Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Harsh Agarwal: The instinctive designer

Harry Styles has worn his designs, Tan France requested his designs for Queer Eye--this Symbiosis, Pune, graduate incorporates beautiful, traditional craftmanship, teamed with more modern-classic silhouettes

Published: Feb 13, 2023 11:11:38 AM IST
Updated: Feb 15, 2023 11:00:30 AM IST

Harsh Agarwal: The instinctive designerHarsh Agarwal Image: Mexy Xavier; digital imaging: Kapil Kashyap

Harsh Agarwal | 27
Founder and creative director, HARAGO

On the morning of October 8, 2021, Harsh Agarwal noticed a spike in the number of followers and a flood of notifications on his fashion label’s Instagram account. On scrolling down, he found photographs of popular English singer Harry Styles wearing Harago’s hand-embroidered carrot farm shorts while arriving in Florida. Agarwal was ecstatic to find the fashion icon validating his label. The founder of the Jaipur-based label considers himself an outsider in the world of fashion.

A liberal arts graduate from Symbiosis, Pune, majoring in economics, Agarwal focussed on sustainable development in his college days. During his internship at the United Nations headquarters in New York, he met various people working on sustainable fashion and saw an opportunity in India. He realised fashion and textiles were his calling and returned home.

What started out as a homegrown menswear label with the help of his mother and sister, and one tailor in 2019, is now a team of 20, comprising tailors, junior designers, and a production-in-charge with stitching being outsourced to factories with an increase in the number of orders.

“Harsh designs for his niche clientele instinctively. Whimsical embroidery finds its way onto its cuts for the adventurer, and clean handwoven fabric with elegant details marry clothing for the individual who sports a more classic look,” says Hema Shroff Patel, textile practitioner and founder of Amba (a textile innovation project). “He is committed to quality work and building long-term relationships with his artisans.”

Also read: From Grace Wales Bonner to Veronique Nichanian, women breaking 'fabric ceiling' of menswear fashion

Agarwal says, “When I was starting Harago, I decided not to promote it as ethical or slow fashion.” He believes fashion, with its changing trends and seasons, and with an insatiable demand for newness from buyers, can never be 100 percent sustainable. “My idea was to just focus on craftsmanship and on showcasing India’s artisanal heritage. I am trying to help artisans continue the legacy of their craft. It’s that simple,” he explains.

“I’m constantly working on new designs and there’s always a new sample being made every day,” says Agarwal. “Whenever we have at least 105 pieces ready, we drop it on our social media page for pre-orders. We do four drops in a year.”

View the full list of Forbes India 30 Under 30 2023 here

During the Covid-19 lockdown, while rummaging and sorting through the heirlooms of his mother and his grandmother, Agarwal found a new source of inspiration for the label. After the lockdown, he also got a lot of queries from international buyers to stock his new collection. That was a tipping point. Today, the label retails to London-based clothing retailer Matches Fashion, Montreal-based multi-brand retailer Ssense, LMDS Shanghai, and Boyhood, Korea, to name a few.

Harsh Agarwal: The instinctive designer

Tan France, television host and fashion designer, says, “I had followed Harago for a few months before reaching out to Harsh Agarwal to ask to wear the brand on my Netflix show, Queer Eye. When I received them, I fell even more in love with them. The quality is fantastic, and the pieces are so unique.” He adds: “Harsh has such a great eye for design that incorporates beautiful, traditional craftsmanship, teamed with more modern-classic silhouettes.”

Agarwal has a lot to look forward to. “We are launching our first womenswear and bags collection exclusively on Matches Fashion this summer,” he says.

(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)