Spotlight: Sherry Shroff

Meet model-turned-blogger-turned-YouTuber Sherry Shroff. Warm and bubbly, her #awesomesauce lies in her authenticity and genuine love for what she does. If you have caught even the slightest glimpse of her channel, you know exactly what I mean. From how to grow and sustain a channel to how she handles hate, she spoke to HHC about it all. Excerpts from a chat: 

Before we begin, can we take a minute to trace the history of hashtag awesomesauce?
I don’t remember where I saw it for the first time and I don’t claim to have invented it but it was one of those things that caught my eye in the digital boom. You know how some words just catch on? This one stayed with me because it’s pretty much the summary of my thought process: life is great and everything is amazing. Somewhere down the line, people began identifying #awesomesauce with me because I say it a lot. Let’s just say I am a big repeater of words!

How did you discover the world of video?
It all started when I was modeling. Friends started asking me for fashion and beauty advice so I began writing a blog. It was the thing to do and I enjoyed fashion but I had no intention to monetize it. Soon after, I realized that a blog would never be my strength. I was a terrible writer, my spellings were atrocious and it used to take me a whole day to write one post! I remember asking myself: Why am I writing this if I can’t write?
Around the same time, I was approached by a network for a video blogging format and I took it up as just as another modeling assignment. After about 9-10 months, I took a leap of faith and decided to start my own channel. I shot my first video on my webcam at a hotel in Rajasthan and that video is still on my channel! 

What is the secret ingredient in your #awesomesauce?
I have only one secret: Content is king. It’s cliche, but also true. You can buy as many followers as you like, but if your content is not good, you won’t grow. I’m also a big fan of keeping things organic, that’s the only way to sustain yourself.
I feel lucky to have my own channel. I wake up thinking about content to create. I don’t have a bank of videos and I don’t schedule anything. I don’t think of fancy brand collaborations or how many subscribers I want in five years. For me, it’s never been about numbers. At the end of the day, as a blogger or YouTuber, you are your viewership. So don’t be fake, stay organic, focus on the content and that’s the secret to #awesomesauce!

And lastly, how do you deal with hate?
It’s part of the process. You have to realize and acknowledge that you can’t please everyone. I am a people pleaser by nature. I respond to people even if they are being obnoxious. If anyone is abusive, I delete, block and report but only after letting them know that it won’t be tolerated on my channel. I don’t want to give that person the satisfaction of trying to bully me. Today it’s me, tomorrow it’s going to be a young 14-year-old creator who doesn’t know how to defend himself or herself.
Often, people don’t know if they are being rude or constructive. Haters think that if you are putting yourself out there, you better listen to them. There are no filters on the internet so it’s very easy to throw shade on someone with just a random name and email or picture. I think it’s important to take criticism constructively, but it’s more important not to be affected by the voices.

Images via Sherry’s Instagram. Check out her channel here.

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The first time I met Eina Ahluwalia was in 2004. I walked into her home-studio in Calcutta; as a customer, not as a journalist; but left feeling like I’ve made a friend. This year marks 14 years of our friendship, and 15 years of her life as a jewelry designer. Her label used to be called Breathing Space and I remember thinking what a meaningful brand name. But what I didn’t know back then was that ‘meaningful’ is perhaps the best one-word description for the Eina Ahluwalia ethos.
One of my proudest Eina moments was when she sent out Wedding Wows at Lakme Fashion Week in August 2011. It was a full house. An alternate image of the Indian bride was unveiled and the runway bride was sending this message to her husband: ‘Love, Respect & Protect Me, Or else I will.’ Goosebumps, till today.
Eina went on to become India’s first conceptual designer. The market was flooded with ‘statement jewelry’ but Eina stood her ground, only designing pieces that had something to say. (Something other than ‘look at me, I am wearing big earrings’.)
She now has a dedicated studio in Calcutta. Typical studio scenes involve a coffee. A sketchbook is calling for attention, but the laptop ends up grabbing it. Karigars are bringing in pieces, Wilson & Arnab packing and shipping. And her sister/brand head Atikaa is trying to get her to take a video and she is refusing with bad excuses. Excerpts from a chat…

DoB: May 9, 1975
Education: Jewelry training with Ruudt Peters and Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School. MBA from Janki Devi Bajaj Institute of Management Studies
First conceptual piece designed: The Containment Pendant featuring a buffalo horn container and silver fretwork
Most validating career moment: The New York Times article & the inclusion of the Kirpan Necklace in the book Showcase 500 Art Necklaces
Currently reading: Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh

Via Eina’s Instagram

What is the soul of an Eina Ahluwalia piece?
The core of an EA piece is strong, spiritual and feminist. Each piece is opinionated and unapologetic. It speaks its mind, gently but firmly.

How has the market evolved since you started out?
A lot has changed since 2003. The customer has become more discerning and is now willing to pay a much higher price per piece for design and quality, irrespective of the material. The primary jewellery buyer used to be the man (father or husband) but now it’s mostly women buying jewellery for themselves, without waiting for an occasion, purely for their own joy and satisfaction. The biggest factor is that more and more women are earning their own money and spending it on themselves instead of just saving it or contributing towards the family, and that self-gratification no longer carries the guilt it did even just a generation ago.

And what is your favorite part of the process?
The moment when the first sample is finally ready after all the edits, and it’s perfect! That’s the moment of birth, and sometimes the piece actually turns out more beautiful than you imagined it and that is quite magical!

Does Bollywood matter?
Yes, of course. It is the patronage of actors that helps brands like us to get a wider visibility and audience.

What’s your advice for a young brand to stand out in the social media noise?
Be authentic, speak your truth. In the clutter of messages, the only thing that stands out and sticks in the minds of people is something that touched them emotionally.

What are five of your fave pieces of jewelry that are not designed by you?
Article 22 bangle from the Peacebomb collection that says “I ‘heart’ peace” and “dropped + made in Laos”. These are made using materials from unexploded bombs that were dropped in Laos to support traditional Laotian artisan livelihoods, village development, community endeavors and further de-mining efforts.
A necklace with a silver boxing glove titled “The Greatest” inspired by Mohammad Ali by Austrian jewellery artist Katharina Schmid.
A beautiful scarab pendant by Portugese jewellery artist Andreia Quelhas Lima.
A pearl and silver necklace by Greek jewellery artist Ariadni Kypri.
Be Bangle that says F*cking Fierce which I wear every single day.

What else do you wear every day?
My Waheguru necklace or my Labradorite Synchronicity necklace, sometimes both, layered. My monogram earrings, the Unconditional Love ring band in 18k rose gold, Labradorite Synchronicity ring and a ruby ring I’ve been wearing for 10 years now. A kada and a thin gold bangle with a tiny Khanda hanging off it.  

Finally, what’s a good starting point for a woman who wants to explore pieces purely for her own enjoyment, to celebrate herself?
First, there are no rules. Pieces that mean something to her, remind her of someone or something, a perfect holiday maybe. Symbols of protection, gifts of love. Reminders of strength, totems of hope. Pieces she wears everyday and that become a part of her, or special occasion pieces for when she wants to pull out all the stops. 

Check out Eina’s pieces here. 

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Spotlight: Vaya Weaving Heritage

A love affair with the Maheshwari sari that started in the late 1980s led to a larger love of textiles and then a career in a Maheshwar non-profit for 22 years. Growing up admiring her mother’s elegance who wore a gorgeous organdie every day, meet Mira Sagar, the force behind Vaya Heritage Weaves. Excerpts from a chat:

What prompted you to launch Vaya?
It was always a dream to have a store for handwoven textiles showcasing weaves from all over the country, spanning various techniques and price points, but also contemporary enough that my daughter would also find something in the same store. Bappaditya of Bailou, Gaurang Shah and I shared a common vision about the handwoven sari — that it need not be drab and boring — and that was instrumental for the launch of Vaya. I strongly believe that if we convince the generation in the 30s age bracket to appreciate the culture, tradition and heritage that we often take for granted, we have possibly saved it for the coming 30 to 40 years making the ‘revival’ forward their responsibility.

Having worked with weavers for more than two decades, what are some learnings?
The important thing I’ve learned is to respect a weaver’s work, his or her time spent on the loom and never to bargain. It is only then that weavers are willing to improvise and produce the best quality textile. I also learned that weaving is a form of meditation and when the weaver is at peace with himself /herself, the result is an exquisite, flawless textile.

What are the challenges India faces to protect our heritage weaves?
Our biggest need is businessmen/women who understand the intricacies of handloom and what it takes to run a successful business. Another hurdle is rampant copying. So much goes into bringing out new designs, techniques and concepts which unfortunately, get copied overnight, instantly killing the market.

Which three weaves top your personal list?
Maheshwari for its simplicity of texture and design, Jamdani of Andhra, Bengal and Benares for flexibility of the technique and lightness of the textile, and Patan Patola for the richness and ease of being able to wear it anywhere, anytime.

P.S: Look up Vaya here.
Image credit: Vaya Weaving Heritage

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Beyond Six Yards: Championing The #Sari

Way before #SariNotSorry was trending on Instagram, many young Indians were already, albeit silently, championing the sari.

I remember when Sabyasachi launched his flagship store in Calcutta back in 2010, his invite was the talk of town. A sepia-tinted tin container inside which stood a rolled handloom sari, accompanied by a simple handwritten note. He was on the mission to ‘Save the Sari’. Back then, I didn’t quite believe the sari was an endangered species (I was living in Calcutta and surrounded by elegant women draped impeccably in six yards) but in the last few years, I have begun to understand why the sari needs so much saving.

Not different from Sabyasachi, High Heel Confidential has been a crusader of the sari, championing the cause right from the early days of the blog until now, 10 years later. It’s no secret that Priyanka & Payal love themselves a good sari spotting. “You will always hear us give props to those who chose to wear the garment and if you look at all our celebrity sari posts, you may find that we’ve been a wee bit more biased there! If we wrote about fashion that was India-centric, how can we omit the sari which is such a central piece of the whole story?”

Thus unravelled a sari story on HHC, the first few chapters of which were part organic and part deliberate. P&P admit that they have decided to make a conscious decision to give the sari as much exposure as they can. “The idea was to share the craft behind the garment as we ourselves learn more about this unassuming, often-underrated garment. We would like to get to a point where we can answer any basic question you may have about the sari. The mission is to make the sari ubiquitous, approachable, accessible and most importantly relatable and relevant to everyone.”  

Over the years we have seen some stellar sari moments on the pages of this blog. Konkona, Mini and Maria always have P&P’s attention thanks to their effortless drapes. Aishwarya At Cannes though not recent, was definitely memorable. Roohi when she styled hers with a Gucci belt, also memorable. And Sonam Kapoor’s experiments with non-traditional saris like NorBlackNorWhite and RimZim Dadu and, of course, HHC in-house fave Anamika Khanna always has their attention piqued.

Exposure to various fashion seasons, eras of fashion, designers and the crafts have only cemented their love for the sari. The next step was to take their passion a level further and this is when High Heel Confidential signed up as an Associate Producer for one of the films of The Sari Series. The Sari Series is a digital anthology documenting India’s regional sari drapes. This is a non-profit initiative by Border&Fall and the short film we are involved with happens to be about a drape from Orissa along with a signature weave from the state. Needless to say, this makes Payal super giddy with excitement!  

At some point, when all this was happening, Priyanka & Payal consciously decided to wear more saris themselves. Shunning the notion that a sari is a hassle, they believe that there is a sari for everyone. “Find a sari that fits your style or better still, figure out a way you can wear it and make it your own. Stick to the classics and try out many of the blouse styles on offer, or go all out and pair the sari with anything from tees, crop-tops and moto-jackets… It is what you make of it!” And if you follow Priyanka and Payal on Instagram, you know these girls are walking the talk. 

