Personal choices

Those who grew up in the 1980s would remember wearing tailor-made clothes as there was a lack of decent ready-to-wear options. Now, for the last couple of years, made to order, or bespoke, has been back in fashion with an exclusivity twist. Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Canali and Kiton have long occupied the top space in this segment. Luxury brands such as Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton (LV) have joined the made-to-order club and introduced their made-to-order service in India, which extends beyond apparel, to shoes too. “The fact that brands are offering this service in India signals the evolution of the market for personalisation and customisation,” says long time Gucci fan, Chetan Jaikishan, MD, Express Foods.

Globally, bespoke was not always prevalent and consumers were, and still are, accustomed to easy ready-to-wear shopping. However, this preference has changed over time where consumers favour good quality and fit as per their specifications, over convenience. All brands want to give the best quality and use the best raw materials, and as they don’t own any of the farms from where their raw material is sourced, and there are only a handful of places where the raw material comes from, everyone goes to the same source. Hence, now as there is no exclusivity in sourcing the raw material, the exclusivity lies in tailoring to the customer’s choice.

Today, the luxury customer is not only an European, as used to be the case some years ago, but different people – Chinese, Indian, etc. So to cater to their tastes, it is easy to customise. This customisation has led to a surge in the bespoke and made-to-order segment over the last few years, primarily across luxury offerings due to the high-value of investment. This trend has extended to the Indian luxury retail market as well. According to Sheetal Jain, founder & CEO, Luxe Analytics, a New Delhi-based luxury consulting firm, made-to-order is the need of the hour for luxury brands. “It is important for them to go that way or else they’ll lag behind.”

In the luxury market, India is still a nascent story. While it is a good market with the great Indian middle class, most buyers are still aspirational, keeping sales numbers low. So when the market starts growing, then people usually buy accessories or apparel. Pricing is very important.

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Amrani MTM service allows the customer to create the suit as per their style.

Made-to-order, or personalisation, as it is also called, is when a brand can play around with the material, motifs, etc. and the price changes according to what the buyer chooses. For a fashion house, it is not a difficult proposition to offer. A standardised shape of garment or shoe is offered. The talking point is to explore how to make it more premium. Brands are always trying to be premium in their offerings – that’s a brand’s definition of luxury. Exclusivity adds on a lot of premium to the product. For the brand, besides being a way to grow, customisation and personalisation are also the differentiating factors.

The earlier brands to introduce made-to-order in India were Giorgio Armani (2014) and Louis Vuitton (2016).  Priced at Rs1,75,000 onwards, the Giorgio Armani made-to-measure service allows the customer to create the suit as per their style and comfort with the signature Giorgio Armani look. The service is available at the brand’s boutique in DLF, Emporio, New Delhi. It can also be availed via the brand’s home shopping service.

When in 2006, fashion designer Giorgio Armani decided that there was a need for something different; it was a bold decision for an established ready-to-wear designer to take. Armani believed that the time was right to return to the heart of the creative process, and produce a collection using the finest materials. “I realized that I have clients who really do want a unique product, made specifically for them. Hence, I decided to create a made to measure service, where a customer gets all the benefits of a tailor made garment – unique fit, fabric, lining, buttons, details – as well as the signature Giorgio Armani look. This collection really does bring the traditional and the modern together, combining the origins of the tailor’s craft with the innovations of a contemporary design studio,” explains the designer.

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LV’s Monte Carlo moccasin is available in an array of rainbow colours.

Louis Vuitton launched its made to order shoe service in mid-2016. The hand stitched Monte Carlo moccasin, priced at close to Rs2 lakh, is available in rainbow colours (literally). Customers can choose to have their moccasins made in either calf leather or suede. Though it is available at the brand’s New Delhi store, clients in Mumbai and Bengaluru can also place an order for these shoes from the brand’s website.

