In the last seven years, since Ekaya’s launch in Delhi in 2012, the handloom luxury brand has won many loyal customers in India and abroad. They are known for their saris, dupattas, dresses and dress materials’ superior craftmanship, weaving techniques and a mix of modern and traditional designs, and their inspiring work with hundreds of craftsmen in Banaras.
After launching their Ahmedabad and Hyderabad stores in 2013 and 2017, the brand team, after almost a five-year wait, finally inaugurated a 3,000-sq-ft store, on November 21, in Kala Ghoda’s Ador House building, alongside their new collection The Crossing. “After Delhi, the next destination for us, like it is for most luxury brands, was Mumbai,” says Shah. In fact, over the past couple of years, she and her father had almost finalised six to seven spaces but neither deals materialised because of disagreement over rent or some other problems. “It happens when it has to happen,” says Shah, adding that the vibe of a space is very important to her. When she saw the Ador House store, she was convinced that Ekaya would do well there, despite it being on the first floor – most retailers prefer a ground-floor store – which gives them better visibility. “The space just spoke to me and I immediately called my dad to tell him that we should finalise the space, which he had found and liked as well.
Architecture firm Studio Lotus has minimally designed the space in dark brown and muted gold, highlighting the colourful, bright clothes of Ekaya. The shop stands on its own in the building that also houses shops of fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherji and Ritu Kumar. The presence of the fashion biggies could have perturbed some but Shah believes that neither is her competition. “Ritu Kumar and Sabyasachi Mukherji are very good at what they do, and we are very good at what we do,” says Shah. “Those looking for bridal wear would prefer Sabya (Sabyasachi Mukherji) and those who want to shop for their trousseau come here. We all have different clientele.”
Shah describes hers as textile-loving. “Most of my clients understand textiles and appreciate good craftsmanship.” However, tastes and preferences vary. Contrasts work well in Hyderabad. Amdavadis are very value-conscious and prefer designs that clearly show intricate craftsmanship. People in Mumbai prefer subtle, classy designs while Delhiites like it fancier. But the essence of the brand and a particular collection remain the same across, stresses Shah.
She, a business management graduate, joined Ekaya when she was 20. “I have grown up with the brand,” says the boxing enthusiast, who has had to fight to prove her might in her business as well. “My first challenge was to remove ‘the owner’s daughter’ tag and to prove that I deserved the job, not just to my colleagues, some of whom had seen me grow up, but to also my family.” She remembers working till late night to put things in order – finding lost stock or missing money. “I had to work ten times harder to get people to take me and my ideas seriously and change their perceptions.”
She remembers the opposition the idea of participating in a pop-up in Singapore had received. “People thought that sarees are only for Indians and that Ekaya should cater only to the women in India,” says Shah. “But I wanted to take the brand abroad. I remember going to Singapore with 70 sarees and coming back with just one.” From then on, Shah has forged collaborations with artists and designers Abraham & Thakore, Play Clan, Archana Rao, Fédération Française de la Création Couture Sur Measure (also known as C’COUTURE) at Paris Haute Couture Week, Ashdeen Lilaowala and Masaba Gupta.
She also launched Thaan by Ekaya in 2017 with the idea of creating India’s first textile gallery that showcases the potential of the country’s textile heritage and prowess. She had first thought of the project while in college. “My professor had criticised it because he believed that it will work against Ekaya’s business,” says Shah. “But I knew it will work well and it has been.”
Shah knows her market well. It is evolving and is so is Ekaya. There was a time when only older women preferred sarees. Today, the younger generation is also embracing it. “In fact, they are excited to drape one, and just need someone to teach them to do so,” says Shah. “Contemporary designs and colours, fancy blouses and newer modern ways of draping a saree have piqued young consumers’ interest.”
Ekaya’s designs too have become bolder and more experimental with time. “When we began we would push the envelope five per cent, now we are pushing it almost 50 per cent.” The brand today, creates, both, traditional motifs and saris with big and multicolour buttas (an earring-like design), scallop, cheques, snakeskin, etc, and is using thinner materials, depending on the design and the make of the sari. “But we don’t do any treatments on our sarees as others do. Our consumers are used to the original feel of the sari.”
The Ekaya team works hard to maintain the high-quality of the Banarasi weave and has pushed its craftsmen to strive for better, both, quality and design-wise. “Dealing with the craftsmen is very, very crucial and challenging as there are no set systems and processes or guidelines,” says Shah. “On the one hand consumers want what they see on social media and on the other, the weavers are reluctant to make major changes.” That is when Shah’s father and Founder of Ekaya, Bharat Shah steps in. He has been working closely with the karigars for years and continues to do so.
At the store end, the daughter carries the bastion, continually training the sales staff to give as much information about the products as possible. “Each Ekaya saree has a story, and the customers should know about it. That adds to the experience and also builds awareness about the craft and the brand.”
The new collection
The Crossing – ‘Natives of Nowhere’, a collection inspired by the nomadic seeker that lives within us all
The Crossing’s lehengas, saris and ready-to-wear garments pay tribute to the ancient Persian and Indian civilizations, melting pots of countless aesthetic influences. Persian calligraphy and craft depicting flora-fauna motifs have been brought to life by the delicacy of Banarasi kadwa and fekua technique, the decadence of silk and the easy elegance of mashru.
Nature-inspired patterns from Mughal miniatures, such as the gul-andar-gul (flower inside the flower), gul-e-vilaya and gul-hazara (thousand-petalled flower) are reminiscent of the finest cultural treasures. Bird motifs of the bulbul and parrot bring out the playful romance of the vibrant colour palette: from deep pink, purple and maroon, to indigo, grey; and mustard, rust, and green.