He’s not your conventional fashion designer. Don’t let his hair tied in a short pigtail let you believe otherwise. To begin with, he feels the word design is the most abused word in the world of fashion. Add to that, he no longer takes part in fashion weeks. And yes, his garments require no stitching or cutting. Also, his works are not up for sale for anyone who has the money to make a purchase, but only for those, who can one, assure him that they’ll respect the fabric it is crafted out of, and two, play with the fabric to create more outfits of their own. While one would think that that is not a lot to ask for, Anuj Sharma over the years has realised that it is. Why? Because as individuals we’re fearful of experimenting. We’re afraid to think ‘out of the box,’ which explains his visit to Dubai.
I am at Idea Spice’s monthly Spice Talks session in Jumeirah 1. The speaker for the month is Anuj Sharma, the man who created his label Button Masala (he operates out of his studio in Ahmedabad) in 2009. So far, Sharma has taught over 20,000 people the art and craft of making outfits with a single piece of fabric, a few buttons, and a couple of rubber bands. Before we roll our eyes in disbelief, Sharma tells us that by the end of the two-hour workshop, we would have created at least one worthy outfit. Well, little do I know but he’s right – for I created an off-shoulder top and matched it with dhoti pants. Needless to say, I took immense pride in both my creations.
Spice Talk sessions are the brainchild of Sajith Ansar, CEO, Idea Spice. Ansar wants to put those who can encourage one to push boundaries in front of an audience. Why Button Masala? It’s fashion that can be aptly described as the cheapest and fastest way of making dresses, without stitching. It’s sustainable fashion at its most pure form. But most importantly, because Sharma has chosen to spread his art, rather than limit it. No wonder his biggest worry is not whether his creations will sell or not, but the fact that other ‘designers’ are not imitating his works. We did mention unconventional, right?
As we sit on couches, chairs, and on the floor, he begins to talk. “I was a very lazy student (of apparel design) at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. I hated stitching. It required too much focus.” Later, he did his Masters in High-Performance Sportswear design from University of Derby, UK. Somewhere in between all this, he found his calling when he came across a man who was wearing a shirt that was buttoned up incorrectly. “I noticed how a button put into the wrong loop created a pattern – it opened the door to multiple combinations and permutations, waiting to be explored.”
He asked his tailor to put buttons and straps (with buttonholes) separately, on a piece of fabric. “I began to experiment with the many, different ways that they could be connected – a long dress could be changed into a shorter one for an evening do!” Another ‘lazy’ day in 2010 led him to use a rubber band to attach a button to the fabric, and hence the need of buttonholes (read: stitching) was erased. “Now, I could connect buttons without any stitching; also, a garment could be changed back to a piece of fabric with ease.” Soon enough, he started to replace buttons with 3D objects, think stones, bottle caps, plastic tennis balls etc. “It helped create spaces.” Alongside, he began to play with other fabrics – printed, knitted, chequered, etc.
He lets the fabric decide what it wants to become, “A fabric needs to be allowed to look happy and follow its own course.” Which explains his broader concept of fashion and his conviction that garments have the power to better society. “The biggest changes occur as a result of touch, and garments are the one thing that touches our skin all the time. However, we no longer value clothing, we have too much of it. We can’t expect it to give us anything in return until we give it something too. How often do we hold the fabric with love?” he asks.
Why does he no longer take part in fashion weeks? He was part of the Lakme Fashion Week for seven years. At one fashion week, he asked his models to change the garments i.e. play with the buttons and bands, but they refused. “I was happy to have created something so unique, and there were these models who were so scared!”
After that experience, he dissociated himself from fashion weeks. “I realised I needed to work with people and not designs or designers. If I were to continue working on designs and not with people, everyone will use the outfit in the same way.” Anuj has given a TED talk and has received awards at the national level for having invented a method of crafting more than half a million garments with a single piece of fabric, sans a cut or a stitch. But, instead of bringing him satisfaction, it has led to the reverse. “It is like I’ve created a Lego of fashion, but it has no players.”
Since its inception, each year Button Masala comes up with a new collection. But he never sold his creations, simply because it was too early in the market (perhaps still is). Today, he uses the Button Masala grid to create laptop bags, cushion covers, accessories, toys, carpets, curtains, flotation devices, jewellery, etc.
Why does he do what he does? – visiting kids in the slums to teach them how to make raincoats out of waste plastic bags or spending time with children in juvenile homes to acquaint them with the idea. “I do it for myself – I like to do things cheaper and faster – I want to have more time for myself, which is why I have adopted this way of working.”
Believe it or not, the concept of his fashion line is like an addiction – to take something very simple and transform it into a stunning piece with zero expense – how much can buttons and bands cost?
I, for sure, am addicted. Ever since then, I’ve converted three shawls and two wraparound skirts into brand new outfits. Also, when I slip into a breezy summer frock or a pair of tapered pants, I do stop to appreciate the fabric. That’s a start, right?