Speaking of shoes, Jimmy Choo’s made-to-order service includes a variety of classic shoes and bags which a customer can personalise by selecting the colour and fabric. It has gone a step further and lets you monogram your shoes, or put a plaque with a special date on your bag. The service is available at the DLF, Emporio boutique in New Delhi and at the Palladium boutique in Mumbai.

Last year Gucci launched its DIY (do it yourself) initiative based on the House’s Dionysus bag. Here customers could personalise their Dionysus handbags with embroidered patches, trims, hardware and monogrammed initials. The focus has now shifted to an extensive programme of customisable menswear that was launched last December.

At the Gucci DIY men’s tailoring service, customers can choose from a wide range of fabrics and buttons, as well as from a host of monogram lettering options. According to Jaikishan, their recently launched DIY service is a fun way of expressing one’s personality through customisation of selected products. “I don’t think any other brand offers the kind of customisation options that Gucci DIY does,” he says. “Although the aim of the DIY service is to encourage customers to interpret the Gucci aesthetic in a highly idiosyncratic way, the combination of materials, detailing and decoration on offer ensures that the end result will always evoke the spirit of the brand.”

So how is the Indian market placed to receive this bespoke trend? Well, according to Luxe Analytic’s Jain, may be in the coming years India will be better placed for this trend.

Showcasing luxury

Exhibitions. Exhibitions. Exhibitions. There are so many of them supporting various initiatives – be it upcoming artists, upcoming designers, home grown talents, and so on and so forth. So the recently concluded Luxury Lifestyle Weekend in Mumbai was a pleasant surprise. It was void the shove and push that accompanies such events. There was enough space for the 100 odd brands to enable their visitors to experience the bespoke services that they offered.

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“As much as luxury is about products, it is also about intangible nuances that inspire, delight and amaze you,” says Sheth.

For Akash Sheth, it was the culmination of hard work put in over the last couple of years. “I understood that everyone is interested in this space, but it becomes a non-exclusive space. So how can one make it exclusive to certain categories,” says Sheth, MD, Luxury Lifestyle Weekend. Having put his thoughts on paper, and checking the boxes, Sheth took the plunge to host the first luxury lifestyle weekend in the country. “LLW has surpassed everyone’s expectations from a brand satisfaction and consumer experience perspective,” says Sheth.

From the consumer perspective, globally luxury is moving towards the experiential age. People want to understand what is going on behind the brand, what does it stand for, what’s the brand story, the legacy, why should he / she go for a bespoke or tailor made product, etc. The idea was to create a platform where the brands get an opportunity to showcase all that, as well as be an opportunity for the consumer to engage and interact with the brand and understand it. According to Dr. Sheetal Jain, founder & CEO, Luxe Analytics, a New Delhi based luxury analytic company, “Exhibitions such as LLW, is a way that connect the consumers and the brands,” she says. “Today, luxury consumers are looking for an experiential value and this event was a step forward to curate such bespoke experience.  The luxury sector in India is still at a nascent stage; therefore such events are need of the hour. They would increase the brands’ visibility and may help to capture the hearts of relevant audience,” says Jain.

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The fact that, unlike the US and European countries, India had no platform to showcase luxury goods in the country, was motive enough for Sheth to think on lines of putting one together. Sheth put in close to $2 million in the event to give India its first Luxury Lifestyle Weekend. It was an interesting mix of 100 brands across nine categories that participated.

The way the venue was designed, there was enough space for customers to interact without being pushed and shoved. “As much as luxury is about products, it is also about intangible nuances that inspire, delight and amaze you. We have curated experientials that will help existing and aspiring consumers of luxury to engage and connect with the brands more deeply than ever before. Every brand presented an engagement that will encourage all guests to go beyond browsing and deep-dive into the story and philosophy behind a product,” says Sheth.

What Sheth looked for in identifying the participating brands was that a) they be leaders in their space, b) the brand is looking forward to creating an experience and tell their brand story correctly, and c) from his perspective, the brand should have an interest in the consumer, be able to draw in the right consumer and footfalls. What was also important was whether the brand wanted to talk to the current and potential consumers, as well as the new age millennials, who are going to become the next set of consumers.

