"I am a real homebody, I love spending time at home cooking and love dawdling about at home. I could spend hours and days just lounging around the house. I guess it explains my love for pyjamas."
TOD: Where are you from?
TCB: I am from New Delhi, India but I now live in Abu Dhabi. What was initially a temporary 3-5 year move has now leant into a 18 year stay in the United Arab Emirates. And I have loved every moment of these 18 years.
TOD: Tell us a little about yourself?
TCB: I am a real homebody, I love spending time at home cooking and love dawdling about at home. I could spend hours and days just lounging around the house. I guess it explains my love for pyjamas.
TOD: Where did you spend your lock down?
TCB: I spent it at home in Abu Dhabi with a large part of it Zooming my daughter, Sachi who is now based in London. We work as a design duo. While I understand the more technical aspects of design and development and the final making process, I also manage the everyday affairs, she on the other hand feeds into the larger vision of what The Cotton Basket should be.
TOD: What inspired you to start The Cotton Basket?
TCB: Honestly, it started with the search for a simple pure cotton pyjama bottom about 18 years ago, when I first moved to Abu Dhabi. It was impossible - there was genuinely nothing out there. Everything was a poly blend and so uncomfortable to sleep in. A good lightweight cotton pyjama lends itself to the best sleep and it is not a little luxury to have but I feel it is an essential part of the sleep ritual. I saw the gap in the market and that is when the idea first sowed its seed.
"We wanted to preserve and revive India's rich cultural heritage and centuries of evolutionary tradition and craft which have over time evolved and lent themselves to other corners of the world."
Commitments with family and other things got in the way but it always was there at the back on my mind. Around 7-8 years ago the opportunity finally presented itself. The Cotton Basket was setup as a haven for beautiful textiles, luxurious fabrics and designs to make your home a paradise. Given the purity of textiles it was only natural that we look at the making techniques. An additional challenge was the negative perception of goods made in India. It was often assumed that things made in India lacked in quality or were sub par. I wanted to change that perception. We wanted to preserve and revive India's rich cultural heritage and centuries of evolutionary tradition and craft which have over time evolved and lent themselves to other corners of the world.
TOD: Where did your love for all things beautiful come from?
TCB: I think it came from my parents actually. My parents had come over from Pakistan during partition - so while starting a new life they, were quite resourceful with whatever little was around - and I think that’s when the most beautiful things come about. From it all my mother emerged a self taught seamstress where she’d stitch dresses and frocks for my sisters and me. We’d accompany her though the fabric markets of Delhi for hours at end until she found the right chintz fabric and laces to match. It's only natural that you get absorbed into everything that these markets have to offer!
My father is also owed some credit. He would travel a lot for work to Libya, Iran Japan, and other wonderfully exotic places for a newly Independent India and he would spend a lot of time in galleries, shops and markets looking for beautiful things and would always bring back something which meant we had a mad collection of everything - colonial furniture, an antique grandfather clock amongst so much else.
TOD: Paint us a picture of your quarantine life. What's even a typical day for you?
TCB: I’m an early riser and that didn’t change during lockdown. I wake up around 6:30-7am and I head for the kettle. It's a ritual I have had since forever and I cannot function through the day without my morning cup of chai which I enjoy without my phone but with my husband and my dog, where we try to bond and catchup. It’s a little me time I gift to myself everyday.
And then the manic rush begins, when I flip my phone over and it is almost impossible to put down for the rest of the day when the calls start coming in. It was even harder during lockdown since all trips were and are still are suspended which means all coordination with manufacturers, and suppliers was over hours of zoom calls. Afternoons are a little less busy and a little more creative where I try to put together mood boards for the coming collections and make drawings and put together proposals. There was definitely more time over lockdown and I gave myself this time to really think about where I want to go with The Cotton Basket. I’ve regained some clarity of who I am and what I really care about, personally and creatively.
"I would also highly recommend Cosmo Brockway's and Harriet Compston's Glorious Hotels of India - a greatly illustrated book about the best, most luxurious stays in India that takes you on a visual journey through India's heritage."
I have never been a big reader and would rather chat away with friends but given the limited social interaction, I try to keep my mind active by picking up some good reads. I'm currently on Stephen Fry's Mythos. I love the tales of the ancient Greek Gods but they've been told in the most human and entertaining way which has made it a very interesting read. I would also highly recommend Cosmo Brockway's and Harriet Compston's Glorious Hotels of India - a greatly illustrated book about the best, most luxurious stays in India that takes you on a visual journey through India's heritage.
TOD: What are you most excited about at the moment?
TCB: The start of our new store in Galleria. The exciting new location and look will give the brand a new lease of life.
"Don't take 'no' for an answer, never submit to failure. There is always a way around. "
TOD: What's the best advice you've ever been given?
TCB: Don't take 'no' for an answer, never submit to failure. There is always a way around. For most of the businesses, in normal course, the heads of the brand would dig a little deeper into what it will take to make the business successful. We on the other hand jumped into the deep end head first and relied on our swimming skills to ensure that we don’t sink. If I knew what was involved in setting up a brand it might have scared me right way. I had trained as an interior designer and had worked jobs but had never previously owned or run a business. I had no experience in retail, which is funny because if I had experience in retail and I’d known how difficult it was I’m sure I would not have done it.
TOD: And what would be your advice to anyone trying to start their own business?
TCB: You cannot do it all by yourself! Build a team - and a good reliable team. And with that also build a lot of patience.
TOD: What trait do you admire most in other women?
TCB: I definitely have to agree with you. Women are so resilient. Women everywhere are ubiquitously underestimated and demeaned, treated like they are weaker because they're more compassionate and passionate or even termed crazy if they are strong. But women are resilient.