Good Earth milestone #267: Their first store in Jaipur


Good Earth milestone #267: Their first store in Jaipur

Founder Anita Lal revisits the brand's vivid 20-year journey

By Mamta Mody  April 18th, 2016

Over the last two decades, Good Earth has earned the iconic status of one of those lifestyle stores where everything looks so deliciously luxurious that you want to move in with your bed. Actually, their beds are dreamy too. While most décor stores today are filled with bare Edison bulbs, hipster mason jars, minimal Swedish furniture and abstract prints, Good Earth is a sanctuary that brings to mind a warmer, more elegant time. It’s where I want to go after a long day to swaddle myself in a cloud of bright cushions, gold-edged teacups and that soothing all-pervasive fragrance of frankincense. Their hand-printed quilts, thrown tastefully across stately couches and beds, are so soft it’s like cuddling puppies. All this has the collective effect of making me want to dress every corner of my house and fancy myself a bit of a domestic goddess.   

There’s a feminine warmth to the brand that comes from founder and creative director Anita Lal. It’s evident when I meet her at Good Earth’s in-store restaurant The Tasting Room, in Mumbai. It’s at the tail-end of a lunch the store is hosting to celebrate their 20th anniversary, and Anita appears relaxed in her deceptively simple all-white outfit. She’s not tempted to look backwards, instead she’s excited about what’s to come, which includes their Enchanted India pop-up stores in Beijing and Shanghai, and a new store in Istanbul (their second in Turkey and eleventh worldwide). A cosy boutique in Jaipur’s gorgeous Sujan Rajmahal Palace marks their latest milestone this month. Dressed entirely in their Tropical, Mughal and Indigo collections, the flagship store fits right in with its surroundings (the property was restored with Good Earth’s bespoke wallpapers in 2014).

“I think the way forward is through collaborating with people who resonate our beliefs, and refining our work further,” says Anita. In the past, they have worked with Manish Arora (2009) and have a collection with Rohit Bal for the upcoming festive season in August-September. But Good Earth’s biggest milestone is undoubtedly The Fabric Of India exhibit that they sponsored at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year. Not only did this comprehensive show on the history of indigenous textiles tie in with Good Earth’s ethos of sustaining crafts, but it also put them on the international map as a champion of Indian design.

It’s an impressive achievement, but Anita prefers to talk about her brand in emotional terms, describing its mission as the eternal quest to create things that bring joy to her and everyone else. This was the driving force behind their first store in Kemps Corner, Mumbai in 1996. “Within a year we knew that as a design house our work must have roots in the country and our first impulse was to design what we saw around us,” says Anita, who started her career as a potter after training at the Delhi Blue Pottery Fund. So while Italian and Californian aesthetics dominated décor stores in India at the time, the all-women Good Earth team was painting bright chillies on bowls and printing palm trees on towels out of a modest workshop in Delhi. “We didn’t know a thing about retail or even the importance of having a warehouse,” she laughs. 

Six years in, her daughter Simran Lal joined the group to manage the business end of things. An art history student, Simran didn’t have any business experience either. “CEO sounds like the opposite of me — I see myself as a creative person — but it was a gap I had to fill,” she says. It wasn’t easy, either, “In the beginning there were so many days when I would just sit at the store fretting over supply chains.” But under Simran’s guidance, the brand pushed past its comfort zone and moved into the cavernous two-storey store in Raghuvanshi Mills, Mumbai, in 2005. They started thinking beyond curios, tableware and linen “just to fill a place like this,” says Simran, the woman behind the brand’s international expansion and increasing web presence.

“Through all this, money was never the driving force,” says Anita, of their unorthodox way of doing business. Good Earth never advertises and chooses to grow only through word-of-mouth. They prefer to invest in the products so every piece, down to a saucer, carries a unique identity. There are the unmissable Mughal influences: “They brought to us the best of Persia, Asia and indigenous India and, to my mind, it’s the most refined aesthetic,” says Anita. Yet, Good Earth doesn’t exoticise nostalgia; everything in the store is modern and functional. Each piece represents an indigenous craft rendered so well it doesn’t need to play the sympathy card to get you to buy handmade. This is where its real strength lies: in harnessing homegrown talent to produce world-class products. 

