A man who spins his #MondayBlues into beautiful indigo hues, Harsh Agarwal, founder of Harago, a menswear brand rooted in India tradition, tells his story like never before. Inspirational and fierce, his story is all heart.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
Let me take you back a little. As a kid, I would throw out things from my house that wasn’t aesthetic to its setting. For instance, when I was just about five years old, I took off some cushion covers and threw them out onto the street. This other time I threw out an old music system because it had way too many wires and it was annoying me. Yes, I have been that kid haha. Well, with time, the habit of throwing things away came to a halt and I started creating beauty without throwing things away. Imagery has always been important for me as has the overall visual aesthetics. I have always been creatively inclined, however I ended up majoring in Economics at my undergrad University and then worked with companies and nonprofits on solar energy and waste management projects. But now I am back to doing what I enjoyed the most as a child, design and creativity. Life truly has come full circle.
2. How did you start your brand?
I have always had an interest in textiles, specifically craftsmanship based and vintage textiles. I used to source fabrics by meeting the craftspeople directly during my travels to certain places. I once visited Telangana and sourced this beautiful emerald green fabric woven in very minimal ikat pattern. I bought it and later made a jacket out of it. Similarly, I visited a village called Tarapur in Madhya Pradesh with my maternal grandmother. I explored the block printing process there and bought fabrics on yardage basis from the makers of it. Later I made shirts for myself out of them. This way I had been collecting and filling my trunk with many fabrics from various parts of India.
While I was working with the UNHCR team in New York, I met several interesting people at the UN involved in something called “sustainable-fashion”. It got my attention and made me curious to learn more about it. I wasn’t very convinced that fashion could actually be sustainable but I still engaged in many conversations with several people from the industry. I decided to come back to India and travel the country, meet the craftspeople from a different perspective altogether now. I observed various craftsmanship techniques rooted in traditional culture, like handloom weaving, tie-dye, applique, block printing, chikankari etc. All the craft was so inspiring. It inspired me to just dive into it, knowing nothing about it in a professional manner. I started my research in a more organized manner then. I saw there wasn’t enough of menswear being made utilizing the traditional textiles craftsmanship so I decided to start a menswear label, which would work in a responsible way with the craftspeople to make beautiful clothes for men. This is how the idea of creating HARAGO started.
3. What were the difficulties you faced in the initial days, whilst setting up your brand?
I had to face several challenges in the beginning, as I wasn’t formally trained in textiles or fashion. But those challenges were fulfilling and with my passion to set up this brand I was willing to give it my all. I did not understand the technical textile constructions or the technical pattern making of the clothes. I gave myself time and learnt everything through travelling and one on one meetings with the weavers.
4. Was rural India and the culture of India an inspiration for you whilst setting up your brand?
I wouldn’t say that rural India was the inspiration but the traditional craft that local people have been practicing there for the longest has truly been an inspiration. Seeing the beautiful fabrics that they were able to produce on handloom inspired me to create this brand as I thought that more people should have access to clothing made in using such excellent fabric.
5. Have you chosen not to mass-produce your items? How is it important to your voice, as a brand and as a brand owner?
Yes we absolutely do not practice mass produce at HARAGO. We do not understand the ideology behind mass production and believe that mass production interferes with our ethos of - knowing who are buyers are. We prefer to take the orders first and then schedule small-scale production. This allows us to maintain the quality of construction to ensure the long-life of the garment. This way we also stay away from the whole concept of “sale”. We never have to put our pieces on sale, as there is never any dead stock created. We believe in creating small quantity made with high quality paying fair wages to the tailors instead of mass-producing, undermining the quality check and then later having to sell them at a mark down price, benefiting neither the craftspeople nor the business.
6. Why sustainable fashion?
We never like to say that, HARAGO is a “sustainable fashion” brand. That would actually not be appropriate, in fact the fashion industry in itself can never be sustainable. There are always so many new ideas and inspirations and thus as a result multiple creations and this takes up a lot of resources. We are striving to be as responsible and accountable of our activities. As a brand, we like to express our affection for the historical methods and traditional textile making techniques like handloom weaving, natural dyeing, tie-dye, block printing etc. We like to work with craftspeople involved in such craftsmanship and develop surface designs and the beautiful handspun / hand-woven fabrics that we can use for our collection. We are striving to be mindful of our choices and the way we use resources. It is the little things that count for us, for example we make buttons out of the fabric-cutouts and use only hand-woven fabrics thus allowing weavers to remain productive with their ancient skills.
7. What has been your inspiration throughout your Harago journey?
My only inspiration throughout my HARAGO journey has been the wonderful craftsmanship of the artisans. My process starts by meeting them and seeing their craft. It inspires me to think of what I can do with their craft, how I can make clothing out of it, what kind of design will work and what not. Knowing the craftspeople and learning about their craft is the inception of the design brainstorming, that follows shortly after. I love it.
8. What sets your brand apart from the other sustainable fashion brands out there in the market?
Unlike other brands, we don’t talk about sustainability but rather the craftsmanship and the historical textile techniques.
9. Do you believe that travel contributes to fashion?
Yes it does. Travelling to different places can give you inspiration. It can show you the different ways in which people dress in a particular region. We are always travelling to discover and meet new craftspeople, learning about their craft and the product they are
making. This inspires us to develop certain kinds of textiles for the brand. Fabric lies at the heart of HARAGO.
10. How have your travels contributed to your fashion sensibility?
I always like to observe the silhouettes men are wearing in different parts of the country. I take them as my inspiration and give a HARAGO twist to them. Our kameez shirt silhouette is inspired from the traditional kameez that has been worn by men for the longest time. We played around with its length and the placket to make it more clean and palatable to the modern man.
11. Do you think it is important to keep up with the trends in fashion right now, or do you believe in setting up your own trends?
We do not follow the trends, be it colour, silhouette, fabrics or construction. We like to do what we feel works with our customers and we also like to take our customers' point of view whenever we look to start work on a new collection.
12. Where do you see Harago in the next few years?
I see the brand to be growing in multiple folds and creating its own identity so that when people see a certain mood, or a certain face or a certain look, they say- “that’s so HARAGO!”.
13. Would you have fashion advice for the budding fashionistas out there?
I would encourage people to find their style and stick to it. Be original. Express yourself and create your own identity through your clothes.
14. Is there anything else you think our readers need to know about your brand let us know!
Umm no, I guess I have covered almost everything in previous questions