While many brands already have a presence in India, a handful took this opportunity to get a feel of and introduce themselves to the Indian market. Just to mention a few brands: the Silver Room from USA, and Swiss chocolatier Du Rhone Chocolatier, both used the event to introduce themselves to the Indian market. The Silver Room, an art, culture and jewellery boutique brought to India by Dileep Doshi’s Ambiar Group, showcased their collection here for the first time. According to Vishakha Doshi, marketing, communication & PR director, Ambiar Group, the response was better than they had expected. The store will officially open on April 6 at south Mumbai’s Trident Hotel.

Du Rhone Chocolatier, a luxury chocolate brand based out of Geneva, presented its array of chocolates. According to Fatima Sham Mahimwala, business head, Liberty Luxuries Pvt. Ltd., company that is launching Du Rhone, the event was mutually beneficial to both, the company and the consumers. “It was more awareness building and a soft launch,” she says.

Atout France, the France Tourism & Development Agency, brought down La Vallée Village, a designer shopping space near Paris. “We wanted to meet the consumers directly, and this matched perfectly,” says Patrick Allais, business development manager, VR Services Snc.

On the experiential side, some of the watch brands flew down their watch makers. Luxury shoes and boots manufacturer, John Lobb, flew in their bootmaker from Paris to conduct a made-to-measure experience. Other brands, be it fashion, interiors or automobile, took the opportunity to present their new collections – Adil.I.Ahmad with Aditi Parashar, Gavin Miguel, Isaia, Kiton, Payal Khandwala, Payal Singhal, SVA Couture and The Palace Karkhana by Royal Fables.

According to a 2016 Assocham study, the Indian luxury market has been growing at 25 per cent per annum, and is pegged at $18 billion – a sign that the luxury space in India is moving forward aggressively. Given the population, and digital-friendly millennial generation, India is a market that everyone is interested in. Having surpassed all expectations with the launch event, Sheth says he will be back next year.

 

Here come the elephants!

Over the next three weeks, there is a chance that you may spot an artistic elephant somewhere in Mumbai. Do admire it. Hug it, and take a picture with it. This is the elephant parade. After being to Jaipur, New Delhi and Kolkata, the 101 elephants sculptures by leading artists and designers, entered Mumbai through the Gateway of India, marking the launch of the first ever Elephant Parade in India.

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The mother elephant by His Highness Maharaja Padmanabh Singh ji Bahadur of Jaipur, with contributors Ramu Ramdev & team. Baby `Junglestatic’ by Sam Buckley.

Following the launch, the elephants will be displayed in herds at prominent Mumbai locations as part of what has become recognised as the world’s biggest public art event. Each elephant will be for sale to raise funds for their endangered wild cousins and their forest homes. The online auction on Paddle8 (https://m.paddle8.com/auction/elephant-parade-india/), will go live on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Funds raised from the parade will help secure 101 elephant corridors across the country and projects to address human-elephant-conflict throughout India.

As 2018 is the UK India year of culture, it is a homecoming for an event by the internaional NGO Elephant Family to raise awareness of the plight of Asia’s elephants, taking place in the country where the largest wild population of these animals exists.

In the last 100 years, the population of the Asian elephant has plummeted by 90 per cent. Their wild habitat is shrinking at a rapid pace, leading to an increasingly fierce competition between people and elephants for living space and food. Also, poaching and demand for wild caught babies for tourism remain a constant threat. Since 2002, Elephant Family has funded over 160 conservation projects and has raised over £10 million through public art events for this endangered animal. Elephant Family is working in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India to secure 101 elephant corridors in India.

Elephant Corridors are the pathways that elephants use to get from one forest feeding ground to the next. Just like bridges between islands, they provide vital connections between forest fragments, allowing elephants and other animals to move freely. When pathways are blocked by farms, houses, factories and other types of human developments, elephants become stressed and aggressive. In desperation, they eat crops and pose a deadly threat to people. This is an issue affecting 500,000 families in India alone.

