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A maker’s market

  • Interior store Baro expands beyond its period decor to a market of artisanal curios
  • Its co-founder, Srila Chatterjee talks about its inception, its curation and the ongoing promotion of Indian arts

Lifestyle products on display at Baro Market.
Lifestyle products on display at Baro Market.

My partner Siddharth Sirohi and I decided to call the store Baro because it is the 12th building in the compound, and that is what the number is called in Bengali," says Srila Chatterjee, 55, co-founder and curator at the décor store Baro. No two corners in the Mumbai-based store look the same; the variety of objects is diverse and quaint.

In the last two years, Baro has carved a niche for itself in Mumbai at the Sun Mill compound in Lower Parel with its eclectic curation. And just a month ago, it opened its new addition, Baro Market, at the same space above the interior store. It has a vast selection of lifestyle products from independent local brands that engage with artists, artisans and craftspeople from around the country. Six permanent brands occupy the space: Varnam Craft Collective, Rasa Jaipur, Rangeela, Absynthe, 145 East and Froggmag. There is also a rack of curated saris and indigenous art.

Lounge spoke to Chatterjee about the store’s inception, its curation, and ongoing promotion of Indian arts. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Srila Chatterjee.
Srila Chatterjee.

What inspired you to expand Baro into Baro Market?

It was only during our “bazaars" that we had non-interior products at the store. There are so many reinvented, handmade crafts that I like. They went with the brand’s identity but not with the store’s identity, which I wanted to retain. As soon as the space became available, I spoke to some of the lifestyle brands we have worked with and it happened quite seamlessly.

How did you curate the brands to showcase at Baro Market?

It was easy. Out of the six brands here, Rangeela is the brand we have been associated with. They retail Baro’s furniture at their store in Goa. Absynthe, 145 East, Froggmag and Varnam have all been at Baro’s bazaars. Rasa Jaipur isn’t a brand we have sold previously, but they decided to jump on board the Market.

All these brands shared our ethos and wanted a space in Mumbai. Also, they are exclusive at the Market in the city. Our curation is about bringing brands that one can’t find elsewhere here. It’s about telling a new story. It’s also about working and associating with people who are teaching me new things. Once such people know what I am interested in, I know of it organically. Social media too has helped people hear about what they are doing and reach out to one another.

You showcase designers connected to grass-root craftspersons—how has that highlight the value of indigenous arts and crafts?

In the time that Baro has been around, it has established a huge regard for craftspeople and indigenous arts. Our art is a mix of traditional arts that people believe to be cool to have anywhere. They haven’t been promoted as much, and their artists haven’t been given their due. I have had a relationship with these artists for a long time, so I got their work framed and sold it here at the artists’ prices. We have also helped them become organized and professional.

People have understood that we work with craftspeople for themselves and help them adapt to what people want. We also customize a lot of things. The notion of their work being different from any other designer’s is dissipating, which is how it should be.

How does foregrounding designers and labels help crafts clusters?

I can speak for all the labels here. No customer comes here using designers’ names but they know the brands’ names, since they stand for many things. Many of our brands explain what the craft they engage in is, through their signage and photographs of their designers working with the craftspeople. We tell their story too. People immediately know that this isn’t about a single person taking all the accolades. This is about a craft that’s helping a community.

One of our most famous products is the shola flowers. They are made by the artisan at the store itself, so people watch him make it and know its story; about how it’s a pith that grows within the mangrove trees. It has become clear that the artisan has made a leap in how he has been making these to go into Mumbai’s homes.

It’s not about using craftspeople to better oneself but working with them to build something better together. The artisans have a stake in everything that’s being sold, and they are bettering themselves.

How does storytelling make craft and design more accessible?

If anybody picked up something at a store without any explanation, one would usually have a singular reaction to it, such as through the senses. If one hears the story about it, with explanations of things not heard or seen, it makes more sense to the customer. They react to this added dimension.

Storytelling adds depth to the arts and crafts, through people and their personalities. It changes people’s lives and buyers can take pride in being part of that change. It is not about doing noble deeds, but about opening one’s eyes to designs different from those seen everywhere else.

Everything at Baro Market has a story. We try to find a way for one to make that story one’s own. They are not just random objects. Each story can be as long and complex as one would like to hear.

What I like is how the designers—whose products are at our stores—are making the crafts something that wouldn’t have been dreamt of when the crafts first originated.

What are the common threads between the store and Market?

They share an identity of what they are about but are clearly different in function. One comes to Baro looking for furniture that has a classic mid-century and art deco style to it. When one comes to Baro Market, one will always find something one wants.

We are great believers in indigenous things, which are made in and around the community we are a part of, because we don’t celebrate what is available enough. We are also trying to redefine the idea that just because something is made traditionally doesn’t mean it’s traditional; it is how one reinterprets it. We are putting cottage-industry arts in a modern environment. One has the freedom to make it a part of one’s personality.

We emphasize on things being handmade, especially because that journey is as important as the end product. Those are the common threads between the stores.

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