We sat down with Saloni Shrestha, the co-founder & designer of AGAATI, an artisan fashion brand fusing Nepalese and Indian cultural traditions with our modern tech-driven world
Q: Tell us about AGAATI, what's your story? Do you have a physical location?
A: AGAATI, derived from the Sanskrit word Agati means the origin or arrival of something. The meaning is very close to what we stand for - the arrival of wearable art powering the eco-artisanal movement. As a sustainable womenswear brand our mission is to offer women a lifetime of experiences with gorgeous original designs and while doing that also empowering the hand behind the handmade. After all what we wear is not just a canvas for self-expression but also our choices that have a profound impact on our environment and society.
Q: What are some of your favorite projects that have come about since launching? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?
A: Every collection is so special as it evolves from personal memories and experiences that are soulful and believes in a world that is happy and hopeful. I would like to take the opportunity to mention the Wearable Art collection we launched early Oct 2018. It was in collaboration with Buddhist painters from North East India who hand painted beautiful art on AGAATI designs narrating stories of elements of nature from historical Buddhist stories. You can have a glimpse of the designs on https://igg.me/at/agaati-womenswear
Q: Who are the artisans that you work with on your collections?
A: AGAATI works with a variety of artists and artisans from India and Nepal. They are hand embroiderers, painters, hand knitters and weavers. We want to preserve the art of hand-craftsmanship and make it mainstream. I hope to see more and more people joining to add a voice to making the hand worker economy strong again.
Q: You are based in California but work with artisans in Nepal and India. What are some hidden gems in Nepal/India?
A: The hidden gems vary from the abundance of love from nature that both the countries are blessed and the diversity in culture. Its wonderful to see how people and their cultural practices co-exist harmoniously. Nepal and India have such rich history for textile, embroidery, art which is asource of inspiration for everyone. India has very skilled and talented artisans who can create magical craftsmanship. We are constantly inspired by their translation of our design vision. So far working with non-profits like Aatmiya who support economic empowerment for women has been a good start to supporting the hand worker economy.
Q: Where are your favorite markets in Nepal/India?
A: The markets in both the countries are distributed across different locations and offer variety of charming visual stories. In India Varanasi, one ofthe oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world is a weaving hub and is known for its beautiful textiles among other things. Chandni chowkmarket in New Delhi has the tiniest lanes where if explored properly you can find unique embroidered accessories and trims. Without the right travel partnerone could get lost for hours in this crowded market. For tourists visiting Nepal, Thamel is popular for all the gifts and souvenirs. One of the old cities like Bhaktapur is known for pottery and thangka painting and weaved textile.Small shops house some of the precious artifacts. A special mention is a visit to the school of Paubha artist Lok Chitrakar who has spent a lifetime painting, promoting, and preserving the ancient Newari art of Paubha painting.I was honored to meet him in person and see his years of masterpieces. I hope AGAATI can collaborate with him in the future.
Q: What do you recommend packing when visiting Nepal/India?
A: Comfortable shoes, along with culture and weather appropriate clothes are advisable. People are very friendly and one can totally rely on human navigation to travel around. Everyone knows where to send you to, haha. The food is delicious in both countries.
Q: Do you have a favorite Nepalese craft? Tell us about it.
A: With such vibrant cultures and craftsmanship all around it is very hard to pick one favorite. But not to miss would be the Thangka/Paubha paintings, an art form which we have recently used as inspiration in our designs. Also look at Nepalese hand weaved textile called dhaka. When made from soft hand spun cotton it feels very comfortable on the skin and givesgreat warmth during cold weather.
Q: What should someone bring home that is quintessential Nepalese?
A: Metal handicrafts that are beautifully carved statues of Hindu and Buddhist idols made from copper, bronze and brass. Another memorable gift to oneself or a loved one could beThangka or Paubha art which is a unique painting on cotton or silk applique, usually depicting a Buddhist or Hindu deity, scene or mandala. The visual stories have a religious significance and meaning and reflect the faith and culture of the people. The artists spend years and years getting trained to make this perfectly lined and colored art.
Q: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: Two delicacies that I can eat everyday and still want more are: one, Aludum, which is spicy potato curry. The second is momo (dumplings) made in a very simple manner but tastes so delicious.
Q: What Instagram accounts /websites do you follow/read regularly?
A: There are so many good content places but to highlight a few - Business of Fashion, Good Trade, Ecocult, vogue runway/vogue.com, onewhodresses, Conscious Chatter, and Metmuseum
You can follow Agaati on Instagram @agaati.california or visit the website: www.agaati.com
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.