Jaipur is globally renowned for being a hub of Indian craft. Unlike some other places in India, many of the traditional crafts are thriving thanks to dedicated efforts from passionate craft advocates. Ayush and Geetanjali Kasliwal are two such people. They are superb design thinkers, practitioners and are committed to supporting sustainable local craft. Ayush graduated in furniture design from the acclaimed National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and Geetanjali is a qualified architect.
Over a decade ago, they created a design studio founded on a belief that a contemporary design aesthetic needs to be integrated into traditional Rajasthani crafts, for them to survive and thrive. Today, as well as the studio, they also have a boutique in Jaipur and also are actively taking on design projects including hotel interiors and public art installations. Both Ayush and Geetanjali also believe in giving back and are active in the cultural life of Jaipur as well as teaching and mentoring younger designers.
The AKFD Storey studio is located at Sitapura, not far from the Jaipur airport, in a huge purpose-built warehouse, which has both the production workshops and also an impressive showroom to present their work. The AnanTaya boutique is located in the heart of town. As well as their own products they also showcase a curated collection of other contemporary crafts made locally. Signature products include the Trinetra ‘Third Eye’ candle holder, a cluster of beaten brass pods and the Rohida wooden bowls, traditional vessels made from a native Rajasthani tree, used by Jain priests. One of my favourite products is the brightly coloured kite wrapping paper made by the kite makers in the old city, which is a way of keeping them in work year-round, not simply for the time leading up to the kite festival.
Our conversation took place leading up to Diwali, in late October during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
Selecting candidates to hire for our new social media team and thinking about the sweets we need to get made at home for the festive season. Thinking of appropriate gifts to give to friends this festive season. We’ve suddenly realised that we have everything we need. Gifts can be intrusive, so for us, we want to give a gift that is meaningful, and which conveys the simplicity of emotions.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
Finalising new product ideas for the season ahead. We just finished a stationery range out of upcycled wood cut blocks called Capsule Collection that is a boon for working from home. Ayush is going to work to sort out the Diwali staff bonuses.
How "real" does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
Around us the virus has become prevalent. Almost every third household that we know has suffered or is undergoing. The virus is becoming increasingly familiar and the threat seems to recede with this familiarity. My father-in-law and our oldest daughter contracted Covid a few days back. They are both quarantined, asymptomatic and coping well. We are increasingly aware that the only thing which works not just for pandemic but for life in general is good health, exercise, mindful nutrition and most importantly a clear unencumbered mind.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
A continuous evaluation of what is important. Trying to stick to what is essential and beautiful. Doing what must be done. There has been a slowing of physical pace accompanied with a depth of thought. It is a state that we are personally inclined to and are happy about.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
A world that doesn’t hesitate to pause and think.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
As of right now we see a lot of positive from the pandemic. We see people coming together selflessly collaborating on a common good using their inherent strengths.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with? Have you made any changes or thought of any that you will implement going forward?
We have learnt that geography doesn’t matter anymore. Tools of collaboration have become de rigueur. A full 360-degree approach to marketing increasingly digital mediums has been the new necessity: Zoom calls, Miro (website), HubSpot etc.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
The need to travel for work has just about vanished. So, when we want to travel, the first question is must we? And then only if it is worth it, do we go forward. We are thinking about heading up to the mountains and perhaps to the northeast of India.
What are you finding inspiring now?
The capacity of people around me thinking beyond what is of immediate concern to them. Also, that people are being considerate about everyone and having renewed respect for clean air and greenery.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
My youngest daughter, Devika, showering half a bucket full of dried-up bougainvillea flowers and leaves on me as an expression of love after her ‘gratitude’ class.
Given we are about to celebrate the festival of lights, what has brought light into your life in the last 12 months?
Our daughters Anunya, Tanaya and Devika. Never have we spent so much uninterrupted time with them. Covid has brought out the best in them. It has been pure joy to see them turn into fine young women, empathetic, giving and bringing joy in lives of artisans whose livelihoods have been impacted by the current crisis. Anunya and Tanaya created the LuvAnd brand of braids. They worked with four young women from the rug (dhurrie) weaving community in Badva, Rajasthan, whose livelihoods were impacted by Covid, turning dhurrie waste into beautifully braided bands. A third of the proceeds went to climate resilient societies. They also have been involved with climate change initiatives against the EIA amendment draft by the government.
Also, it has been wonderful to see the craft veterans come together and collaborate to create.
If a reader would like to make a contribution, can you recommend a specific organization/initiative that could do with the support?
Led by craft enthusiasts and volunteers, Creative Dignity and Hand for Handmade are amazing movements that were born for supporting and empowering artisans in India. They are providing relief and rehabilitation to thousands of artisans whose livelihoods have been impacted by Covid.
AKFD Storey is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm. The AnanTaya flagship store at Narain Niwas Palace in Jaipur is open daily 10.30am to 8pm. Both offer online shopping on their websites. Geetanjali can be contacted directly to discuss design commissions. Please take my reference and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.