale where Anjali retails from. “I do not think resort wear is a mere cover up clothing, it is more like a staycation, which is my vibe—fun and chic. All my life I dressed like a stuffy banker, interestingly, now even bankers are dressing fashionably,” she smiles.

For LFW the Mumbai-born designer has taken forward her philosophy of recycle and upcycle, like the first line she did, with recycled denim, and Tencel from her husband’s factory. She has been leather-free for the last five years, and mostly works with biodegradable materials. This has been a game changer as now she is eligible for the famed “butterfly mark”, a certification, which validates a luxury brand’s contribution to a positive future for the planet.

It is earned by businesses demonstrating they have embedded measurable environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices into their everyday operations. “I started using Bemberg, where we weave the yarn in India and send it to Japan for quality check, Cupro is what we work with,” she explains. She also adopted a sand bank in Moloi, Assam and works with Sankalp Taru, an NGO. “I think if you want to do something right, be transparent, work with fair trade practices and have quality sourcing standards,” she admits.

But there is a long roster of Anjali’s achievements—the Tiger project is the closest to her heart, working with the anti-poaching board, where there are rescues in tiger reserves. The Mogya tribe, which has been denotified, used to hunt tigers, they have now been rehabilitated with schools, hospitals and they are being taught sewing, and other skills by Tiger Watch, an NGO in Ranthambore. She is also involved in protecting coral reefs in the Andaman, which reflects in the choice of ensembles which she consciously produces.

“One of our tie ups for Spring-Summer is the Six Senses hotel in Ibiza, so really we have a distinct global presence,” she says. This LFW she hopes to tell stories of Goa through prints, and each one has a meaning. Even the packaging is biodegradable, working with Saahas, a non-profit organization in the field of waste management. Saahas believes, “when waste is managed at source, it becomes a resource. Since 2001, we have been helping build communities across rural and urban India that manage their waste at source by reducing, reusing, and recycling their waste and achieving 90% resource recovery”.

“Only 5 per cent of my line comprises sequins and we are trying to make them sustainable too,” she admits adding that she learnt from her mother-in-law, who has been making embroideries for several design houses globally. “As a creative person, I want to show outcomes, not just indulge in gimmicks, build something unique,” she says. Cotton has not been used in any collection for the last five years, but this season Arvind Mills fair trade cotton is being included.

Studying science in Cathedral Mumbai, and then hoping to hone her skills in architecture at Wesley College, Massachusetts, she shifted to economics. “The T 91 show we did some time back, had tiger worshippers, a band from Gond, which came armed with huge drums, it was directed by Neeraj Gaba. Last year was dedicated to Kashmir’s embroidery techniques, I am trying to get the best of the country on a global platform,” she says.

The LFW line is born out of her stay in Goa during the lockdown, when she lived in an old villa, savouring the lesser-known sights and sounds of the ocean, flora, and fauna. “There are three sides to it, the Savio Jon Goa, then the commercial angle, but there are also hidden lanes rich in history and there are stories within stories,” she explains.

Her macrame done with the Patwa community, jackets woven with a single yarn, it was tough to choose from the 120 pieces she created. “My grandma used to win the Delhi flower show. I have fond memories of the city even though I am a Mumbai girl, showcasing here for the first time has been eventful,” she concludes.

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