Blurring Boundaries: As Raw Mango turns 15, Sanjay Garg Talks About Textile Innovations And Artistic Collaborations

When Sanjay Garg launched Raw Mango as a handloom sari brand in 2008, he wanted to initiate a dialogue on India’s craft heritage and culture in its purity, devoid of contemporary fusions or twists. It was his presentation on the idea of India (and the many Indias within it) – one which kept expanding over the years, as did the brand’s repertoire. It’s almost as if Garg was saying, “Come for the fashion. But really, stay for the art, music, dance and culture.”

Sanjay Garg, Founder & Textile Designer, Raw Mango Photograph: Amlanjyoti Bora

And while the textile designer may find the mantle of ‘a cultural revolution’ heavy words to associate with, there is no denying that he revolutionised the discipline in his quiet, eloquent way. “Back when I started, a sari was just not considered cool. Women who wore saris were considered behenjis (unsophisticated). That really provoked me. Our perception of India, luxury, fashion, textile and art needed to be rewritten. And I wanted to be that changemaker,” says Garg over a virtual call with ELLE India.

Raw Mango stores across the country today are akin to ‘cultural centres’, as Garg calls them, hosting events and talks with the likes of Geoffrey Bawa, Shashi Tharoor and Maa Anand Sheela. In 2020, Raw Mango released short films in collaboration with renowned Kathak dancer and choreographer Aditi Mangaldas (who had also previously performed live for an intimate audience at one of the brand’s now famous baithak parties) to support the performing arts community. What Garg is really selling are collectibles rather than just clothing. All the while celebrating the country’s versatile textile legacy through layered storytelling and visuals, through maximal colours but stripped of unnecessary frills, and through objets d’art that he has personally collected.

Raw Mango Lodhi Colony Flagship Photograph: Shovan Gandhi

Garg admits that the women on his mood board, when he started out, were not glamorous movie stars or fashion girls but thinkers and visionaries like Indira Gandhi, Laila Tyabji and Jaya Jaitley. That informed the brand’s foundation then, just as much as it does now. Even today, you see powerhouses such as Academy Award-winning film producer Guneet Monga, businesswoman Akshata Murty and design maven Isla Maria ‘Loulou’ Van Damme drawn to his creations. Raw Mango has clinched the spot of the thinking woman’s go-to brand with an intelligent sense of design and a conscious approach. And it’s the sum total of one man and his vision. A vision that is directional but by no means formulaic. “The minute it becomes a recipe, I feel discomfort in that shoe. We don’t believe in a formula.”

The Big 15

Raw Mango Common Nouns Exhibition at India Art Fair 2024 Photograph: The Lumiere Project

Garg never thought of Raw Mango as a label only associated with his face or name. Instead, for him, it always needed to reflect a school of thought, a certain philosophy and an idea of India. “It’s always been about blurring the boundaries between fashion, object, art and product. So, to celebrate our 15 years, we teamed up with multidisciplinary design studio Squadron 14 to present ‘Common Nouns’ at the India Art Fair 2024 (held in February this year). It was an exhibition featuring 15 digital works by artists and designers such as Anisha Katoch, Sharan Adka, Jimmy Varghese, Aishwarya Shree and Prajjwal Chandra, among others who are actively shaping the contemporary visual landscape,” Garg says. “From meditations on material cultures to deliberations upon the nature of language and symbols through historic and speculative lenses, the artworks presented here are a result of an invitational call to align with and explore our understanding of these passages,” he adds.

Innovation & Evolution

Raw Mango – Children of the Night; Photograph: Vikas Maurya

“I don’t believe in one narrative of India — and we have shown that across our work, be it through our aesthetics or our diverse collection. We work with forms such as chanderi, mashru, brocade and chikankari. But we don’t adopt them as trends for a season and abandon them the next year. We’ve never stopped working with the textile forms we started with,” Garg says. The next chapter for Raw Mango is all about innovation for the future. The brand’s latest collection, ‘Children of the Night’, featured a material innovation – lycra brocade, which fits like a bodysuit but is still entirely woven. He even experimented with welding on brocade and introduced the brand new combination of Mashru ikat.

A Cultural Renaissance

“When I entered the industry, I found Indian fashion so limiting in every way. I did not want to do anything I did not connect with but rather wanted to change the scene. How can I change the way we look at and celebrate India? I wanted to make it all more cultural, and I think we did manage that,” Garg says emphatically. He has been true to this vision with his baithaks, Bihari pop, retro Bollywood and Telugu music instead of run-of-the-mill fashion parties. “We wanted to celebrate dance forms from across India. Everything about Raw Mango had to be local. I have always been saying that the future is going to be all about collaborations — not just between individuals but also between different mediums, materials and art forms. Between singers, dancers, painters, and cloth makers,” he adds. When it comes to art, Garg is as unconventional in his approach as he is with everything else. “You’ll laugh when I say this, but I do not try to understand art and don’t necessarily buy what’s considered art in the conventional sense. I buy what interests me and talks to me — this could be religious iconography, a piece of textile or a Gandhara sculpture. I don’t believe in buying pieces for a certain status in society. I think the effort to buy ‘art’ needs to be fuelled by curiosity, and curiosity alone.”

Read the full story on ELLE India’s new issue, or download your digital copy via Magzter.

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