Join our Beyond Six Yards movement and let’s vow to wear the sari more often. Because #SariNotSorry (or #SareeNotSorry if you prefer). 


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Beyond Six Yards: Gaurang Shah

Gaurang Shah embarked on his journey as a textile advocate almost two decades ago.  His mission was simple: Make handloom relevant to the global Indian woman because he believes that she is the best ambassador of India and its unique textile heritage. His story began with reimagining the Upada of Andhra Pradesh, and in the last 17 years he has grown from working with 8 weavers in one region to more than 800 weavers through the country.
With a focus on textile fusion and artisanal diversity and harboring a soft spot for the Jamdani weave, the brand has now expanded to include Kota, Paithani, Benarasi, Patan Patola, Khadi and Dhakai. We caught up with the designer to chat about our fave fashion topic — the sari.

What was the sari scene like back in 2001?
The love for the sari were almost fading as more and more women in India were choosing western wear. Back then, handlooms lacked the modernity women craved and there was a strong drift towards chiffon and georgette due to its ability to drape easily. For a textile admirer like me, it was like a moment of ‘pause’, where I felt the need to come up with ways to make the handloom sari back in vogue. Weavers needed to be convinced to innovate with unique techniques and to create a new fusion of textiles. It was challenge but I loved every moment, and today when I see the sari receiving  standing ovation on fashion week runways or on celebrities, the satisfaction is immense.

The designer specializes in Jamdani. Jamdani is a brocaded fabric woven with discontinuous extra weft yarns. When Gaurang couldn’t find craftsmen to weave his creations, he began training local weaver’s families, even setting up new looms and introducing them to new forms of Jamdani weaving.

What is the mission of your brand?
We believe that there is a heirloom piece for every single woman out there and we hope that women will take great pride in wearing the sari on every single occasion. Our mission is to make the handloom relevant to the global Indian woman because we believe that she is the ambassador of our nation and its unique textile heritage. The goal is not only to make our brand universally appealing, but to make handloom a sustainable grassroots activity offering weavers and other ancillary trades a stable livelihood. Creating new clusters, new looms, artisanal diversity for our weavers and rewarding them with economic boom, was and will always continue to be my main focus. The goal was to bring sari back in vogue and according to me, the only way you can make craft a passion is if you emphasize on productivity and economic impact.

How would you describe your design sensibility?
A fine balance between traditional heritage and a contemporary sensibility.

Looks from Chitravali, an anthology of 40 handcrafted ensembles inspired by 30 frescos from caves of Ajanta. “A master painter replicated the frescos of the caves and Kalamkari paintings were created using natural dyes and involved 17 tedious steps to process.” Kanjeevaram’s signature bright colors were subdued in the natural dyes, using korvai weaving technique while maintaining with archaic temple tales.

What is the process of creating a Gaurang sari?
Every pattern that we envision is laboriously sketched for days and months before turning them over to the weaver to be woven in his looms. The process and the technique are different and unique for each weave and state, so the timeline depends on the design and weaving complexity. Some of our creations have taken over three to four years to become a reality.

Did you ever imagine your label to experience this mainstream success and how important is it to have a celebrity like Vidya Balan patronize the brand?
The mainstream attention certainly wasn’t immediate. It took me a couple of years to make my customers understand what my creations were and what it would mean to them as a fashion statement. In the early days, my almirahs were full of stock, the khadi saris hardly sold, and now they fly off the shelf as soon as they leave the loom.
Vidya Balan is a constant inspiration for us. She is passionate towards the handloom, especially the sari and has a deep understanding of how it is woven, the eco angle, the natural colors and so much more. It is the confidence with which she wears a sari that makes it glorious.

Runway image credit: Gaurang Shah

P.S: High Heel Confidential is an associate producer of a film that’s part of The Sari Series: An Anthology of Drape. The passion for Sari is real, like you didn’t already know that!

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