Biplob Saha on his decades-long journey as an artist, Bishwo Rang and the challenges fashionpreneurs are going to face in coming days
Rang celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year. How has “Rang” evolved over the last two and a half-decade?
First of all, Rang is now called “Bishwo Rang”. Rang was born out of a hobby. In the beginning, my likings and vision were given priority when it came to designs, but with time the priority has changed and now it speaks more about what people like and expects from the fashion house. A sense of maturity has entered our design, business plan, strategy etc.
Do you think your creativity is being hindered because now your brand is more focused on what the mass likes?
It works in a parallel way. When it comes to designing, my vision still does get the priority but I have been taking others feedbacks and expectations into consideration. That “other” person can be a member of this company, a friend or a consumer. Twenty years back this was not the scenario. Back in those days, it did not matter (to me) if it “clicked” with the consumer in the market; it was more about giving my ideas tangibility. Products getting sold used to give me the idea that it was probably a good design and I must have done something right. Fast forward to the present time, that kind of spontaneity has been replaced with responsibility and liability to a great extent. The production size has grown over time; the supply chain has evolved. One of the core philosophies of our enterprise is to care for the artisans – whether they can sell enough to earn a livelihood is a big concern for us. Which is why making enough business is a factor we cannot ignore, and pleasing the mass in the age of endless options is a challenge we have been successfully nailing.
We know that in 2015 due to some partnership related difficulties, you separated and Bishwo Rang was born. Was it emotionally difficult to change the name of the brand?
When my first son was born, many told me to name him “Rang” but I did not follow their advice. For me, Rang was my first child. I have been nurturing it since the inception of the entity. Skipping meals or sacrificing nights of sleep for the sake of Rang was a regular thing in my life. Thus, it became a part and parcel of my whole existence as an artist, an entrepreneur. And then the time came where I had to leave the name behind. I thought of the Rang family. I never worked for the partners, I worked for the company, the people and the love I had for my creations. When I was told I cannot use the name and there will be two separate entities, it was difficult for me. At first I was extremely sentimental about the whole issue but eventually, I realized I have to accept the reality. When I first started the company I did not think of the legalities, I only had 10 thousand Taka in my pocket that I had earned from doing “alpona”. By 2015 I did not know how much the value of the company had risen. When the time came to break the partnership, a lot of information came to light. It finally dawned on me that I did a lot of things unknowingly, without understanding the stakes. If I knew, I probably would have done things differently.
However, with the support of everyone, I have endured it and I have still been enduring it.
There are many celebrities who have supported you and been a part of your campaign. There is a beautiful campaign called Sroddha. What intrigued you to involve these people with your campaign?
When I was studying in Charukola in 2000, the first celebrity model of Rang was Shamim Ara Nipa, the veteran dancer and Rosy Siddiki, the actress and Bipasha Hayat, an artist and actress; the latter one also happens to be my classmate at the Fine Arts Institution. Truth be told, I have never thought of myself as a fashion designer but an artist. The celebrities who have worked with me are my favourite artists. I never thought of it as a branding gimmick. When I started, it was more about the joy I felt when my favourite celebrities wore my clothes. After being published in the media, it was well-received by the audience and the brand image was created organically. Sroddha, the brand campaign came out of a space of respect. I noticed that many of my customers never hesitated to spend extra bucks when it comes to buying a saree for their elderly mother or mother-in-law or aunts or uncles. This intrigued me to come up with a special collection. Not everything we buy for them has to be festival-centric. Our intention was to remind people of the feelings they have harnessed for their folks and am thankful to God that it turned out well.
WHENEVER WE WORK FOR A FESTIVAL, WE SELECT A SUBJECT OR THEME FOR THE FESTIVAL. THAT FESTIVAL TELLS US WHAT WOULD BE THE PRIME COLOURS, PATTERNS AND DESIGNS. WHEN WE DEVELOP A DESIGN OR A MOTIF, WE THINK OF ALL GENERATIONS, FROM THE YOUTH TO THE ELDERLY. MAYBE THE MOTIVE STAYS THE SAME BUT THE COLOUR THEME AND PATTERNS CHANGE.
How are you trying to connect with the youth? What is the process of combining designs keeping the youth in focus? How do the entrepreneur Biplob Shaha and the designer Biplob Shaha work together?
Artist Biplob overpowers entrepreneur Biplob most of the time. Being an entrepreneur has very little space. Whenever we work for a festival, we select a subject or theme for the festival. That festival tells us what would be the prime colours, patterns and designs. When we develop a design or a motif, we think of all generations, from the youth to the elderly. Maybe the motive stays the same but the colour theme and patterns change. We work with family products, so we think of all the family members, be it children, the young generation or the elderly. Each of these age ranges has its own characteristics and a certain mood that we need to create. For this, we segmented the composition of motifs, patterns and structure in the product line.
Tell us about your team.
There are five thousand artisans working with Bishwo Rang. These people are from all over Bangladesh, mostly hailing from Narayanganj, Bagura, Manikganj, Jamalpur, Sirajganj, Comilla. A huge number of artisans are from Tangail. Tant has always had a close association with our brand, be it the Bishwo Rang sarees or other products.
What is the next challenge for Bishwo Rang?
In my 25 years’ journey as an artist and fashion designer, I have always emphasized on using home-spun fabrics and materials. But the scenario has changed now. We see a huge number of fashionpreneurs blindly importing products from abroad and changing the labels, selling those items in the retail market in their own name. It’s no rocket science that when you use organic materials for any kind of production, the cost increases.
Besides, with the rise of street fashions and abundance of young consumers, the patterns of designs and motifs are also changing. We must not ignore the fact that we have to give some time to our designers and artisans to adapt themselves to the new trends. The current generation loves fusion but while doing so, we must not forget our local fabrics and materials. All these will require more R & D, integration and time. I am hopeful Bishwo Rang will stand the test of time like it always did and keep winning hearts of its fans and followers. Because without their love, we wouldn’t be able to come