 

That’s been the agenda from the start. Take the work of Machilipatnam’s kalamkari artists which features on their bed, bath and table linen, for instance. The artists get to carry on the tradition of hand-block-printing with natural dyes because Anita ensures they receive asking price and a steady stream of work. Good Earth’s toughest business decision was adopting a no-rejection policy. “We have to be sensitive when we work with these artists. If we have quality issues, we try and work around it,” Anita admits. Her compassion for them is evident, like when she describes planning designs for the naqashi artists in Kashmir. “Their designs are so intricate. They use a fine brush to paint, you can see [the strain] it puts on their eyes,” she says. Her team helped the artists simplify the floral patterns for one of their most popular collections, Farah Baksh. 

Unlike other design houses who sporadically engage with the local craft community, Good Earth has constantly and aggressively put their artisans at par with big-name designers. Anita adds, “We need to understand their design directory before we bring it to the modern world. You can’t ask ajrak workers to print skulls. I’m not trying to make design statements.” This almost protective love of Indian design shows across product ranges, whether it’s décor, linen, kids’ (Gumdrop) or even beauty and wellness. Their six-year-old clothing line Sustain highlights the tradition of natural fibres in Indian textiles through elegant, contemporary silhouettes: khadi shifts, silk farshi pyjamas and roomy chanderi shirts. There is a connection between process and product, man and craft. 

Even while it’s mostly Indian craft regions that are the focal point of Good Earth’s design collections, they still manage to weave seamlessly into their stories Rumi’s verses, a still of Shammi Kapoor and ikat from Uzbekistan. “That’s the way we are as Indians, we are so eclectic. And I wanted all that in my store,” says Anita. It’s this commitment to authenticity that’s kept the brand relevant all these years. “I do what I love and the rest just follows.”  

Over the last two decades, Good Earth has earned the iconic status of one of those lifestyle stores where everything looks so deliciously luxurious that you want to move in with your bed. Actually, their beds are dreamy too. While most décor stores today are filled with bare Edison bulbs, hipster mason jars, minimal Swedish furniture and abstract prints, Good Earth is a sanctuary that brings to mind a warmer, more elegant time. It’s where I want to go after a long day to swaddle myself in a cloud of bright cushions, gold-edged teacups and that soothing all-pervasive fragrance of frankincense. Their hand-printed quilts, thrown tastefully across stately couches and beds, are so soft it’s like cuddling puppies. All this has the collective effect of making me want to dress every corner of my house and fancy myself a bit of a domestic goddess.   

There’s a feminine warmth to the brand that comes from founder and creative director Anita Lal. It’s evident when I meet her at Good Earth’s in-store restaurant The Tasting Room, in Mumbai. It’s at the tail-end of a lunch the store is hosting to celebrate their 20th anniversary, and Anita appears relaxed in her deceptively simple all-white outfit. She’s not tempted to look backwards, instead she’s excited about what’s to come, which includes their Enchanted India pop-up stores in Beijing and Shanghai, and a new store in Istanbul (their second in Turkey and eleventh worldwide). A cosy boutique in Jaipur’s gorgeous Sujan Rajmahal Palace marks their latest milestone this month. Dressed entirely in their Tropical, Mughal and Indigo collections, the flagship store fits right in with its surroundings (the property was restored with Good Earth’s bespoke wallpapers in 2014).

“I think the way forward is through collaborating with people who resonate our beliefs, and refining our work further,” says Anita. In the past, they have worked with Manish Arora (2009) and have a collection with Rohit Bal for the upcoming festive season in August-September. But Good Earth’s biggest milestone is undoubtedly The Fabric Of India exhibit that they sponsored at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year. Not only did this comprehensive show on the history of indigenous textiles tie in with Good Earth’s ethos of sustaining crafts, but it also put them on the international map as a champion of Indian design.

