Mumbai-based designer Anavila Misra (44) believes in creating products that are true to her name (‘Anavila’ in Sanskrit translates to pure). Her eponymous brand was born in 2011 with the launch of a simple yet stunning collection of linen saris, serving as a tribute to India’s rich and diverse textile heritage.
For Anavila, it has always been about normalising the sari as an everyday garment for the modern woman, instead of categorising it as ‘occasion wear.’
Today, her designs are flaunted by some of the biggest names in Bollywood, including actors Vidya Balan, Sonam Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, Rani Mukherji, Kajol, Kalki Koechlin and Konkona Sen Sharma, among others.
In an exclusive conversation with MAKERS India, Anavila shares all about her experiments with linen, her drive for sustainability, and her love for India’s craft and textile heritage.
Love affair with linen
After graduating from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi, Anavila worked for reputed menswear brands, such as Louis Phillipe and Wills Lifestyle, where she was exposed to linen textiles. The luxurious quality of the yarn made a deep impact on her, so much so that she decided to implement it in her own design aesthetic.
“The quality of the yarn was brilliant and I fell in love with its texture, and how it lends itself to beautiful garments. It is coarse and grainy, yet everything about it is luxurious. The comfort and fluidity it provides to the body is divine. People associate luxury with sheen and lustre, and I wanted to change that perception,” she shares.
After working with several menswear brands, Anavila had a three-year stint with the Ministry of Rural Development, during which she worked closely with artisans across the country. From this experience in the handloom sector, she saw the realities in the apparel sector, especially the disparity that existed between commercial markets and craft clusters in rural centres.
A five-year sabbatical later, she decided to make a comeback to workforce, and handloom was the answer.
Using linen to fashion a sari was never heard of at the time; but Anavila was all set to experiment. She found some weavers she had worked with earlier in Phulia, West Bengal, who were already making linen stoles for export to Japan; the challenge was to convince them to make pure linen saris.
“It is a difficult yarn to handle, especially since it breaks easily when it’s dry. There were quite a few trials, the weaver had to set the warp and weft a certain way, and finally after three-four months, the first saree was created. I was extremely pleased with the result,” shares Anavila. Today, the brand makes 80-100 saris every month.
Her signature style includes contrast selvedge and geometrics, but she tries to innovate from time to time. What has remained constant is her inclination towards different colours and textures inspired by nature, and her commitment to sustainability.
“There was huge focus on simplicity in my house, and both my parents had very simple tastes. We had never seen any synthetic material come into our house. I think this simplistic lifestyle reflects a lot in my aesthetic,” she adds.
Today, her saris are retailed at some of the top fashion stores in India, including Good Earth stores across India, Ogaan in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad, Rain Tree and Angadi in Bengaluru, Elan in Ahmedabad, and Amethyst in Chennai, among others. She also has a flagship store in Khar, Mumbai and Gurgaon, and sells through her website as well.
The story of Busa
Another integral part of her brand are the Busa dolls (Busa means ‘younger sister’ in Sanskrit), which are made from wasted fabric. Anavila had learnt the art of making rag dolls as a child, from her grandmother. Years later, Anavila decided to recreate these dolls, while looking for an appropriate toy for her little niece.
“We expect young girls to wear sarees and appreciate textiles, but are we giving them solutions? Since they are born, they play with Barbies in western clothes that do not resemble us in any way. When you do a blouse and saree for a busa, and the girl is playing with the doll, there is a subconscious engagement happening. This was one way of introducing the saree to a young girl, and make them appreciate the garment,” explains Anavila.
Sustainability at the forefront
‘Mindful consumption comes from mindful creation' is the tagline of Anavila’s brand, and she swears by it. “As a designer who creates garments, it's important to create only as much as is required. We work closely with our customer to produce only as many garments that are needed, so that there is no wastage. Sustainability is a slow process, it requires constant commitment,” she says.
As a brand with a conscience, Anavila also believes in creating sustainable livelihoods for her artisans. Today, she works with close to 150-200 weavers across craft clusters in India, and there are close to 70 who work directly with her in Gurgaon and Mumbai.
“These weavers are completely secure in terms of their employment. For instance, in Katwa in Jharkhand, there are some seasons when there is no work; yet we try to provide these artisans with some task or other while they are sitting at home, because we are mindful that they need to be sustained on a regular basis,” says Anavila, adding that she also contributes to the education and medical aid for their children.
To keep the revenue stream running, the brand also created artisanal rakhis this season, generating employment for women in their Gurgaon unit.
Leading by example
For Anavila, inclusivity is also a major part of her brand ethos. “I have never differentiated between people in my mind. In fact, all the models I have worked with have been very real. I remember doing a campaign called Santhal, where artisans were our models, and although they were hesitant initially, when they wore the clothes, they were transformed. If you are feeling comfortable, you are beautiful,” she says.
Anavila’s ultimate aim is empowering women workforce and giving them more opportunities. For now, she is leading by example, and that is encouraging women artisans to break the shackles and follow her path.
(Edited by Athira Nair)