In desperation, they eat crops and pose a deadly threat to people. This is an issue affecting 500,000 families in India alone.

Started by the late Mark Shand in 2002 under the patronage of the Rajmata of Jaipur and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, to date, Elephant Family has funded five corridors in India (one in Kerala and four in Assam), which has involved the voluntary relocation of rural, subsistence farming communities. An adventurer, best-selling author and conservationist who dedicated his life to the survival of the Asian elephant, Shand’s mission started in 1988 when he rescued a street begging elephant and journeyed across India with her.

The idea of having an animal statue as a concept to promote animal conservation is not new. In the late 1990s, the concept of a Cow Parade had its origins in Zurich, Switzerland. The success of the concept inspired many other cities to host similar fundraising projects with different animals – cows, camels or tigers.

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“We were conscious that each artist gets equal respect,” says Farah Siddiqui (L).  

It took curator, Farah Siddiqui, and her colleague from her arts team, Aqdas Tatli, about a year to put the project together. Getting so many creative people on one platform had to be dealt with tactfully. “As each creative person was going to be on the same platform, we were conscious that each artist gets equal respect,” says Siddiqui.

Initially the artists were given two different elephant shapes to choose from – a sitting elephant and a standing one. However, all the involved artists went for the standing elephant. The fibre glass elephants are each five feet high, three dimensional elephants, painted by 101 of India’s best known artists, designers and creative people.

For artist Brinda Chudasama Miller, it was exciting to work on the elephant. “When I started to paint, the elephant was the first shape that I painted,” she says. According to her, an elephant in its roundness and cuteness is an easier shape to paint than say, a horse or even a dog. Miller named her elephant Rani. “The name immediately came to me and I decided it was female for some reason,” she says. So how does one stand out when you have 101 similar shapes? Well, “the main difference is in the eyes. What will draw the buyer to the elephant is the eyes,” she says. So Miller has made Rani’s eyes soft and feminine, she has used rani pink colour, has put a lotus in her mouth and given her a lotus crown. “She was Rani (queen) from the beginning,” adds Miller.

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“What will draw the buyer to the elephant is the eyes,” says Brinda Miller.

According to Siddiqui, bids start at Rs3 lakh – 5 lakh. However, elephant sculptures have sold for thousands of pounds in the past, with an average price of £7,000 per elephant worldwide. There is a huge range in price at auction, with the most valuable elephant to date, `The Singing Butler Rides Again’ by Jack Vettriano, selling for £155,000 in London in 2010. ‘The Singing Butler Rides Again’ was based on Vettriano’s well known painting and was a tribute to Elephant Family’s founding patron, the late Rajamata of Jaipur.

The London Elephant Parade became London’s biggest public art exhibition with more than 250 brightly painted elephants located across central London. The sculptures sold for £4.1 million, and raised awareness for the plight of the endangered Asian elephant with an audience of 25 million people.

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Diesel is looking for a CEO

 

Diesel CEO1Diesel, the Italian premium casual wear company famously known for its jeans, is looking to hire a new CEO. Well, Alessandro Bogliolo, the previous CEO, left the company to become the CEO at Tiffany & Co., the luxury jewellery and accessories retailer. So DIESEL is wasting no time. It is looking for a new CEO, and has come up with a playful advertisement through social media.

Yes, choosing a CEO is serious stuff. Instead of confining the search to the known sites, Renzo Rosso, president, OTB Group, has chosen to search through social media as well. “Our CEO has left, leaving an empty space in our hearts, but most importantly an empty chair,” he says.

Starting from October 5th, applicants will only have 4 days to showcase their Diesel CEO3indisputable ability to sit in a way that is absolutely different from others through a picture or a video to be uploaded on Diesel’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Diesel/videos/10159350871715484/

Diesel enjoys challenging the ordinary and the conformity that is flooding social networks, because again this time it’s not the usual job application that you find on LinkedIn. The position is actually of a Chair Executive Officer (that’s what the position is called at Diesel). This time neither an MBA degree nor financial skills will serve the purpose, “first of all, you have to be good at sitting,” says Rosso, DIESEL’s founder.