It’s an impressive achievement, but Anita prefers to talk about her brand in emotional terms, describing its mission as the eternal quest to create things that bring joy to her and everyone else. This was the driving force behind their first store in Kemps Corner, Mumbai in 1996. “Within a year we knew that as a design house our work must have roots in the country and our first impulse was to design what we saw around us,” says Anita, who started her career as a potter after training at the Delhi Blue Pottery Fund. So while Italian and Californian aesthetics dominated décor stores in India at the time, the all-women Good Earth team was painting bright chillies on bowls and printing palm trees on towels out of a modest workshop in Delhi. “We didn’t know a thing about retail or even the importance of having a warehouse,” she laughs. 

Six years in, her daughter Simran Lal joined the group to manage the business end of things. An art history student, Simran didn’t have any business experience either. “CEO sounds like the opposite of me — I see myself as a creative person — but it was a gap I had to fill,” she says. It wasn’t easy, either, “In the beginning there were so many days when I would just sit at the store fretting over supply chains.” But under Simran’s guidance, the brand pushed past its comfort zone and moved into the cavernous two-storey store in Raghuvanshi Mills, Mumbai, in 2005. They started thinking beyond curios, tableware and linen “just to fill a place like this,” says Simran, the woman behind the brand’s international expansion and increasing web presence.

“Through all this, money was never the driving force,” says Anita, of their unorthodox way of doing business. Good Earth never advertises and chooses to grow only through word-of-mouth. They prefer to invest in the products so every piece, down to a saucer, carries a unique identity. There are the unmissable Mughal influences: “They brought to us the best of Persia, Asia and indigenous India and, to my mind, it’s the most refined aesthetic,” says Anita. Yet, Good Earth doesn’t exoticise nostalgia; everything in the store is modern and functional. Each piece represents an indigenous craft rendered so well it doesn’t need to play the sympathy card to get you to buy handmade. This is where its real strength lies: in harnessing homegrown talent to produce world-class products. 

 

That’s been the agenda from the start. Take the work of Machilipatnam’s kalamkari artists which features on their bed, bath and table linen, for instance. The artists get to carry on the tradition of hand-block-printing with natural dyes because Anita ensures they receive asking price and a steady stream of work. Good Earth’s toughest business decision was adopting a no-rejection policy. “We have to be sensitive when we work with these artists. If we have quality issues, we try and work around it,” Anita admits. Her compassion for them is evident, like when she describes planning designs for the naqashi artists in Kashmir. “Their designs are so intricate. They use a fine brush to paint, you can see [the strain] it puts on their eyes,” she says. Her team helped the artists simplify the floral patterns for one of their most popular collections, Farah Baksh. 

Unlike other design houses who sporadically engage with the local craft community, Good Earth has constantly and aggressively put their artisans at par with big-name designers. Anita adds, “We need to understand their design directory before we bring it to the modern world. You can’t ask ajrak workers to print skulls. I’m not trying to make design statements.” This almost protective love of Indian design shows across product ranges, whether it’s décor, linen, kids’ (Gumdrop) or even beauty and wellness. Their six-year-old clothing line Sustain highlights the tradition of natural fibres in Indian textiles through elegant, contemporary silhouettes: khadi shifts, silk farshi pyjamas and roomy chanderi shirts. There is a connection between process and product, man and craft. 

Even while it’s mostly Indian craft regions that are the focal point of Good Earth’s design collections, they still manage to weave seamlessly into their stories Rumi’s verses, a still of Shammi Kapoor and ikat from Uzbekistan. “That’s the way we are as Indians, we are so eclectic. And I wanted all that in my store,” says Anita. It’s this commitment to authenticity that’s kept the brand relevant all these years. “I do what I love and the rest just follows.”