| (From left) Gurpreet Sidhu, Archana Srivastava, Phulo, Mandira Luthra, Sutanu Panigrahi, Dharmender, Chan Chan and Mrinalini Luthra form The People Tree team
If you visit People Tree, a one-off design studio-cum-store in the capital, you are bound to rub shoulders with artists, musicians, illustrators, activists — or all of the above. The niche boutique, a treasure trove of artwork, crafts, apparel and accessories, was started by a team of three graphic designers — Gurpreet Sidhu, Orijit Sen and Ajmal — back in 1991.
The tiny store of the 90s, which was little more than a hole in the wall, peddling its ware of T-shirts with a boho-chic theme, has now morphed into a niche space of an environment-friendly crafts store. People Tree has also spread its wings and moved to other cities including Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pondicherry.
The core design principles of People Tree have remained unaltered. Our business combines a sense of social purpose and ecological responsibility with the spirit of collective creativity, states their website a tad firmly. So all products, with the exception of books, are handcrafted as the People Tree team prefers to stay clear of mass production. The store is stocked with organic food, pottery, fashion and home accessories and theres even a bookstore on the premises.
The store has gone from strength to strength by building on its intrinsic philosophy of supporting and promoting hand-skills and workmanship. They have also started an online magazine called Paper Boat along with stocking up on products handcrafted by underprivileged groups like street children and tribal communities. They also stock products designed by a Pakistan-based handicraft group called Tribal Truck Art.
But Sidhu says that the store, which diligently works with marginalised rural communities involved in weaving, stitching, embroidery and dyeing processes, across various Indian states, had humble beginnings. My grandparents had rented this shop in Regal Building on Parliament Street (in Delhi) ages ago. So, we simply moved in with our non-conformist ideas after college and started having some fun, she says.
When they were starting out almost two decades ago, the trio bought T-shirts by the bulk from Janpath, simply hand-painted them and hung them up in the shop to be snapped up. When the first batch was sold, we managed to make a profit of Rs 1,000 and we were jubilant, says Sidhu.
The triumvirate was on a high, primarily because they were getting to meet people from different walks of life as they went about selling their artwork on T-shirts. Gradually more people joined hands with them and brought their own inputs to the design table.
Subsequently, People Tree moved on from being just a T-shirt shop to a multi-disciplinary lifestyle store — but without the exorbitant price tags. So T-shirts that used to cost Rs 100 in the 90s have just been marked a notch higher at Rs 190 today.
The shop has its own design studio and printing units. Though, Sidhu and her husband Orijit Sen are the owners of this outfit, all members have an equal say in the creative process. Well, you can say Im the boss because I sign the cheques but thats all I do sometimes, she says. So everyone is hands-on in the design process and the right fabrics, colours and cuts of the apparel are all collectively decided.
Today, says Sidhu, recycling waste into exotic artefacts is all the rage across the world. People Tree too is heavily into recycling waste materials. So, discarded scraps get converted into beautiful pieces of jewellery. Scruffy bits of fabric, paper and even metal bits metamorphose into stationery and fashion accessories like watch straps, brooches and earrings.
People Tree also uses natural, non-toxic and bio-degradable materials for their products whenever possible. Whenever possible are the operative words, says Sidhu. Because you can never say for sure whether even organic cotton is grown using ethical practices, she adds.
One of the pretty picks at People Tree in the recycled product category is a butterfly-shaped gift tag thats entirely crafted from slim strips of recycled paper. Priced at Rs 140, the butterfly is a bright fuchsia and black, which can be attached to gifts for an innovative personal touch.
Their line of hand-painted, metal home accessories inspired by truck art are worth checking out. These items, shaped like jugs, trucks with canvas awnings and mugs have been painted by Tribal Truck Art. The pieces are a riot of vibrant colours like bottle green, navy blue and hot pink in the manner of artwork on highway trucks. Prices go from Rs 850 to Rs 5,000.
Occupying prime spot at People Tree is the Bollywood Series by artist Satinder. There are paintings of Bollywood screen idols, painted in bright splashes of colours on apparel, bags and even jewellery boxes. The kitschy stuff replicates the style of film posters and is priced upwards of Rs 695.