Breaking Good with Raw Mango’s Brand Campaigns

Breaking Good with Raw Mango’s Brand Campaigns

Sanjay Garg on the immersive, socially compelling, documentary style campaigns that have steered Raw Mango beyond the handloom bubble

“I seek variety, rebellion, multiplicity of voices. In fashion, that’s the real secularism,” says Sanjay Garg.

Our subject, as you might sense is the “secular in fashion”. The address is Raw Mango’s headquarters in Chhatarpur, Delhi, where the brand’s founder has a studio on the first floor. Think large wooden tables and antique artefacts displayed in ordained disarray. The fragrant lilt of mogra flowers floating in brass bowls wraps the air, while a closet or two is stacked with old textiles and museum quality garments acquired from private collectors and handloom connoisseurs.

White, if you are thinking upholstery. Matte if you are thinking finish. Wood if you are thinking material. Intense if you want to play the mood of this conversation on a tabla. Handloom if you are struggling for one word. The brass in the room shines, but is eclipsed by the brightness in the eyes of the “handloom and textile” brand’s designer who has had some fierce dialogues—including with this writer—on whether he should be labelled a “fashion” designer.


Sanjay Garg.

On the non-textile side of his life, the 40-year-old has been working on weight loss that is apparent. He has also been shopping for new clothes to fit his leaner self and developing a fond relationship with physical exercise.

In the 12 plus years since Garg burst into the country’s textile consciousness and the fashion industry’s notice with his design individuality, he has become inseparable from “handloom and textile fashion.” He has been endlessly copied, whether it is his Chanderi motifs or Banarasi lehngas—his signature splashed across handloom markets and by small traders on Instagram to established sari stores in metros.

You could unpack these arguments of course. Slap them around, argue that Garg did not, after all, birth Chanderi or school the Banarasi weaver, but his rightful place in the minds and wardrobes of woven sari lovers is unique.


A campaign shot from Raw Mango’s 2019 collection, Radha.

Visual Campaigns, Elective Subjects

I am at his studio, however, to discuss Raw Mango’s photo campaigns that periodically unfold on social media and in a matter of hours provoke thousands of likes and comments. The brand’s Instagram is where the “handloom” clichés fall away, the canvas opens up to India’s sociological churn. For him, women aren’t pretty or sexy in their body, it is the intellect that distinguishes them. Saris aren’t just textile drapes. They document the life and times of a person, a woman, a community, culture, weaving cluster, the weaver himself, and then how the wearer sits, looks, lives life.

The visual campaigns (view them on Raw Mango’s website) have determined what Garg means when he says that handloom is not a bubble. “I don’t want to portray it like a trend. It is about slow growth. About livelihood, identity, associations,” he says, adding that it is the primary reason why Raw Mango (not Sanjay Garg, his eponymous other label) did not go on the ramp. I may be working with numerous weaving clusters. But I have not left Chanderi, Mashru, Banaras—I continue to work with weavers there. I am not a Dries van Noten who can say ikat is a trend today but tomorrow it is not.”


A campaign shot from Raw Mango’s 2021 collection, Other.

Conceptualised, directed, styled and scripted by Garg, Raw Mango’s visual language represents a world view, unfazed and volatile with a quest for dialogue. Whether on Instagram it is a repost of artist JR’s work ‘Giant Picnic’ at the Mexico-US border or an image that showcases how the history of Indian architecture began from the Delhi Sultanate of the 12th Century to rare world artefacts, women photographed through diaphanous veils, an anxious Bengali bride in traditional headgear or actors like Tanya Maniktala in Garg’s designs.

A video shot by Garg in 2019 that beams poetry by Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, being recited at a mausoleum in Yangon, Myanmar is also one of the posts. Some of these have no ostensible link with handlooms or textiles, or fashion, yet the interlinking, the connectivity between garment and ideology reveals the designer’s mind.

