Actor and model, Sagarika Ghatge—famous for her role in the film Chak De India—recently presented a private preview of her custom brand, Akutee, at the Modernist members-only club of the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai. A collection of co-ord sets, dupattas, jackets, kurta sets and sarees, Akutee was created by Sagarika and her mother Urmila, and transports viewers to a bygone era of exquisite taste, artistic brilliance, and a wealth of history. The brand honours its roots and preserves the spirit of India's cultural history, drawing inspiration from the poise and simplicity of the Ghatge family's ladies. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q. Can you explain the origin of the name Akutee?
My family history goes back to over 600 years, and as a child I remember always being surrounded by these elegant women wearing chiffon and chanderi sarees, with minimalistic jewellery, like a string of pearls or glass bangles. Growing up around them, I always felt like, ‘I want like grow up and be like that’. So I think that's where the inspiration for Akutee—a Marathi word which means princess—emerged.
Q. Has this been brewing for a while?
It was born unknowingly, really. I imbibed traditions very naturally, because of the women that I was surrounded by—like my grandmother, great grandmother, my mom and my kakis; all of them have played a very important role in creating and shaping this brand and, of course, I think the most important woman is my mother who was my biggest influence. She has been painting since she was 16, and she breathes life into fabrics through her art. So the inspiration was all around.
Q. Why has the official launch been timed now?
My mother has always been very strong and independent, and growing up she was my biggest influence. She always had these lovely floral paintings on her sarees when we were growing up—because she was very fond of gardening, the way she understood flowers was unique and it was expressed in her art. So it became very natural for us as mother-daughter to want to create something that was bespoke and hand painted, and we’ve often spoken about it, but it requires time and commitment. And it just felt like we were ready for that now.
Q. Tell us about the brand philosophy:
Akutee is a step back in time, to an era of rich history, artistic talent and impeccable taste, and that’s what we are trying to recreate through our brand. My mother is the main artist behind the brand, and she has mentored several artists to paint in the way that she paints, by following her strokes. Akutee is distinguished by regal fabrics and each piece is hand painted in my mother’s signature motifs. It celebrates the grace and elegance of a bygone era through contemporary pieces of wearable art. She is the artist and I offer the creative vision for brand and business.
Q. Can you elaborate on the choices made regarding the collection (colour palettes, fabrics, silhouettes etc).
We wanted to stay true to the inspiration, so the fabrics are those that women in my family wore—cotton silks, chanderis and chiffon. There are sarees, of course, but we’ve also expanded to include more contemporary clothes like jackets.
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Q. Tell us about the process of creating this collection—from ideation to the final product. Where do the weavers fit in? Where are the sarees sourced from?
For us, to get this collection turned out to be the easiest process, because these are all inspired by treasures of my family and they have been there with us for a very long time—almost 100-150 years. In the past, royal families would get a lot of their fabrics, especially chiffons, from Europe and the others were handwoven. To keep that authenticity, the fabrics we are using are all hand-woven as well and hand-embroidered and the dyeing is eco-friendly. We have our own weavers who do it. The chanderis that we use, of course, come from Chanderi, others are sourced from different handloom sources.
Q. Is there any external funding or is the venture bootstrapped as of now? Are you planning to scale this up in future?
I want to make this a self-sustaining brand, since the ethos of Akutee is very strong, which is what I’m trying to now share with the world. I believe you need a great team behind a brand to make it all come together. I have the creative vision, my mum is the artist, and there are a lot of other people who have helped me bring Akutee to the level it is right now in terms of production.
Our focus is the product, which is meticulously created; everything that is handwoven or hand embroidered or hand painted has value. We realise it in India but the kind of respect you get internationally for bespoke craft is immense. As long as we stick to that core vision, I think the brand will continue to progress.
Q. From being a national hockey player, to an actor/model, to a fashion entrepreneur, tell us about the transition. Have the different roles had a bearing on what you are doing today?
Everything comes down to the values you’ve grown up with. That plays the most important role in whatever you do. Whether it is a playing a national match representing Rajasthan as a centre-forward or now creating Akutee and sharing it with the world, it all comes down to your basic values, how you look at life …. what kind of importance you give to being punctual, your discipline and work ethic…. all these things matter in every aspect of your life. The same kind of zeal that I played a hockey match with is the same zeal I now put into Akutee. Giving a 100 percent everywhere is how I have looked at life and it helps to have like-minded people and the right team around you.
Q. Does your husband, cricketer Zaheer Khan, have a role to play in the venture?
You know, I would call this brand his brainchild. He is the one who has pushed me and my mother to go ahead and do this. He has seen me wear these sarees for a long time, and has also seen my mum paint and seen the kind of work she has done. He has been our cheerleader throughout, encouraging us to get this brand out.