The selected candidate will spend a week as the Chair Executive Officer at the DIESEL Headquarters, Italy. Occupying the most important chair in the company!

So go on, and apply.

 

Tribe goes retail

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Tarang Arora is placing Tribe at super premium malls.

While most brands go from an off-line presence to the on-line platform, Tribe, the silver jewellery brand from the Jaipur based fine jewellery house, Amrapali, has decided to go the other way. After having an online presence for three years, Tarang Arora, CEO & creative director, Amrapali Jewels, is taking the Tribe brand off-line. The brand recently opened its first two retail outlets in Mumbai and New Delhi at the Palladium Mall and Select City Walk respectively. “It’s a brand which can be in a lot more places than Amrapali; it’s a brand which can be in malls, it can be at a small kiosk at the domestic airport, it can be at various places and at each city there could be multiple of these,” says Arora.

Arora is placing Tribe at super premium malls, because “there isn’t anyone who thinks that silver needs to be placed that high,” he says.  Priced in the range of Rs500 to Rs1,50,000, it is a perfect place for both, the aspirational shopper and a regular shopper to shop at.

Amrapali was started by Rajesh Ajmera and Rajiv Arora, Tarang’s father, in 1978. They started by making traditional silver jewelry which was being worn by various tribes in India. Over the past decade or so, though Amrapali has moved on to work with gold, the silver jewelry is still there. So the idea with Tribe was to start a silver based brand within the Amrapali brand, which is what Amrapali is known for.

Tribe1By refocusing on silver, the idea was to create two different brands. Both Amrapali and Tribe are different businesses, with different ideologies and catering to different markets. “We are trying to create an identity for two brands, instead of one. Both brands have the same DNA, but are different styles, looks and feels. They both have the same mother, but are siblings with their own identity,” explains Arora.

Though there is a big fuss about being online, a brand needs to be both, offline and online.  “There is a big fuss about being online, which I don’t agree to, and I think offline is a very important space as well,” he says. In fact, when Amrapali started Tribe, the online venture in 2014, Arora had reservations about its success. “We are selling jewelry, not clothes. It’s a personalised item and will we be able to succeed selling such a product online?” he says. However, the online push was more successful than the company had thought. Tribe is more of a growable business than the fine jewelry Amrapali; and in terms of creativity, it’s a lot more fun for the design team.

Arora thinks that offline is going to be more consistent than online, because, “online has its days of being extremely successful, and then again it goes slow sometimes, then it has different reasons why it works. However, offline stores have a lot more character. It definitely gives an identity to the brand,” he says. Besides, it’s very difficult to change an online client to an offline one, if the client and the shop are not in the same city. Definitely an offline client can become an online client. “I think it is eventually going to give more business to online,” he says. For online sales, India is a major market. Internationally, the USA is an important market. Countries like Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are doing well.

While it would be ideal to open many more stores of Tribe and be in the Palladiums of every city, Arora would first like to expand within these two metro cities first. “If you think about it, Mumbai and Delhi are not one city, these are multiple cities. If you go to Andheri, Santa Cruz, or Inorbit Mall, there is so much going on. In Delhi, there is the Great Mall, then you have the Ambience Mall which is in three different locations, and they are much bigger than tier 2 cities. There is a lot more scope to expand within these cities,” he says.

 

 

 

 

 

Spoilt for choice

If you walk into a Nature’s Basket outlet in Mumbai, or even the Food Hall at Palladium, you will most likely find little tubs of Epigamia Greek yoghurt lining up the dairy section. It catches the eye. In trying to catch more eyes, Drums Food, the makers of Epigamia Greek yoghurt and Hokey Pokey ice cream, are increasing their reach and tweaking their flavours to suit Indian palettes. With people moving towards a healthier lifestyle, “The Snack Pack was conceptualized keeping in mind a legacy of oily and fried snacks in the face of shifting consumer patterns towards seeking healthier lifestyles,” says Rohan Mirchandani, CEO.