Shoot and Site

Garg says he has been deeply inspired by the work of the late photo genius Prabuddha Dasgupta and of Dayanita Singh and his choice to work with photographers like Ritesh Uttamchandani, Bikramjit Bose, Zacharie Rabehi, Ashish Shah, Prarthna Singh and Avani Rai, among others, is because they do not follow the formula of fashion photography. “I want to create documentary style campaigns that show how clothes are worn in different regions or communities,” he says, adding: “Anything that becomes a formula, worries me. I don’t want a good recipe of a fashion photograph with one plus size, one dark, one older woman thrown in with regular models to make my point.”


A campaign shot from the collection Heer, 2018.

He likens Heer (2018) which struck the chord it did for customers from Pakistan to Bangladesh, London to Los Angeles, to “commercial cinema”. It had the joyous occasion of a wedding (of his own brother actually), happy families, song and dance and pretty clothes, but there are other campaigns that remain close to his heart. For ‘Moomal’ (2020), he revisited his homeland of Rajasthan and the campaign was shot outside the oft waxed formulas of Rajasthani royalty, elephants and palaces. It was set to the lilting music of Shekhawati musicians and featured journalist Fiza Khan, actor Mita Vashisht and Prerna Garg, the designer’s sister who founded A Dialogue, a community organisation.

‘Cloud People’, shown at the opening of Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai in 2017 delved into interpretations of Lucknawi chikankari and was about the people of Meghalaya. People of megha, clouds. ‘Monkey Business’ (2016) photographed by Ashish Shah is clearly among Garg’s favourites. As a photo campaign, it is exceptional in the manner it places garments in a complex juxtaposition with people. The models, mostly “real people”, are monkeying around. “Monkeys are intellectual animals, I wanted to explore how a human being can monkey around and step out of the skin,” says Garg.


A campaign shot from Beloved, 2013.

Document, Don’t Glamourise

He explains why he often tells some of the most beautiful women who have endorsed his campaigns that their sex appeal is in their eyes and mind and seldom in how they wear their body. “I once asked one of our photographer collaborators to shoot his fiancé as her lover, not as a buyer of a Raw Mango sari.” In ‘Beloved’ (2013) he questions how people get so engrossed with wedding clothes, tentwala, phoolwala, the festivities and preparations that they forget the beloved, or love itself, the core reason perhaps for getting married. ‘Three Shuttle’ (2016) photographed by Shovan Gandhi, held up the antique three weaving technique and an interlocking weft with silk saris that drew from the architecture of South India’s temples.

‘Gayatri Devi’ (2013), another of Raw Mango’s commercially resonating collections with its woven brocade borders, traced, according to Garg, the movement of Marwari women from the traditional ghaghra/lehnga to chiffon saris. “I never liked chiffon and I didn’t want to show Marwari women wearing digitally printed saris like Punjabis. So I explored this in silks through photos of Maharani Gayatri Devi’s life,” he explains.

The stories go on, multiple pages in numerous diaries in Garg’s mind open up. Compellingly, no campaign has had high “makeup and hair” and in the urge to document women in their verandahs, the insides of their minds and in their outsides at work, what is apparent is the inner dialogue that Garg brings to his work. Even when fraught with dissonance, it has a point of view.

Handloom is Fabric of Life in India

That is what brings to India’s vast and long handloom story a worthy brand called Raw Mango. It puts fabric in a dialogue with life, even when a thread is pulled out of the warp and weft sometimes.

While Garg has been creating “anti-trend” visual campaigns since the last 12 years and more, he admits he has become a bit wary of the “real people” idea. “From the late 2000s, I wanted to work without models, be post-modern, everything was about breaking a myth. But now that so many brands are using the real people context, I am losing interest.”

As he looks for untried ways to steer the brand’s socio-political approach (let’s not forget the ‘Zooni’ campaign shot by Avani Rai in 2019 in Kashmir, which Garg withdrew after sharp public criticism for its poor timing), he is also cognizant of the near total absence of “textile photographers” in the country. “How can fashion photographers work with textiles if they don’t understand weaving or textiles? There is no course or specialisation for it in India,” he laments, emphatic as always. “I wanted to become a textile photographer in fact and applied to schools abroad where I was selected, but well, then I went to Chanderi,” he says.

Banner (L-R): Campaign shots from Raw Mango collections, Moomal, Jhini, 2/2 and Other. Photos: