In just two years, fashion designer Harsh Agarwal’s homegrown label, Harago, has drawn a stellar international following as well as celebrity endorsement with menswear that’s mindful and leisurely.

26-year-old Harsh Agarwal did not have a traditional trajectory in fashion. Instead, this law school dropout from Bhilwara decided to take a one-year-long break and organise the very first TedX in his hometown. “I raised funds and invited speakers to Bhilwara. This was a fun project to do during my gap year, and I continued to organise them even after I joined college.”

Harsh Agarwal

Agarwal then joined a liberal arts program at Symbiosis International University in Pune. “I was doing a major in economics and a minor in business. Throughout college, I was involved in a lot of activities, from internships to personal projects, related to sustainable development. Many of the projects were based on waste management and solar energy. In my last year, I did a three-month internship at the United Nations HQ in New York,” he recalls.

Agarwal’s internship at the UN wasn’t just a chance for him to research refugee commission and various socio-economic causes — but also his introduction to sustainable fashion. “I was always interested in textiles, thanks to my family — they had a textiles business. I would always go out to source fabrics like my mom and nani (grandmother). They loved hoarding fabrics, and would visit the local tailor to make clothing for them, ” he says.

In 2017, Agarwal extensively researched the crafts community in India. He travelled across different parts of the country, from West Bengal and Maheshwar to Madhya Pradesh and Kutch, to deep dive into various crafts techniques. “I sourced a lot of fabrics during my travels. That’s when I decided to launch a menswear label as I didn’t see many options for men. I started with one tailor who set up a machine and a cutting table at my home. Many failed attempts later, Harago was born.”

Harsh Agarwal

Interestingly, Agarwal used his own name to come up with the name of his label. “I wanted the name to be random but also personal at the same time. So I took the first few letters from my first and last name and added an ‘o’ at the end,” he smiles.

In 2019, Harago was first presented to the world via Instagram. As opposed to seasons, Agarwal releases new products in “drops” — a social media-fuelled method that is also followed by fashion giants like Supreme and Burberry, among many others. His textiles-first approach to menswear presents simple, wear-anywhere silhouettes that are woven with ikat and chikankari or often tie-dyed and block-printed. His lightweight designs are often creatively charged with eclectic prints and patterns, ranging from poppy reds and buttery beiges to indigos and fuchsia.

In just two years, Agarwal’s trend-defying label has attracted the attention of several specialty retailers (Matches Fashion in London, Tony Shirtmakers in New York, New Jersey-based concept store, & Son, along with Jaipur-based store Jaipur Modern and e-commerce website aanswr.com). Internationally, Harago has a growing cult following, from pop icon Harry Styles and Irish singersongwriter Niall Horan to musician George Crosby and the fashion director of H by Halston, Cameron Silver.

Harsh Agarwal

While Agarwal’s brand is technically for men, Harago is equally cherished by women: Bollywood film-maker Rhea Kapoor and stylist Ekta Rajani have also been spotted in his craft-rich designs. “We are, of course, a menswear brand. But, we get orders from a lot of women as well. The easy fit has helped us blur these boundaries,” he explains.

Of course, Harago was launched at a time when menswear was going through a paradigm shift, and there’s space for experimentation. “10 years ago, there were mostly just formal trousers, shirts, and denims. However, now there’s a lot of innovation in both textiles and silhouettes, which has also permeated to couture — not just ready-towear. It is still evolving and there’s still a lot of space for interesting menswear brands to come from India,” he notes.

As far as the future is concerned, Agarwal wants to keep building on an aesthetic that’s quintessentially Harago. From its Instagram page that is managed by Agarwal (he often photographs his friends and has never done a paid campaign for the brand) to crafting more products for the Harago man, Agarwal wants his growth to be slow yet steady.

Harsh Agarwal

“But, who is the Harago man?” I ask him. “Someone who is experimental in his approach towards life. Someone who is open-minded and who isn’t afraid of how other people perceive him. Our client base comprises musicians, artists, painters, dancers, mostly artistic people. The brand has a relaxed aesthetic because it has that nostalgic vibe,” he answers.

However, more than anything else, Agarwal’s ultimate source of inspiration remains the craftspeople. “Regardless of where the brand goes in the future, the artisans who help us realise our design language are the foundation and the inspiration behind the brand,” he concludes.

Harago, and Agarwal, are surely playing a role in changing India’s role on the fashion landscape and celebrating our craft.