Srila Chatterjee has paired her woven sari from Gujarat with a necklace of amber beads the size of tangerines. At the end hangs a square medallion in silver, which encases a book. Her earrings are made of bone, bought from the Goa night market. There’s a blue raindrop bindi on her forehead. A bracelet, which looks like modern art rolled up, is a gift from a friend. A cobalt-blue silicone watch is a jolt. “I only wear watches from Ice in a few different colours," she tells me.
Chatterjee’s furniture and decor store in mid-town Mumbai, Baro, is full of similar surprises. Its façade is itself a jolt of Jodhpur blue in a dull mill compound. The two-storeyed store is taken up with mid-century modern furniture made with reclaimed teak and Baro’s distinctive colour pops. In the Baro Market section—launched earlier this year to house emerging brands from across the country—I discover product categories I’ve never heard of before. An “Ayurvedic" sari? A knee cushion for gardening?
The two-and-half-year-old store has been on the Mumbai calendar for various reasons, not always related to what it sells. A special screening of Nandita Das’ Manto, a soz khwani performance by Lucknow’s Askari Naqvi, artist Sunil Padwal taking audiences through his installation at the Kochi Biennale. “Because we have the space, I feel you got to share it... this is a city that has very little space," says Chatterjee.
Next weekend (24-25 August), Chatterjee is all set to launch her newest initative, The Good Life. “Sustainable" is a dodgy word now and she is less inclined to use it. “Everything we do at Baro is part of this thinking… it’s not culled out for a weekend event. But what I want to highlight with this weekend is that you can live the good life by living good also," she says.
Chatterjee believes you can only feel good if everything you do or think focuses on living with a conscience. “It doesn’t make sense if it’s just okay, I’ll eat an organic pizza today. What about what you’re doing every day? What are the choices you are making? How much waste are you generating?" she says.
Chatterjee worked in the advertising industry with her production house Highlight Films for 25 years—it was there that she honed her design eye. How does she reconcile the two, I ask. “I tried to work my own way and then quit when it was no longer possible. The first 10 years were fantastic. The travel, the quality of people I worked with. In the end, I hated it. I quit when I couldn’t do it my way anymore."
Can buying more products actually be a step towards better living? Chatterjee believes so, in the twin ways in which it can help reorient your thinking and support deserving initiatives. “If you can add to that empathy and a feeling of “us" rather than “me"... if what you buy, what you use, has a story to it," she says.
Her goal in the curation of the 28 artisans and small studios from across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Shimla, Jaipur and Hampi is to present a sustainability that is all encompassing. “One that looks after the planet that hosts us, that cares for the people and crafts and skills being marginalized and that boosts a sense of community that gets forgotten in this very high-tech age," she adds.
They include Emily Chakraborty’s Kaisori, which sources handmade soaps with natural ingredients from the Kashmir valley—Chatterjee hasn’t been able to reach the Kaisori team in the last few days, however, and is hoping the soaps arrive. There’s Boheco Hemp that creates green fashion for men and women with organically grown and consciously dyed hemp fabric; the Kishkinda Trust from Hampi that uses banana fibre and water hyacinth for basketry, linen and home accessories; and Inmate, which presents footwear created by prison inmates. On the upcycling front, there’s Hamsini, a Bengaluru brand that invites you to bring your vintage saris to be transformed into bespoke quilts, and Silaiwali, which organizes Afghani refugee women to make dolls from fabric waste.
Chatterjee says the list comes from her travels, via gifts or recommendations from friends and colleagues, and often “one leads to another". “We had planned this as a selection of 20 brands. Eight got added as people wrote in... I was flooded with emails," she says, adding that Kishkinda Trust was added based on a cold email from them after The Good Life was announced on their social media channels.
In their own retail practice, Baro reuses their corrugated packing material and bubble wrap studiously. “We’ve tried like anything to replace bubble wrap and haven’t found anything that we can use without ruining the furniture," says Chatterjee. Baro delivery boys, she says, are instructed to make the thinnest slits in the packing material and bring it all back for reuse. “We are reusing 70% of our bubble wrap," says Chatterjee. “Good living can also start with printing on double-sided paper."