Celebrity chef Ranveer Brar is known to be a huge advocate for all things ‘swadeshi’ and his food philosophy has always been centred around environmentally friendly methods, local produce and social responsibility. Now, the culinary rockstar is bringing his skills to the world of sustainable fashion and hopes to help create a system in India where food and fashion can be supported indefinitely, keeping in mind the human impact on the environment and social responsibility.
“India, the land of infinite flavours is also the land of infinite fabrics. If you go to see, food and fabric are the two essentials of any society and when it comes to our home country, every state can boast of its own cultural identity. Is it then not our duty to support what is ours, especially when it is in danger of succumbing to modern technology and mass-produced fabrics? We need to create awareness today so that our future generations take pride in wearing what we organically create and further our culture, our heritage,” says Brar.
So, when exactly did Brar decide to make this shift? The idea was planted in the chef’s mind during one of his excursions into the hinterlands of West Bengal. In a conversation with a rice farmer over hot chai, Brar was informed about the difficulty of growing cotton – the cash crop of choice.
“Standing there in branded t-shirt and trousers, talking about my love for desi crop from the desi farmer, I realised that beneath all the labels, the information about where the material came from was completely obscured. Were there any ethics woven into the textile on my back? Was the factory worker given what he was promised? Did the farmer get his efforts’ worth? Did more core values align in all frames of my life?” he says, adding: “I now realise that the garment that I wear is not just a piece of cloth, but a collection of stories about the people behind it and the love labour they put into it. I want to now approach fashion in a more conscientious way, taking an interest in the chain of events leading up to an item’s creation, and whether it has been fair for both the producer and the planet so that we can, together, create greater value for those we influence.”
In an exclusive conversation with MW, Brar speaks about food, fashion and the future of the India story:
What made you engage with Indian textile and sustainable fashion?
Two things – one is the story behind it and the other is the need for it. I’ve always believed that food and fashion have gone hand in hand. When there was the time of fast food, it was fast fashion and then suddenly, there was the slow food movement and we started talking about slow fashion. Then, there was the sustainable food movement and we were talking about sustainable fashion. Both are expressions of style and I’ve been fascinated by how they come together and go together. Being a farmer’s son, for me, the origins of what’s on my plate is really important and that kind of translates into what I am wearing as well. That is where my fascination with Indian textiles comes from.
What are the common challenges that Indian produce and textiles face?
I think the most common challenge is that there’s not enough demand. We are fascinated with the West and that reflects both in the supply of it and the unavailability of it. The second challenge is the marketing of certain Indian ingredients or Indian textiles. The Kanjeevaram silk and Benarasi silk are heavily marketed but the smaller players tend to die out due to in-fighting, as I like to say, between the components. That’s common with food as well, the popular varieties of mango like Alphonso and Dasheri create such a market for themselves that nobody wants the smaller varieties of mangoes and they go missing from the market and the farm, causing a loss of biodiversity.
What is your personal style statement?
I think my personal style statement is what I like to call real, non-pretentious and comfortable – whether it’s comfort food or comfort wear. I need to be extremely comfortable with what I’m wearing and that’s a big factor in deciding what to wear and what to eat. Or what to cook, for that matter.
What kind of outfits and silhouettes do you enjoy wearing?
I enjoy a lot of long, flowy kurtas. There was a time I enjoyed bandhgalas a lot but right now, flowy and fluid kurtas.
The ‘India story’ is a big trend right now – in food and fashion – globally. What do you think is the future of this trend?
Honestly, we’ve just started and there is so much food and produce to discover in the country. There are so many textiles to discover. I was doing a little bit of a study and just between cotton and silk, in West Bengal alone, they have more than 200 varieties. It is fascinating what we have in terms of repertoire. A very humble repertoire of textiles and of food and the world has not even seen the tip of the iceberg.
Who are your favourite Indian designers?
I’m a big fan of Ujjawal Dubey [Antar-Agni] and how he works with Indian silhouettes. Shantanu and Nikhil for the celebration wear. Also, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Kunal Rawal.
What are the personal style resolutions you’ve set for the years to come?
Sustainability and comfort are my only motto. I want to mostly wear Indian fabric, fabric that’s sustainable and that can sustain itself in multiple ways and sustain itself in my wardrobe for a longer time. So, Indian, sustainable and comfort – and that’s essentially my food vision as well. It is amazing how they end up blending.
How do you see yourself contributing to Indian textiles and India’s sustainable fashion space?
I think there are a lot of ways. Like I said, doing dinners with food and textile, finding places where textile and food are both famous and highlighting the food and textile story of that place. For example, there is a place called Bankura in West Bengal and Bankura silk is extremely famous and some of the dishes they do there are outstanding as well. So, they do this sandesh there, which has besan mixed into it and dipped in sugar which is found only in Bankura. I think there are a lot of places where you can pay homage to food and fabric together and bring out the lesser known places through the food and fabric story.