Drum Foods, was started by two childhood friends, Rohan Mirchandani and Milap Shah. Other friends were asked to join – Chef Ganesh K who was working in India and Uday Thakker from Los Angeles. The duo’s initial exposure to the food industry was Hokey Pokey ice cream, which was launched in 2008.

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“We are not in the dairy business. We are in consumer and branding,” says Mirchandani.

Later, in 2015 the company entered the retail market with its ice cream tubs available in nine flavours. With business growing, it was important for Mirchandani to be more hands on. Hence, he moved to India from New York, USA.

Ice cream has a seasonal market in India. Yet, if one goes by industry figures, the per capita consumption of ice cream in India is amongst the lowest compared to developed countries. Ice-cream, which was considered an indulgent category in the past, has now evolved to being perceived as a snacking option by consumers. This change in perception has come about due to increasing disposable incomes and greater discretionary spending. The change in the perception of consumers has allowed the category to grow in volume. Also, with investments made, cold chains are getting better and hence contributing to the category’s growth. In fact, ice-cream, as a category, has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 10-15 per cent. “If small players come with flavours appealing to the Indian taste buds, they will find a space of their own,” says Randhir Kumar, DGM marketing (dairy products), Mother Dairy.

A shift in consumer patterns towards healthier eating has now started taking place. Already having their dairy sources in place, as well as the infrastructure to support a cold chain supply product, Drums launched the Greek yoghurt in 2013, in four flavours.

Greek yogurt is strained more excessively than regular yogurt in order to create a thick and creamy texture that has high protein and low fat content. This process of straining the yogurt to create a thick consistency comes from Greece, hence the title Greek yogurt. In India, Greek yogurt is a very nascent market. Nestle is the big competitor for Greek yogurt in India. “Greek Yogurt was a totally alien concept to the Indian market, and educating them about the product itself was a great challenge. So far we’ve had an incredible response from the Indian market,” says Mirchandani.

Epigamia1Keeping in mind a legacy of oily and fried snacks in the face of shifting consumer patterns towards seeking healthier lifestyles, a Snack Pack, priced at Rs 50-60, was launched recently. The Snack Packs, which consist of 100g of yogurt, along with a mix-in pack of chunky granola is an ideal on-the-go snack. It’s available in three flavours, including jalapeño. The Indian palette is an interesting one. For years we have been having dahi. As a consumer palette, Indians are comfortable with savory. According to Mirchandani, the jalapeño is their version of the raita. A move that industry watchers feel the company is using to differentiate itself from other players.

Since the last four years, Hokey Pokey ice cream and Epigamia Yoghurt are available nationwide. Epigamia is available at about 4,000 distribution points across India, with the widest distribution in Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. The recently launched Epigamia Snack Pack should eventually be available in most of the retail outlets. And Hokey Pokey ice cream is available in 250-300 retail outlets across the same metros mentioned above.

Production of both, the ice cream and the Greek yoghurt is out-sourced from third party manufacturers in Maharashtra and in Karnataka. Soon a third facility in Jaipur will be added to cater to the northern regions. The way Mirchandani looks at the business is “We are not in the dairy business. We are in consumer and branding,” he says.

Dairy products are extremely temperature sensitive, especially ones that do not contain any preservatives. As a result, the focus is on optimizing its in-house cold chain supply, and ensuring retailers understand the importance of keeping its products at the optimum temperature.

