I think we have seen and read enough about Deepika Padukone, (the first Indian woman to make it to the top five of Forbes India's Celebrity 100 List 2018) how beautiful and stunning she looked draped in elegant Indian traditional wear, the sari, and to be more precise, a South Indian silk sari.
But I am not here to write a piece on her wedding, or the clothes, the guest list or the food they served. The only remote relation between this story and Padukone's wedding is the age-old Indian traditional wear 'sari' or for some 'saree'. But first, let me introduce you to Ishrat Sahgal.
Ishrat Sahgal, an interior architect from Rhode Island School of Design, is trying to change the game for the carpet industry in India. Her venture, Mishcat Co, weaves handmade carpet from discarded sari waste. The 29-year-old, who was featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, credits her alma mater for her out-of-the-box thinking. It was in Rhodes that she learnt the art of going beyond the syllabus and exploring one's passion. Her passion - Indian craft and interiors.
After Rhodes, Ishrat worked in New York for a year. She came back home in 2012. She started a Boutique Interior Design practice but was not satisfied. Eager to re-invent the wheel and do something more meaningful, Ishrat launched Mishcat Co.
"Sari is an emblem of Indian culture, every state has a different style of weaving and wearing a sari. It unifies our country in a unique way. Each sari is about 5-6 metres and there is always about 1-1.5 metres leftover, which is discarded or thrown away. When I came across this material it really bothered me. I was like, why are we throwing away this beautiful inspiring material where we can try and think of doing something with it," says Ishrat.
But why carpets? "Because I feel the carpet industry needed a little bit of uplifting," she says. "Kashmiri and Persian carpets are beautiful, but they do not go with modern furniture and designs."
It all started as a pet project. With an investment of Rs 2 lakh, Ishrat started 'the experiment'. Completely unassuming, her initial thought was 'if nothing works out at least I can use it, or my family and friends can decorate their house'. But the feedback and reaction was overwhelming.
"We procure all of the discarded sari waste from the south of India, from independent sari weavers, and we sort it out in to colour families. So, for example, your pinks and purples are one, your oranges and reds, and then we take all of that material and we make yarn out of it. It's done in spindles," Ishrat added.
Carpet making is a collaborative process, says Ishrat. Mishcat Co has tied up with traditional weavers across little villages in Rajasthan and UP. Her design ideas and age-old craft technique are blended together to create contemporary eco-friendly carpets. The finished product goes through a quality check in Agra and is then sent to the design studio in Jangpura, New Delhi, for clients.
Bringing in change is not an easy process. Apart from the initial challenge of building a network of traditional weavers, educating the customer turned out to be a bigger challenge, she says.
"One of the most frequent questions that we got when we started was, how is it sari silk? Can I walk on it? Aren't you supposed to wear it? How can these be used in carpets? Does it last? Actually, these are as durable as any other silk carpets. The quality of the silk used is very high. In terms of maintenance and care it's like any other carpet, keep it away from humidity, vacuum it regularly and you're good," she says.
Majority of Mishcat Co's clientele comprises of millennials and 'younger couples'. The company works with interior designers, individual clients, architects and some hospitality groups. They also export globally to clients in Singapore, Hong Kong, the US and Dubai.
Mishcat Co also goes the extra mile to provide consultancy services to clients and design entire interior spaces around each of their creations. "We have doubled our numbers year-on-year. About 90 percent of our clients are repeat clients. Our carpets are available on our website www.mishcatco.com. We have a studio in Jangpura. We also retail with Sarita Handa in Mumbai and Delhi and soon with Nivasa in Delhi. We have plans of working with different concept stores and craft-focussed stores, perhaps in London soon and eventually in New York," Ishrat says.
Ishrat is giving a new life to the age-old craft by introducing new patterns, colour palettes and new design sensibilities. The company follows some eco-friendly practices like not using dyes and re-using the water for washes. Wastage is a global phenomenon. Without having to refer to any research, we know the damage that waste is causing to our planet.
Like Ishrat, many individuals, corporates and world leaders are devising ways to reduce carbon footprint and 'save' our planet for future generations. But, is there a room for upcycled products? "All the lifestyle choices that you make, whether it's the food that you eat or the clothes that you wear, the products that you use, people have started to become a lot more curious about... is it organic? Is it sustainable? Is it handmade? How is it produced? What are the ingredients that go into it? These are all questions that people are thinking about a lot more, talking about a lot more. So, I think there is a huge potential. I think it's only going to get better and bigger and more prevalent," says Ishrat.
Ishrat is weaving a new chapter in the carpet industry. Though it is going to be an uphill task, she seems confident of making a mark in the industry. "When you do what you love to do, it doesn't feel like work, it's just a passion," says Ishrat.