“Osama bin Laden” — the words were spat out at Harinder Singh in Florence almost like an insult — just because he was wearing a white turban. Rather disturbed by the incident, Singh and his wife Kirandeep, swapped ideas all through the nine-hour flight back to India from Italy thinking of a blueprint to dispel the misconception about Sikhs and Sikhism. This planted the seed of an idea and marked the beginning of their clothing store, 1469, named after the year of birth of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.
The first garment that the couple designed was a T-shirt, which listed the places, people and events connected with Guru Nanak. They set up the first 1469 store in 2002 in south Delhi’s upmarket Defence Colony, home to a sizeable diplomatic population. Says Singh: “The colourful T-shirts with the catchy slogans, often written in Gurumukhi, were a hit with the people who lived around the area and gradually it caught on, thanks to word-of-mouth.”
Now Singh travels all over the country, especially to the interiors of Punjab, to source phulkari items (the famed hand-embroidery of Punjab) and juttis (flat-soled embroidered footwear), typical to the state and loved by his clientele.
Over the years he’s expanded his repertoire to include dupattas, suits, jackets and pouches in phulkari. He also sources ethnic silver and brass jewellery from the state. But the couple also goes scouting to other parts of the country to pick up miniature fans and lamps in brass from Odisha, Kutch-work pouches, cushion covers and bedsheets from Gujarat.
The store also stocks up on handmade pottery from Auroville Ashram in Pondicherry, Madhubani paintings from Bihar, beaded necklaces from Madhya Pradesh and more.
Singh loves to enliven the tees in the 1469 line with humour, art and sports. He designed a tee at director Imtiaz Ali’s request with the call — ‘Sadda Haq’, much inspired by the movie, Rockstar. An avid hockey fan, he also has a range of T-shirts designed around the sport.
Singh has not only been adding to the product list at the store, but is opening new outlets in quick succession. There is one each in Karnal, Chandigarh, Amritsar and two in Delhi.
Handicrafts are the flavour of the season, says Singh. “Earlier, people didn’t understand the value of handmade products and tried to bargain to bring down prices. As a result, many artisans started making poor quality products to make them cheaper. Now, people are ready to pay high prices for good quality handicrafts.”
There’s been a comeback of ethnic home accessories. Singh says: “Wall hangings, even coasters and table runners, more often than not, have bright Indian colours and embellishments.”
Other accessories, even the products that we use on a daily basis, have gone the ethnic way. Says Singh: “From laptop bags to mobile phone cases — everything is getting an Indian touch.”
The product range at 1469 is huge. Its T-shirts with catchy, humorous, slogans are a big hit. In green, grey, purple and yellow, they’re priced between Rs 555 and Rs 825. The hotsellers include those printed/ embroidered with the words ‘Puré Punjabi’ or those with images of rickshaws and three-wheeler scooters.
Phulkari dupattas are available in cotton and crêpes and come with either multicoloured embroidery or in sedate colours like green and brown. These are priced upwards of Rs 2,800. The waistcoats with phulkari-work cost Rs 2,000.
Brightly-coloured and quirky coasters cost Rs 125 apiece and come with phulkari motifs, Gurumukhi alphabets or interesting slogans painted on them. Pouches with phulkari-work in multicoloured threads can jazz up any outfit. Priced at Rs 625. The slightly bigger pouches with Kutchi work from Gujarat are priced at Rs 825.
Recycled bottles from Odisha with colourful Patachitra paintings on them are tagged at Rs 1,250. Coconut shells too have Patachitra paintings and can be used as wall art. These cost Rs 325 each.
A tin box painted with Madhubani paintings is priced at Rs 2,900. This can be used as a side-table or as a storage box or just to brighten up a dull corner in a room. An old-fashioned dial-up phone in black-and-silver or black-and-gold takes you back to the classical era. It can be yours for Rs 1,250. In perfect working condition, all you need to do is plug it into your landline.