A brand born during the pandemic, Etisha Collective offers handwoven luxury bath towels made by using ancient 17th century Turkish craftsmanship. We try to understand the challenges of incorporating an age-old weaving technique into a modern luxury brand while trying to adapt a sustainable, pro-nature approach
By: Prateeksha Guruji
Posted on: March 11, 2021
The ambivalence of luxury and sustainability has long been a topic of debate. Sustainability is often seen as the opposite of everything that luxury stands for. After 2020’s rude awakening, however, the gap between these two worlds has reduced significantly. Luxury and sustainability both stand for improving the quality of life. With luxury’s focus on craftsmanship and preserving heritage, sustainability focuses on an eco-conscious approach to preserve natural resources. One of the few brands that has successfully struck this balance is Etisha Collective. A heritage luxury towel brand, it is based out of Berlin, UK and India, and is run by the namesake designer Etisha Pipada.
Bringing culture to an everyday accessory, Etisha Collective towels are made using a 400 year old technique employed by Turkish artisans in an atelier tucked by the coastline that Ms. Pipada came across during her summer travels. To preserve a tradition on the brink of being forgotten, she decided to forward this Turkish legacy through her brand. These towels are made of threads from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-certified organic cotton. The high-quality, absorbent cotton is sourced from the black sea region.
In this exclusive interview, Ms. Pipada shares her take on luxury, sustainability, her experiences with luxury brands in Singapore and Milan, and most importantly, how she founded her unique brand in the middle of the pandemic, one of the most turbulent times in modern history.
"Woven for the Queens and the royal Ottoman houses who commissioned the best weavers in the land, this piece of cloth has a richer history than most would imagine."
Prateeksha Guruji: What is the definition of luxury for you?
Etisha Pipada: Luxury is many things, but at its core, it’s a feeling, a privilege, a source of pleasure that enriches a moment and a sense of being. Real luxury is always felt within, with the help of all the sensories combined.
PG: What was the thought process behind launching your own luxury business during an economically turbulent time where even the conglomerates were struggling?
EP: Etisha Collective (EC) launched at the time when the world was on the verge of a great socio-economic and health crisis. While the very idea of everyday life was shaken, the pandemic also instigated the idea of well-being within the common man. Wellbeing in context to themselves, their families, the human race and finally nature’s. EC’s vision was to be a catalyst and stand at the forefront of this changing society, secretly hoping it would be for the better. Secretly hoping to forge an era of conscious luxury houses that take the world forward in achieving a bearable, healthy future.
PG: Can you explain the idea behind employing the 17th century heritage craftsmanship techniques and what goes behind the scenes for every handcrafted towel?
EP: Not many know about the origins of the towel we use today. It’s a rather beautiful story. Woven for the Queens and the royal Ottoman houses who commissioned the best weavers in the land, this piece of cloth has a richer history than most would imagine. Intricately woven from the finest of materials, these textiles were reserved only for the crème de la crème for over two centuries before becoming accessible to the common man.
We, at EC, wanted to revive this 400-year old tradition by working with the last remaining artisans, who till date employ their ancestral techniques to weave these rare towels and hand tie their gorgeous fringes. Each of our pieces is handwoven on ancient shuttle-style looms from the finest Black Sea organic cotton in the same region where towels were first invented in the 17th century.
400 years ago, they knew what real luxury felt like, what quality products meant, what really artisanal textile looked like. We hope to bring this sensibility back. After all, slow luxury was the past and is the only future.
PG: Having studied in one of the epicenters of luxury and fashion and working with a brand like Gucci, what experiences inspired you or have stuck with you the longest?
EP: Luxury is somewhat like poetry. And when one is in Italy, they are surrounded by the most concentrated form of creativity and poetry. Being in Milan of all places, made me realise how deep-rooted luxury and fashion is in the culture. I’ve lived in Singapore earlier, but that was a different experience. When you describe luxury and fashion in Italy, you are talking about a place where some of the biggest houses were birthed, the people have that eye and design sensibility instilled in them. Almost everyone you meet has a unique aesthetic and a visual language that you are constantly inspired from.