For now the company is tight-lipped about their revenue numbers, but are happy to share that in six months, Epigamia sales are up 140 per cent. Funds are coming in. The company raised Rs44.5 crore in its Series-A funding round in July 2016 from Verlinvest, the Belgian marquee consumer investor, and DSG Consumer Partners, an early-stage venture capital fund. Drums is also backed by angel investors such as Shripad Nadkarni (founder, Fingerlix and ex-CMO, Coca Cola India), Fireside Ventures (led by former Helion Ventures co-founder, Kanwaljit Singh), Vish Narain (Partner, TPG Growth), Kunal Kapoor (Bollywood actor) among others. To date, the company has raised Rs65 crore. “The raised funds are being utilized for talent acquisition, enhancing our supply chain and increasing production capacity,” says Mirchandani.

There is a lot of buzz in the category for sure. Young boutique players such as The Butternut Co., White Cub, Bono, The Parfait Co., to name a few, are also taking up shelf space. In the face of the big players, it’s the value proposition of the new players which which help them stand out.

 

The unusual artist

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There was an unusual art show at the Kamalnayan Bajaj Art Gallery recently. Not unusual from what was on display – art on canvas, but unusual because the artists were all inmates at various prisons in Maharashtra. The current show, the fifth edition of Art from Behind the Bars, had on display 63 canvases painted by inmates lodged at five different prisons in the state. A look at the colourful works you wouldn’t think they were the handiworks of inmates, holed up in dark cells.

The show, in its fifth edition, is the brain child of Kavita Shivdasani who runs a class called `Know your environment,’ in Mumbai for children between the ages of 4-14 years. Shivdasani started `Art from behind the bars’, her main community service project, in 2007, to promote the art works of convicts. This fifth edition of the prison art exhibition comprised 63 canvases by prison artists from four prisons, participating in the show. Money from sale of the artwork will be credited into the prison artist’s account, so on their release they have a cache to fall back on until they find suitable employment.

The project started on an off-chance. As part of the creative writing class, the 14-15 year olds were writing a story. Shivdasani then took them on a tour of the places in the story. Arthur Road jail in central Mumbai was on the route. After obtaining the necessary permissions, she took the kids in. During her conversation with the senior jailor, she mentioned her class and the various art workshops she has for children. The jailor suggested if she could help with some of the inmates who have some talent in poetry and art. Art was more her cup of tea.

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Shivdasani’s meeting with ex-convict Lalitha, who was then in the Byculla jail, another jail in Mumbai, gave her food for thought. She was surprised by what she saw. “These people were cut off from everything. From an art critic point of view, they (the works) were not good. But taking into account what there were going through, it wasn’t bad,” says Shivdasani.

Initially, she couldn’t think of how to use the works. After giving it some thought, she thought of making it a part of her community service portion in her class activity and see if it made a difference. The first exhibition in 2007 comprised 10 works. Being an under-trial and a convict carries a lot of stigma. Besides the one who is convicted, it also affects the rest of his / her families, in terms of job loss, etc. Hence, the money from the sale of the artwork at the exhibition is credited into the prison artists’ account to help them on their release. The children who attend her class are also help to raise funds.

In this particular exhibition, the fifth edition, Shivdasani and her team reached out to inmates who did not necessarily have art training, and had little or no experience of painting on paper or canvas. Three art workshops were conducted in the Byculla Jail, Yerwada Central Jail and Arthur Road Jail. Twenty inmates participated in each workshop. The medium used was crayons, sketch pens and acrylic paints on paper and canvas. The tools: their fingers, sponge bits and combs. “What evolved were artworks that ranged from rigid and typical depictions to free flowing movements of waves, whorls, peaks, loops and dots in eye-catching colour combinations,” says Shivdasani.

The opportunity with art that Shivdasani has brought to the convicts has made an impact on them. Sudeb Pal, an inmate at Nashik Central Jail has had a change in outlook ever since he started receiving painting equipment through Art from Behind the Bars. He began to paint regularly. Coming from a culturally-inclined family, art and creativity is in his blood. During his childhood he got to interact with a number of artists who, due to lack of opportunity and support, could barely make a living out of art. So once he is free, he wants to work with such talented people as these to guide, teach and support them. He hopes to give them opportunities just like he received from AfBB.