How often do u hear fashion and social responsibility used in the same sentence. Not very often, I’m assuming. Well then its about time you were acquainted with Upasana, a design studio founded in 1997 by Uma Haimavati in Auroville, Tamil Nadu. Upasana was created with an idea of bringing alive the traditional Indian textiles to translate into a tool of strong cultural communication. Every Indian state possesses its unique personality expressed through its specific textiles and Upasana has emerged as an inspiring design house that’s set out to bring together this diverse range under one roof, with a global sensibility.
The minute you enter the Upasana campus, you realise that its atmosphere itself is almost catalytic to generate creativity. With a huge windchime hanging by a lush tree and a lotus pond right in middle of the pebble lined garden, Upasana is the antidote to the mass-production factories around the world.
Uma, the founder and master-mind behind this revolutionary design studio, invites me to join her for a hot cup of green tea to discuss her design sensibilities, her plans for the studio and the present fashion scenario. While it was rather pleasant to sit with some of her family members, colleagues and friends on the chatai under a huge shady tree, what surprised me most was the sudden appearance of a peacock. Uma tells me that the gorgeous bird is part of the Upasana family and visits often to meet and greet and loves being fed some freshly baked auroville cookies.
While the distraction was rather fortunate, I focus back on our cheerful, determined lady in question and begin the rapid fire round of questions.
How would you define your personal style?
I think one thing that defines my style is my fascination with the color white. I can wear just about anything as long as its in white.
The pendant around my neck is the symbol of Auroville – the lotus flower motif. I always wear it.
How did Upasana happen?
I visited Auroville 14 years back for a short 2week exploration trip and ended up staying back with the inception of Upasana. Auroville is just the kind of place that encourages you to take up your passion and make a career out of it. One of our initial successes came in the form of Tsunamika (A waste-fabric doll named Tsunamika which was widely sold around the country to collect funds for Tsunami Relief) After that, there was no looking back.
Who are the people behind Upasana?
Its a huge team of young, inspired and creative people. Upasana has become a platform where students and volunteers from different parts of India and abroad come to learn and contribute to ongoing projects. They learn through real life engagements and creative exploration of Socially Responsible Design. At any point of time, we have a long list of young designers waiting to intern with Upasana. We really encourage this.
What is the work culture at Upasana?
Its very friendly but focussed. We are a family of like-minded, mixed-cultural people dedicated to Socially responsible design by intention. We give a very customised and unique design brief to every designer. It s based on their choice of field of work and their individual capabilities. There are no restrictions on creative thought in this studio.
What is Upasana’s USP?
In Upasana, the scope of design has been enlarged to be integral so that it touches all the facets of a product’s life-cycle - those who design and produce it, those who use it, the larger socio-cultural context and the environment.
What projects besides Tsunamika have you taken up?
We have successfully started 5 projects in 5 years. Tsunamika being our first project gave us the right launch, Another project we’ve been doing over last few years is with Benaras Weavers, An organic cotton project called ‘Kapas’, and the most recent being Small Steps. Small Steps is envisioned to be the full stop to plastic bags. We are making nearly 10 million fabric bags using waste fabric and employing village ladies. We also plenty of other
Does Upasana follow fashion trends?
We don’t make a conscious effort to follow any trends but intuitively we do follow market trends. Between innovation and social responsibility, style just blossoms on its own at Upasana.
If you wish to contribute to the socially conscious design process at Upasana, do contact me to put you in touch with Uma.