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Red Eve

Warp and woof of her life's Fabric

Simple and soft-spoken, she is certainly a woman with a strong mind and will. Born in a conservative family of Zamindars of Gujarat, Bina Rao was always inclined towards art. At a very young age, she realised her passion and decided to commit to it. Thus began her journey as a fashion designer and a design consultant. Her brainchild Creative Bee reflects this ideology by being the one-stop destination for authentic, and pure handlooms and weaves in contemporary designs. In a light-hearted conversation, Bina shares how she weaved her way to success.

Formative years
I was born in a village in Gujarat. So I was brought up in the lap of nature. Living in a mansion on an Estate which had plantations all around, my time was spent playing with the children of the domestic helps, estate manager, farmers and others. I was a pampered and protected child. In spite of being a bright kid, I was never keen on going to school. Yet, I was enrolled at the age of 6, as education was always a must. My parents encouraged me to learn music and art which later became my hobbies.

Introduction to fashion
I was never a math and science geek. I loved colours and grew up wearing khadi as my father Dr.Mani Bhai Desai was a Gandhian, a doctor, a philanthropist with a progressive mind. He had always encouraged me to pursue my heart’s desire. So, after completing my 11th standard, my uncle and aunt who are from Baroda told me that MSU had the best Fine Arts stream. The moment I saw the college, I fell in love with it. Five years of graduation and two years of P.G went by in a blink. I joined NID to study textile designing.

The beginning
After my education, and marriage with Kesav Rao, I started off as a design consultant in Hyderabad. During this phase I actually started visiting villages to study the skills of weavers and understand their lives. I understood a few harsh realities when I started working with them and realised that there was a lot more to address. I founded Creative Bee, a design studio with an extensive R&D wing, natural dye farm, well-trained weaving groups, and retail and export marketing divisions.

Need of the hour
I realised that we had to create a financially stable environment for weavers and sustainable work to keep their skills alive. The objective was to make them hone their skills and produce the world class quality products. Creative Bee, which works on a number of private, government and international projects, is the amalgamation of my passion and education.
We were the first computerized textile design studio in the city. It took us almost a decade to streamline all stages of handloom production and marketing. Rao helped me a lot in setting up the block print facility and he researched on natural dyes to find a formula for fast, washable natural dyes. By then he was an established artist, having his shows within the country and abroad. Yet he spared a lot of his time to visit villages with me and finally found a formula to modify the looms with the minimum cost and to create better quality hand woven products. Now we are like one-stop solution to those who want to create handcrafted and eco-friendly fashion. Many established brands and ace designers collaborate with us for design development and production.

The culture of Creative Bee
We now have a retail section which sells our designs. We keeps inventing new weaves & designs. When I started talking about my collections abroad, I realised that there was a lot of demand and appreciation for Indian handlooms. But our artisans didn't make what the world wants in terms of finished products. They didn’t have enough resources, I realised the importance of large-scale interventions which can come from government.
I availed the opportunity to be on the first Advisory Board of Ministry of Textiles, worked and designed policies such as India Handlooms Brand (IHB), Handloom Day and Cluster Development Programmes. I become impatient when the policies take a long time to come into effect or don’t reach the grass-root level.

UN call
Our recent engagement with UN as senior consultants has given an opportunity to work on larger projects in East Africa and also in Telangana. We have an ongoing pilot project ' Disha for 2000 women weavers. It empowers marginalised weavers & handloom workers to turn into entrepreneurs.

Sustainable fashion is the key
Sustainable fashion is not just a word or a trend, it is a whole approach to dos and don’ts, like sustainable farming. The entire value chain gets continuous work with fair wages. The person or company who manages the next chain after the production is the key player. The QC happens there and rejecting any damaged material and penalising the artisan is not a sustainable practice. In other words, the idea is to give the artisans sustainable income and not to punish them for any damages that may happen at their end. So, to achieve this, designers/business houses must find ways and means of using the damaged fabric in the best possible way. Trends like upcycling and recycling are very popular in developed countries. Artisan must be the last person to be penalised for the damage as the weavers work in confined unorganised spaces with poor lighting. At Creative Bee stores, we have discount corner where all the pieces with minor defects are sold for a nominal price. Buyers who are extremely passionate about weaves and design, pick them. We find even top celebrities buying them.

Lessons from the journey
To have smooth functioning of handloom production, you need to build trust a good relationship with the weavers. Respect their creativity. Let them spell out what they want and modify your design or costing accordingly. When I started off on my venture, I knew where I was heading, but people around me were skeptical. Undaunted, I have pursued my goals and it paid off. Being honest to handlooms and eco-friendly fabric is the need of the day. I am honoured feel happy to have been a part of this mission.

I am blind to competition. My motto has been to create designs in their purest and truest form, ensure that our artisans are benefitted and our clients are happy. That is why Creative Bee is called a social business example. Also, we have multi-layered production expertise like sourcing variety of hand-spun yarn, weaving, knowhow of natural and other safe dyes, hand printing, painting, clamp dye, shibori- all under one roof. We balance between Indian & international markets like Japan, USA, UK.

The wave of handlooms
It is nice to see that more and more people and designers are embracing handlooms. But honestly, from the creators' perspective, I believe our job is not done by creating work for them. We have to make an effort to impact their lifestyle. We also render support to the their children’s education.

The way forward
Creative Bee continues to cater to its clients and evolve. My son Mani, who has studied English literature from Cardiff University, saw the potential of our business. He plans to take it further with same ideology and better vision. He wants to work for the welfare of producers.

Balancing work and life
They are not two different entities for me as designing is my passion. Hence balancing has never been the matter of concern. Thankfully, Rao has been with me in the journey and is equally passionate. However, the constant struggle to make a difference and to contribute to a larger social interest and the travel involved may take a toll on your health and make you age. Anyway, where this is a will, there is a way. My passion even now fills me with the same zeal and energy that I had when I set off.

Personal note
I met Rao at MSU, when he joined to pursue PG. Our love story was extremely filmy, like Qayamat se Qayamat thak plot. Till I told them about Rao, I thought my parents were very progressive and would easily accept. I was proved wrong and my parents disagreed, Of course his parents were fine with it. We respected our families decision and waited, continuing with our studies and research. Finally, we got their consent. As a partner, Rao has been extremely supportive. He is the best natural dyer and can create phenomenal coulours with great elan.

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