After uploading photos of the prints online, an intense social media campaign driven by People Tree supporters made the mainstream media take notice. Sen, who enjoys a strong following that laps up his posts and sketches on politics and social justice on Facebook, was pleasantly surprised by the extent of coverage overseas — from The New York Times and The Washington Post to fashion blogs. After @Diet_Prada, a feared Instagram account that calls out plagiarism in the fashion industry, picked up the story, it quickly spread to an even wider audience globally. By the middle of February, Dior got in touch with the company.
Sen says, “All of it would not have been possible if hundreds of people on social media did not speak up strongly for us.” In their posts, users tagged the artistic director of Dior, just as it was publicising its fashion line that included the contentious print which made its way to a hat donned by its ambassador, actor Jennifer Lawrence.
While People Tree’s triumph is seen as one that would inspire small independent firms, craftspeople and rural artisans, Sen’s excitement over the unexpected financial gain fuelling their Goa plans is only natural. Two decades ago, a group of eight friends including Sen and Sidhu had bought the Goa house in a quiet, leafy village. Of late, People Tree has put in money and also taken loans from friends to repair it in fits and starts.
Into its 27th year, the company has chosen to function within a scale where its small team can be involved in the creative process that results in the end products. “People Tree has always been interested in creating a level playing field for artists, designers and craftspeople. They cannot be separated in terms of creativity, but in India craftspeople normally come from the weaker economic sections, artists from varied backgrounds and designers from institutional backgrounds. There are few opportunities for all three to interact,” Sen says, adding that the Goa studio would provide that space.
He feels that a residency experience is vital for the creative rejuvenation of artists, and adds that the art of drawing is disappearing in the design world because of computers. “This space will allow for many kinds of creative exchanges. We want to include local kids so that they can learn if, let’s say, we have an installation artist in the residency.”
Sen describes People Tree’s as a business that is “like a low-tech machine, which consumes less or more natural fuel, creates less pollution and does the job”. It may be one which would be seen as a failure in a capitalist paradigm, but it has allowed the company to stay true to its principles and pursue its craft without constraint. Even if it means standing up for the fights waged by many — or, sometimes, its own.