In our first instalment of the Meet Our Makers series, we sat down for a video chat with Isha and Sakshi, founders of IN-D.
IN-D (pronounced “Indie” & short for independent) is a virtual home for India's boldest independent brands. We’ve known Isha and Sakshi for around a year now, sharing a passion for celebrating sustainable craftsmanship with an ethical mindset.
Like all independent businesses, IN-D have faced the challenge of navigating a pandemic whilst building an inspiring and empowering community. Which is why we wanted to connect with them on a personal level with this chat, to hear about their journey after a year of massive changes.
So how did it all begin for them? What drove them to create this new space for Indian artists and creators?
“The reason was we felt...really lost, you know, in a world full of fast fashion and big box brands. Sakshi and I have always loved design. And while feeling lost, we were like, Okay, what can we do?
We used to go to all of these exhibitions and pop up stores around the country. And we found so many makers that were super talented, but they did not have a platform. And our favourite part was visiting these makers, actually hearing about their stories. So that's when we said, hey, you know, why don't we start building a platform that brings all of them together, but most importantly, the stories about their processes? And what makes the maker - them? What's their journey, what was the design inspiration…”
Just like here in Australia and many other countries too, India has been dominated by global brands. Partly because they can afford to occupy those pricey mall spaces and use their buying power to dominate high footfall areas. But also because, as we both realised in our chat, we sort of wanted them too. We liked these big brands. Our generation wanted what they had to offer.
Isha and Sakshi shopped at those brands, the superpowers. As I told Isha and Sakshi, I was also a brand-fanatic at one stage in my life. I've experienced what that mindset and lifestyle was like. Saving up, working extra and sacrificing certain spending to buy that named thing. I even bought Bon a very expensive handbag once... which she hated!
I’m sure nearly everyone, at some point, has felt like they had to dress or wear certain things to fit in.
But like myself, Isha and Sakshi felt the tides turning in the last few years.
Personally, I experienced this turn of tides as a gradual change. As Isha and Sakshi put it, “we’ve sort of matured.” Both in ourselves, and on a cultural level, the world is fundamentally shifting. We crave authenticity, both from corporations and within ourselves.
With IN-D, Isha and Sakshi felt they could finally find this authenticity:
“There is a feeling of wanting to fit into something you might not be. It’s being able to find who you are, and pick what works for you...versus seeing what everybody else is doing, or what a brand or a marketing campaign says you should look like, or be like.”
Giving a stage and a voice to these beautiful but marginalised independent brands, consolidating them into an easy to access space, seems to be anchored by this need for authenticity. A culture of care, choice and self-expression runs through the DNA of both the Bonpinda Collective and IN-D.
But what happens when you’re trying to build a cultural hub and marketplace during a global pandemic and restricting lockdowns? Yikes!
“Oh, we are lockdown baby. (IN-D) was supposed to launch in March 2020 - and then the lockdown hit, there was so much uncertainty. So we didn't know if we should launch because the environment was so weird, you know, like, how do you push out and tell people like, hey, buy our product, right… But then we also realised, when we were talking to our makers, that they need help too. All our businesses are home run, some of them have one employee, some of them have five, and some work with craftsmen across the country. These are marriages! So we just felt like we needed to support them.”
So they pushed onwards, despite the difficulties. And they didn’t let it alter their goals.
As with our own makers, IN-D meets every single one of their artisans. We both understood what that means. The inspiration to start Bonpinda was sparked through the simple act of talking to crafters, hearing about where their materials come from or the story behind their creations.
Isha and Sakshi completely agree that talking to the makers is an invaluable part of the process.
“A big part of what we do... is having an interview with the brand, much like what we are doing now. So we actually ask them questions like where do you make your products? Where do you source your raw materials from? What's your inspiration?
That does two things. One - it tells us the authenticity of the brand, like how much do they actually care about what they're doing? And secondly - we get the bigger picture of how many employees work there were like, you know, what, what do they care about?”
Even lockdown hasn’t stopped their commitment to authenticity. Isha and Sakshi have been jumping onto video calls and phone calls, to get that all-important human connection and get a sense of whether a brand sits well with their values.
Many of these brands, as we have also found with the Bonpinda Collective, happen to be run by women. It seems the role of women in business, both in India and beyond, is changing. They are at the forefront of this movement, whilst also taking strides forward in their ability to be seen as working women too. Isha and Sakshi also see this happening in their work.
“At some level things are changing. Yes, conversations are happening, conversations about the idea that a woman is allowed or not allowed to work… just the fact that these conversations are happening changes the way women are viewed.”
Both our businesses have been shaped by these changes, through our mutual respect and admiration for change-makers like Rekha Goyal and Kaiyare - who are empowering women to start careers using their amazing craft skills.
As well as changing the perspective on women in business, do they see a chance to change perceptions of India as a nation?
“You’re right. There are many different layers to India. So I think as you said, you travel every 100 kilometres, you see something different, and maybe a new culture, a different type of food, a different language.”
As Isha and Sakshi speak to me, India faces a devastating coronavirus surge. Despite its struggles, we believe in the positivity our homeland offers to the world. What it can show and teach all of us. Not only in its rich history and cultural offerings, but India’s ability to teach us about harmonious and sustainable living.
We both see the habits of past generations returning. This cycle, a return to older ways, is something Isha and Sakshi resonate with. Whether it’s sharing a grandmother’s natural no-waste recipe or asking our mothers about how they used to make second-hand swaps. We are rediscovering small changes that support a better world.
“We want to be educating each other on daily practices, listening to our community and sharing these ideas with them. Educating each other in small ways. Sharing these stories and just asking does this resonate with you?”
We certainly aren’t perfect, nobody is. But it isn’t perfection we seek. Through building our collectives, we are just starting conversations and learning from each other. We've all got an opportunity, either through our work or what we choose to spend our money on or how we show up in the world, to support others and the world around us. To try and make sure that there's food on people’s plates. To think about the way we treat the individuals who made our furnishings or our fashion.
By sharing these beautiful little stories from India, IN-D helps to showcase that aspect of their, and my, culture in a new and exciting way. We can’t wait to see where their journey takes them.
You can watch the full interview here, where we go into more depth about Isha and Sakshi’s process, how they started IN-D and their inspiring philosophy on sustainable and ethical business.
We hope you enjoy watching.