The grace and elegance with which Neeta Deshpande carried off Indian Natural Fabrics in her day to day dressing was always appreciated by everyone she interacted with at her salon. These compliments grew into small inquiries which gradually translated into business interests. Girish, Neeta’s husband urged her to pursue her quest for natural fabrics. In 1992, with a modest capital of a few thousand borrowed rupees, the journey of Banjaras started from a 60sq ft attic, under the canopy of a banyan tree. Gujarat and Rajasthan were the first obvious choices to be explored; given its repertoire of creations. The first few years however were a period of trials and tribulations but Neeta was determined and she along with her tiny team went up the learning curve. To her amazement, Banjaras rose to be the first player of Handcrafted and Hand printed pure Indian Natural Fabrics in Pune. Today, Neeta ably assisted by her daughter, Nidhi run the store with passion and dedication.
The idea at Banjaras is to break the stereotype of associating natural fabrics and handlooms with conventional Indian wear and sensitizing urban India to the rich Indian heritage of fabric art all under one roof, truly believing in the adage ‘Originality needs Courage’.
Today, although Banjaras represents natural fabrics from 15 Indian states and has advanced towards a store expansion with an in-house exhibition space to promote artisans, Banjaras believes that they have explored only a small fraction of this incredibly gifted sub-continent. How much and how far they continue to explore only time will tell as the 'banjarans’ wander on….
Neeta donned many hats in the initial years of Banjaras – from sourcing to sales. Today, she is more of a mentor at the store. Many of the administrative, staff and retail aspects are handled by her daughter, Nidhi. Neeta devotes time to fabric development, sourcing, craft development. She talks to student groups from the industry, pursues advocacy for the artisans in a small way and takes on a few clients. She learnt Bharatnatyam for many years and has dabbled in it till even recently. Neeta was trained to be a beauty therapist and ran a salon in Pune before Banjaras was born. The staff pulls her leg whenever she indulges in her favourite pass time – lovingly running her hands through the shelves of fabric.
Nidhi considers Banjaras as her sister younger by 2 years. In 2007, when she was in the 12th grade, a staff crunch made it necessary for her to help out at the store. Her role today encompasses planning events, training staff, store layout and administration. She brings in a youth quotient to the store. A complete movie buff, she has traveled to over 15 states of India with her family but has a soft corner for the arts & fabric of Rajasthan. Nidhi, who graduated with French honors from Fergusson College, Pune has pursued a post-graduate degree in Fashion Retail Management from the School of Fashion Technology, Pune. Nidhi along with the design team conceptualized a great option for those who need a uniquely designed outfit but don’t have the time under the name " Mango People" or the Aam Aadmi collection of ready-to-stitch kurta pieces.
Traversing through the interiors of India, what is striking is that extreme craftsmanship exists in very humble conditions. Yes, the government has to fix many things at the ground level, but we for our part, resolved to promote Indian fabrics the best we could. It is very important for Banjaras to make sure that the wealth of our crafts people’s knowledge & skill does not fade away, by making it viable for them to practice their art. We’ve taken small initiatives like giving employment to a deaf artist, supporting an artisan child’s education, following fair business practices and making sure they get their due.