With the launch of its in-store H Project shops last year, Canadian luxury retailer Holt Renfrew made a commitment to feel-good fashion. As part of this ongoing initiative, Alexandra Weston, Holt’s director of brand strategy, and Waris Ahluwalia, master collaborator and founder of jewellery label House of Waris, travelled to India to source unique products—and the stories behind them—for an H Project line called Uncrate India. We asked Ahluwalia for the back story on this collaboration, which supports UNICEF initiatives in India.
How did your adventure with Holt Renfrew begin? Let’s rewind to a call I had with Alex to discuss this idea of travelling to India to find craftspeople to make beautiful things. It was right up my alley. We would be looking not just for established craftspeople, but also for young upstarts.
So how exactly did you go about finding younger artisans? We found them everywhere, in every city. Right now people are actually interested in the idea of craft and wanting something special… and using craftsmanship as a technique in contemporary design.
Tell us about one discovery you’re especially excited about. We’ve been working with a young company called 1701 that makes beautiful, colourful leather goods, [like] bags and wallets. They have a fresh perspective that’s not traditional when you think about India. It’s very contemporary.
What would you say is at the core of H Project? The concept of origin—knowing the provenance of the things you buy. When you know where things come from, you become an educated shopper. When you’re educated and informed, you know there is another person at the end of this chain who has made this [item] by hand. There is a sense of connectivity that crosses all borders.
How would you describe the current state of craftsmanship in India? There’s an incredible history of arts and crafts. That amazing heritage is a foundation. The newer generation is more globalized and they are online, so they are more influenced by the whole world, but they have within their back pocket the heritage of India.
What keeps them creating? I think it very much comes from the idea of a thoughtful life, something that covers family and all facets of Indian culture. You know, a considered life, a sense of responsibility. I know these are lofty ideas, but I think it keeps coming down to connectivity.
Until May 31, 2014, Holt Renfrew’s H Project spaces at Bloor Street, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Calgary and Vancouver will transform into Uncrate India shops in support of UNICEF’s lifesaving work for children in India.