Working with a brand like Gucci gave me an insight into the workings of a really rich design house, it allowed me to interact and work-alongside people who were passionately dreaming, building and weaving their history and heritage into everything that they did.
Working in the area of sustainable practices in the luxury industries was a turning point for me. Learning about the impact of the entire fashion industry on the people and the planet was eye opening and frankly, much more grave than I had ever imagined. Growing up, I was always passionate about sustainability and working towards a greener goal, but having worked with the brand showed me how much accountability was missing from the industry as a whole, how much a single brand could contribute to the ecosystem for better or for worse. And of course, how creatively these houses were now trying to be more transparent and responsible. We are on the verge of facing a very critical problem that will directly impact everything we love - clean air, clean water, beautiful valleys, tropical forests, exotic animals and beaches. What will be the point of being cheaply and fashionably dressed at the dawn of an apocalypse? It was a culmination of these experiences and the exposure that I had that had stuck with me and inspired to begin my own journey.
"It’s a two-way street, the brand’s responsibility is to be more conscious and it’s the consumer’s responsibility to choose brands that not only have a status quo, but also the philosophy to collectively work towards sustainable goals that can save the world from the grave danger it’s heading towards."
PG: What were the biggest challenges that you faced while launching Etisha Collective?
EP: Etisha Collective officially launched in the midst of the pandemic. Besides the operational, legal and logistical hurdles, the challenging part was giving this beautiful art of towel making a brand worthy of telling its royal roots. We are always working towards doing right by the heritage, the artisans and the story these towels hold. It is a very strong niche, but we believe that if we bring it to the people who see value in this craft, we have done it right.
While the pandemic might have altered our original path, it has also given us the gift of creative problem solving. It led us to become a company with a young team from five countries remote working with partners across four continents. It led us to experience the thrill of organising a movie campaign sitting in India, to be shot in stormy Berlin, with models, photographers, assistants and colleagues flying in from London and Romania, all with one vision at heart. The execution, the experience, the results were heartwarming.
PG: Who are your competitors in the market?
EP: Since we work with a rare product, we do not believe they are any real competitors for our towels. It’s a niche. But we do put ourselves next to Missoni Home, Hermes Home and Armani Casa when it comes to luxury textiles.
PG: Do you think you need to educate people about owning a 'luxury towel'? If so, how do you plan to do that?
EP: Luxury isn’t about education, it is about desire, it’s about experiencing the beauty of a mindfully crafted product. And with the pandemic, consumers now realise that everyday luxuries are more of value than the others.
We strive everyday to build an aesthetic, quality product that invokes desire in our consumers to turn their mundane showers into a truly revitalising ritual. We communicate our heritage, origin of our fine materials, the inspiration and emotion behind all our collections through digital media. We instigate collaborative projects with brilliant artists from around the world. We partner with businesses around the globe that deal with understated, ultra luxury services/products.
PG: Do you think the mindset of consumers is shifting drastically from brand consciousness and owning status symbol brands towards sustainability?
EP: With all the research we have done, interactions we have had and the queries we get, we have realised that two cannot be seperate. It’s a two-way street, the brand’s responsibility is to be more conscious and it’s the consumer’s responsibility to choose brands that not only have a status quo, but also the philosophy to collectively work towards sustainable goals that can save the world from the grave danger it’s heading towards.
It also goes back to choosing prestigious brands that care about how they produce that one beautiful bag you want, and goes back to whether you asked the right questions before buying that bag. At the end of the day, change will only be driven by clients who ask the right questions and brands who sincerely, honestly, respond to those questions. The mindset has not completely changed, but there is a huge movement in this direction.
Carrying an ancient craftsmanship forward and introducing it to the world of luxury, the exquisite Etisha Collective towels are being used by eminent royal personalities as well as the well-known Indian playback singer Shefali Alvares. The towels are available on the official website of Etisha Collective and on Tata Cliq Luxury.