While there are a plethora of homegrown fashion labels in the market, Akané Studio imbibes the term homegrown in its ideology solemnly and seamlessly. At the helm are two sisters—Janhavi and Juhi Vyas, under whom the independent slow fashion brand is on its way to introduce naturally dyed fabrics to the Indian audience. Akané Studio’s Instagram pays homage to the arresting process of natural dyeing, which is peppered gorgeously between sunlit photographs and captivating reels.
The sisters talk to ELLE about the brand’s inception, creative processes, challenges, their best memories with the label, the future of natural dyeing in India and more.
ELLE: What is the inspiration behind your brand name?
AKANÉ STUDIO (AS): Akané, pronounced as Ah-Kah-Nay, is the Japanese word for Madder Root or Manjishtha, which has been traditionally used as a natural dye material to derive a deep red colour since ancient times. The earliest evidence of dyeing in India is a piece of cotton from the Indus Valley Civilization, which was dyed with Madder Root. Beautiful shades from deep reds to coral pinks can be achieved using this dye material, and we personally love working with it.
ELLE: What made you gravitate towards plant-dyeing in a market like India?
AS: Natural dyeing has always been a part of traditional Indian textiles. Even though natural dyeing may seem like a new concept, natural plant materials have been used to dye fabric for thousands of years. So, for us practising this ancient art of dyeing with plants is going back to our roots.
We were really drawn towards the whole process of natural dyeing because we get to work with nature and use flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, and various plant materials. It is a unique process, and every single time we are dyeing something, we are surprised by the results. You can’t control nature, and that’s the beauty of natural dyes. No two naturally dyed pieces are the same.
ELLE: While dyeing and designing a piece of fabric, what is your creative process usually like?
AS: The plant material that we work with and the colours derived from them are the sources of inspiration. Our creative process is very organic, and we let the plants and flowers guide us through it. We work in small batches, and everything is hand-dyed by us. We try to interweave positive energy and intention into the fabric while dyeing it since it is such a meditative process.
The fabric we use is basically our blank canvas. It is fascinating to observe how different fibres and weaves take in colour in their own unique ways. We source our fabric and natural dye materials locally and hence, support weavers and local artisans.
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In a city like Mumbai, there’s so much waste produced around us. So, we try to use as much of it as possible. We collect flower waste from temples and local florists since so much is thrown out each day. We also collect flowers during festivals and religious occasions, dry them, and store them for use throughout the year. Some leaves are foraged locally. For instance, guava and jamun leaves are collected from a farmer or local vegetable vendors.
ELLE: What are some of the challenges that you face while dyeing and helming your label?
AS: When natural dyeing was relatively new to us, demystifying the whole concept and process was quite challenging. It takes a lot of time, effort, and failed experiments to finally figure out natural dyeing. In fact, we think the learning process never ends, and every day we are still learning more about natural dyeing.
Another challenge that comes with selling plant dyed products is that the consumers are not very familiar with the whole concept of wearing, washing and maintaining these products. Plant dyes are known to be constantly evolving. They don’t necessarily always fade out, but instead, they shift and slowly evolve into different shades influenced by the environment they are exposed to. We find this quality quite beautiful. Consumers will also get used to it with time and hopefully learn to appreciate it.
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We both tend to think in the same way. Hence, we often have to force ourselves into thinking about being profitable and think of Akané Studio as a business rather than just a creative outlet. That is something we have struggled with. Ideally, we would love to give all our time to explorations, experiments, developing new techniques and products, but we also need to focus on generating profits and sustaining as a business.
ELLE: What do you think is the future of natural dyes in fashion in India?
AS: We believe that the Indian market is evolving slowly and steadily. Consumers are becoming more aware of how the fast fashion industry works and are always looking for alternatives. There is a small but relevant portion of the Indian market that is questioning where their clothes come from and what kind of impact their purchasing power has on the environment and the humans involved in making a particular piece of clothing. Social media has also provided a platform for truly sustainable, authentic and ethical brands to reach a bigger audience and be transparent about their business and their process of creating a product.
We think this has created room for more brands to adopt natural dyeing, and a lot of great homegrown brands have already paved the way. And as more brands have started to consider natural dyeing as an alternative, it also helps in reviving this traditional art. It encourages artisan communities to get back to natural dyeing and start working with natural plant material to extract colour, revive their ancestral knowledge and get back to their roots.
ELLE: What are some of the highlights from your journey with the label so far?
AS: Stepping back and observing our growth makes us feel really grateful. Although we are still a small business, it is really exciting to see that at one point, we were working from our kitchen at home, but now we have a separate studio space. We recently hired our first employee and can’t wait to empower more women by providing them with jobs along the way. It also feels great when people appreciate our work, trust our process and decide to spend their money on our creations. We always appreciate it when we get orders. It is incredible to collaborate with amazing brands worldwide and get to be a part of their creative process.
Some of the best memories are from when we used to teach natural dyeing and organise workshops. People with common interests coming together in person and sharing our knowledge is one of the best feelings. We really miss doing that, and we can’t wait to teach again once it is safe to do so.
Photographs: Courtesy of Janhavi Vyas and Juhi Vyas, Instagram (Akané Studio)