EXCLUSIVE: Would love to work with artisans of Odisha: Fashion Designer Bibhu Mohapatra

Beneath his designs which have created raves worldwide, lives an entrepreneur. Internationally-acclaimed fashion designer from Odisha, Bibhu Mohapatra was in Bhubaneswar for the Make in Odisha conclave when senior editor, OTV Digital, Kasturi Ray caught up with him to understand the man, his creations, his business acumen and plans for Odisha. Here are the excerpts.

Q. How do you see the Make in Odisha Conclave in the context of investments in fashion, apparel designing and textiles? What is the path ahead for Odisha in textiles or apparel designing?

A. I think there is a lot of work ahead to do. These are just baby steps and there is always more to do. We will probably see a lot more than what we have already seen. The promises for investment made by the Kumar Mangalam Birla Group in textiles and apparel are significantly big. This will sort of inspire more investors to pay more attention to Odisha and its crafts. But, it is right that there is a lot more work that has to be done. But it’s a great effort highlighting Odisha’s potential and I feel proud to be a part of it.

Q. Would you be interested to make any investments or tie-up with the Government of Odisha given your confidence in the State’s potential?

A. I now just have an overall idea and would like to do something for the people of Odisha in the near future that would include the State’s crafts, its people and sort of work that will go well with my brand. How I would go about it and what sort of partnerships I would have, is still undecided. I am preparing for my tenth year anniversary collection but as a part of that, I would like to move a lot of my production into India; and why not artisans of Odisha? I would love to be in a situation where I can work with the artisans and skilled people of Odisha and create some unique products that we can market not only in India but globally. So, the thinking cap is on and I am really inspired by what I have seen here.

Q. You are coming up with the 10th anniversary collection. How has been the last ten years for you in the fashion industry?

A. It has been a great learning experience and I have been building a brand for the last ten years. Some of the ideas I started the brand with are no more valid as our habits have changed, technology has taken a new shape and the consumer has a lot more power. They have direct access to the sources so there are new ways of communicating one’s creative ideas to the ultimate consumer. Definitely, the media, social media, Instagram, twitter, facebook and devices have empowered the consumer. So we are planning to implement a few changes and making the product competitive. We are looking into moving a lot of the production here so that the products can be made here. All the ups and downs experienced in the last ten years have taught me a great deal.

Q. New York is your second home. When are you coming back?

A. I am back and I am a global person. But this will always be my home. But since more time is spent in New York, I don’t know if I can define it as home, so this will always be home. I will be coming to India and to Odisha more often. I love my people as we are wired uniquely. That is what I want to tap into when I come to Odisha to make my product. Our nimbleness, fine thinking and simplicity in our creativity is what I am looking to collaborate with the citizens of Odisha.

Q. How does one differentiate your label from others or what is that one thing that differentiates you from others?

A. It is integrity which I always have aspired my clothes to have through their designs, wearability and what it does to a wearer, how it makes them feel and authenticity of the idea.

Q. Are your clothes aimed for the general masses also or only for a class of people like the Michelle Obamas or Priyanka Chopras?

A. Well, they are people who are on a platform or in the public domain. But my core customers are the real people. We started the brand with a premium label but the goal is to create a ready-to-wear collection where we are part of consumers’ daily life. While we have the Michelle Obama and Priyanka Chopra as sort of brand ambassadors, without the real people, we don’t exist.

Q. If someone wants to buy your collection, where do we find it?

A. You have to reach out to me through social media or instagram. I want to be accessible to my audience because that’s the goal. If I am not, then I am not doing something correctly.

Q. Label garments come with a price tag which might be unaffordable at times. Do you think that label matters?

A. I think a lot of times, we pay price for a brand and at times a lot of work goes into it. If an artisan takes six months to create a saree, it has to be of some worth. But the key is how much of the transactional value goes to the source. That transparency is needed not just in Odisha or India but everywhere. Sometimes if you buy a luxury product like Sambalpuri or handloom textile, these are couture to me. These should be priced very high because the person that made this material have spent incredible amount of time and skill. So, it should be justified in some products. Some people just love to have a Gucci label on their belt to identify with the brand but if it is craft, the price is justified.

Q. How much of Odisha Handlooms and crafts do you use in your clothes?

A. I have used it privately so that I don’t have to buy a lot of it and be mindful of the supply side. Hopefully, by working out of here, we will have multiple sources of the textiles and then we can confidently use them in our collection. Then, we can sell it in the open market and take orders. The worst thing would be to take orders and not able to supply it. So we have to take baby steps and be ready for the next chapter. I am very mindful of that. I look forward to the day when I can get those materials and have access to them.

Q. You have associated yourself with Hollywood, when are you going to associate yourself with Bollywood?

A. I don’t know but we dress a lot of Bollywood celebrities in selective manner. Haven’t done it as yet because the story has to be good and team players need to be inspiring. There are a lot of incredible fashion designers doing beautiful things. If I can see something unique, I will take on that project. I am waiting for it to fall into my hands.

Q. You have been an inspiration for many but who has been your inspiration?

A. Many people which include artisans, craftsmen and definitely my parents and family. Other than these, strong women, who may be living or dead, have been my inspiration.

Q. A word of advice for aspiring designers?

A. Believe in yourself, and your craft, work hard and stay really true to it. You also have to be kind and generous in the process. You cannot do it all alone so you have to build a team. Inspire people and be open to being inspired by them too.

Q. Is it difficult to carve a niche in the industry?

A. If you are confident that you can say something unique through your craft, you can carve a niche. Easier said than done, the key is to find your unique voice.