Coming Back Home

A quick chat session with SahilBagga & SarthakSengupta of SarthakSahil Design Co divulging their journey and approach towards glocal and sustainable art.

Tell us about SarthakSahil Design Co.

Sarthak : The conception of SarthakSahil Design Co. came in our mind when we were pursing our masters’ degree at Italy in Product Service System Design. There the approach of higher studies is quite different and instead of just studying, you are more exposed to practical aspects. It was for the first time we got the experience of working as a team. In the last year of our degree we both were lucky to be selected by Poltrona Frau (biggest furniture brand, Italy) where we worked under the mentorship of veteran architect Julio Cappellini and was a great exposure. It helped us to look at India as a market and also as an inspiration from perspective of art. Then we realized the potential and vacuum in context of art. We found that art was only meant for souvenir and gift purpose and its presence in daily life was still missing. It was then we decided to come back to India and start our own design company to fill the gap. We came here in 2008 and started our first project in January 2009, since then it had been a roller coaster ride.

02_ SarthakSahil Design Co.

What is your design philosophy ?

Sahil : We are Indian designers, so whatever we do, we want that it should reflect the USP of Indian art and tradition. That’s why we call our work as ‘glocal’ which has local roots but global appeal. For us, ethnicity and collaboration is most important. We try to bring artisans together and create a legacy that is there forever. Moreover, we make sure that our work is sustainable (socially and naturally), should be user friendly, should have human story attached to it and last but not the least it should be in certain context.

In 2008 when you people thought of starting the design company, home decor and unconventional art was not popular as compared to today. What were the challenges faced in initial days? Sarthak: When you start something, the initial idea should be to move from sustenance to indulgence and we also did the same. In initial days, it was necessary to create a strong hold for survival. In terms of challenges, initiating a design company was itself a challenge, but our international exposure had taught and guided us the potential and scope for India as a market and that made us take this decision to return India and start with our own design company. Apart from this day today challenges of dealing with different kinds of people and understanding their needs and aspirations is part and parcel of a designer’s life.

Tell us about the ‘Katran’ art.

Sahil:  It was in 2009 when we were doing research for our ‘LaxmanSagar Resort Project’ in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, we came across these waste clothe pieces in the local market. They were polluted, but were yet to evolve. We wanted to design a chair that overlooks the lake view from the room. As we were also experimenting we got one chair weaved by a local charpai maker and it turned out very comfortable. It took us almost one and a half year to train people locally and then we also taught them about color sensitivity in addition to how to separate fabrics and colors. The whole idea behind this initiative was not to generate revenue but to create a story and legacy that people could associate with. At present too, we are more interested in those who prefer to buy the Katran range because they understand the sustainability factor and are inquisitive about the human story behind it, rather than those who buy just because it is colourful. We have now moved a step ahead and we are incorporating more techniques like knitting and hand embroidery to Katran range. The waste that is generated a from chair, we use it for cushion cover making with local women who do hand embroidery and design covers.

03_ SarthakSahil Design Co.

Apart from Katran products, what else you people deal in?

We have always tried to experiment with everything possible and diversify our working pattern. We love to play with metals and that’s the reason we could manage to work with Jindal Steel-where we created a range of products that reflected the use of steel as an interior decoration material. Apart from this we have also worked very close to Kerala and its art and tradition. In 2015, we did an entire collection of craft work and installations called ‘Kerala Sutra Collection, which reflected various art forms, elements and traditions of Kerala.

You people are diversified. So where do you place yourself in the design industry.

Sarthak: I think this cliché is India because here it is very much restricted to ‘fashion’. The advantage of learning and studying In Italy was that it exposed us to work together with people from different background and in practical life too, it involves people from different background to uplift a brand. We are a diversified design studio that works on products, interiors, graphics, art installations and light designs. With time we have realised that there is a huge vacuum in light design sector in India and we are making efforts to fill it.

Art being a diversified stream and with handful art exhibitions it is difficult to give recognition to all kinds of art. Your comment.

Sarthak: I think that design and art has to come closer. Commercial aspect and future aspiration has to merge. At present there is a disconnect between art and masses and that can be filled only with promotion of public art and design in public space. Once the interaction will increase the way it has happened with fashion market I am sure the future will be brighter. Concept of lifestyle art spaces can be a smart solution where people can interact with the artist too and it is just not run-of-the-mill where you buy a ticket and walk in and then walk out.
Sahil: The exhibition at Metropolitan Museum in New York of Chinese Costume through the looking glass could be an inspiration. Such initiative provides art value to design and now there are international organizations that are coming to India; they conduct research and provide space to showcase within the native country, instead of taking them abroad. The major reason behind this entire chaos is unawareness about product design and that has happened because no design is in public space. We are still juggling at the level of fashion.

When it comes to delicate craft like Katran products, what are the maintenance guidelines to allow the products last longer?

Sahil: These ropes are made of clean fabric, so we recommend hard bristle plastic brush to brush off dust and if needed one can go for vacuum cleaning or dry cleaning once in a season. From iron frame to rope work, each piece is handmade it takes almost 15 days to make one piece of craft, so we try to make it in such a manner that it lasts longer and in case you want to separate the frame with rope work it can be easily done and either of the material can be procured for future usage.