Holt Renfrew’s Alexandra Weston launches Uncrate India project with House of Waris

The days of mass-produced, poorly-crafted goods are numbered – and Waris Ahluwalia of House of Waris couldn’t be more thrilled.

“We are in a time when there’s a backlash against mediocrity and about everything being the same,” the Indian-American designer told HELLO! Online. “When you know where things come from, you have a sense of responsibility.”

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From the food on his table to the clothes on his back, Waris knows where everything in his life is produced, and what it means for the people who made it.

It’s a movement for sustainability that’s picking up steam. Nowadays, consumers are interested in more than cheap, hastily-made items, he says. They want beautiful, artisanal products that tell a story.

Enter Holt Renfrew’s Uncrate project, which collaborates with renowned designers to create capsule collections inspired by a particular culture – this year, it is the beautiful colours and spirit of India.

THE PROCESS

Alexandra Weston, Holt Renfrew curator and Uncrate powerhouse, was so excited to collaborate with House of Waris that not even a blast of bad weather could stop her from getting the project (and herself!) off the ground.

“Alex flew to New York from Toronto in the middle of a snowstorm to discuss this project, which was quite a feat!” said Waris, inspired.

From there, the concept blossomed into a full-blown mission. While touring some of India’s most vibrant cities – Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and Mandawa – the creative duo visited craftsmen and markets, selecting fabrics, materials and items that would define the look and feel of the collection.

“We went half in-the-know and half-blind; we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Alexandra, describing the experience of scouring artisanal spaces.

Of course, it wasn’t all strictly business.

“After going into some of the workshops, [the artisans] would invite us into their houses for dinner,” she said. “So that was really special.”

FROM VISION TO REALITY

After the painstaking process of curating, designing, ordering and shipping, the final result – a beautiful assortment of keepsake items, all handpicked from India’s thriving industry of artisans – was well worth it. Some of Waris’s favourite items in the capsule collection include a decorative marble bowl and a hand-woven rug.

Best of all, Uncrate India is composed of pieces at a wide range of price points, from House of Waris costume jewelry (made with semi-precious stones and silver) to the luxurious, diamond-and-gold creations for which the brand is famous.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to see the incredible products that exist outside what we’re used to seeing, and to have a global insight into some of the incredible pieces that are coming from places you may not expect,” said Alexandra.

“And it is hoped, to continue shopping globally in places that really need the support.”

THE IMPACT

The motivation behind Uncrate was twofold: to look to the heritage of artisans whose trade has been passed down for generations, and to support young, innovative and current Indian craftsmen.

“It’s not just about these pieces existing in a museum, in a gallery or in a beautiful coffee-table book,” said Waris. “It’s about seeing how they can exist as a real, commercial enterprise. “That's what my interest in craftsmanship has always been rooted in – as a real viable option for these traditions to live on.”

Uncrate has also partnered with UNICEF – the largest operating charitable network in India – and is donating $15,000, which will support funding health and education initiatives for children in India.

Shop the Uncrate India project at Bloor Street, Yorkdale, Calgary and Vancouver stores.

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