Interview with Mala & Pradeep Sinha

Mala & Pradeep Sinha
Mala & Pradeep Sinha

Bodhi is known for saris
The Bodhi brand created by Mala and Pradeep Sinha in Vadodara is one of the most respected in the textiles and fashion business. The duo has carved a niche for their label with a firm emphasis on sustainability and staying on the path of true organic and environment-friendly products that not only encourage traditional weaving and printing techniques, but present them in a contemporary way to fashion-conscious buyers. They speak exclusively to Meher Castelino on their exciting journey and values.

What made you start the brand Bodhi, and what does it mean?

MS: Bodhi, simply put, is a state of mind that is awakened, aware, joyous and equanimous. I believe that any creative endeavour, perused in such a state is naturally reflected in the work, and hence the product is infused with these qualities. Thus, we hope, to share our joy with the Bodhi patrons.

It was at one of the Vipassana retreats that this thought came to me. The moment was indeed very magical. The Bodhi journey for both Pradeep and me is as much a personal one, as it is professional. So here, I would like to take you back in time to the late 70s and early 80s when we both graduated from NID. Then, design was not much known and even less understood, and those who had a vague idea were not willing to pay for the services. In such a scenario, we had to employ ourselves to make a living. That is how we became entrepreneurs-by default. In business, but somewhat reluctant! 

Fate brought us to Vadodara in the early 80s; I could say we literally walked into the city. Neither Pradeep nor I belong here. So, I can't really say what prompted us to move here. We needed to settle in some place and start our lives. Vadodara seemed like a small charming city that would embrace two young dreamers with not much in their pockets. It did not take long for us to find out that there were not many opportunities for us to function here as designers. We soon also realised that our "designs" only as creative ideas were not going to find any takers, but if we converted those into products, maybe those would find a niche market. Then the whole game began. The challenge was to successfully translate our creative design ideas into marketable products of superb quality.

Looking back, I think it was rather brave of us, I would say, even foolish. I think it has something to do with the age-one is a bit stubborn, boorish and also with a high opinion of one's self! 
What made you start the brand Bodhi, and what does it mean?

What is the USP of Bodhi that makes it different from other textiles/fashion brands?

Pradeep Sinha: Bodhi's USP is in being a sustainable label in the truest sense of the word and that would encompass pretty much everything. Being a design-led studio, I would emphasise on the fact that staying away from "fast fashion fads" and rather concentrating on creating patterns and prints that have a long lasting, classic appeal tops the USP list. Bodhi prints are not a "me too"-that is to say, one cannot huddle them together as "like sanganer" or "like kalamkari", etc. Over the years, Bodhi's print and pattern language has carved a niche for itself, which stands firmly on its own as signature Bodhi prints. At Bodhi, we believe in creating a product that is refreshingly modern and contemporary-a product that is relevant for today's global society and lifestyle, and yet Indian in essence and ethos. Here are our guidelines:
  • Being alert in using natural resources and harnessing renewable sources of energy wherever possible. 
  • At Bodhi, we clean, recycle and reuse effluents, which we generate using a very simple and an elegant technology based on filtration and bio-remediation, making us a "zero discharge" unit. 
  • We believe in developing sustained long-term relationships with our weavers and artisans from whom we procure raw material.
  • Our teams of dyers and printers have been with us for decades. Some have come to us as trained and skilled artisans. Most have walked in, joined as helpers, and got trained on the job. I suppose they stay on with us for they like the work culture and the pace of work at Bodhi. Our artisans are paid monthly salaries. They are not only paid fair wages, but also being entitled to provident fund and ESI as well as annual bonus. Our artisans can also avail of interest-free loans from us in times of need. 
  • Many of the successful experiments and innovations at Bodhi have come about because of the need to be frugal. Frugality had driven us to minimise waste, wherever possible. In this spirit, we use scraps and rags, end bits of fabrics, creatively to make interesting products.
What is the USP of Bodhi that makes it different from other textiles/fashion brands?

Where is your workshop? How does Bodhi go about its weaving, dyeing, printing, and other methods?

MS: Our workshop is located in Vadodara, Gujarat. I started my workshop in the early 80s on a modest scale. We printed using silkscreen. My decision to set up a hand screen-printing workshop was a very conscious one. At NID, my teacher Helena Perheentupa was a Finnish lady. I was very inspired by the Scandinavian design sensibility, especially the boldness and the graphic quality of the famed Marimekko textiles. My dream was to create something as beautiful and as dramatic as Marimekko in the Indian context. I started by printing dinner napkins, serviettes and then slowly expanded to other products in the home linen-table and bed linen range. In 1989, we had our first solo show in Mumbai at Napean Sea Road, under a marquee by the sea. The setting was awesome and the who's who of South Mumbai turned up for our show! 

Shilpa Shah of Garden Silk Mills visited and asked if we would be open to printing dress fabrics for her and that is how we forayed into apparel. In the meantime, at the workshop, we also started to print using wooden blocks. Sally Holkar (who had already started her very successful label Rehwa for the collection of revival Maheshwari fabrics and saris) suggested that we print saris, and the first collection we hand block-printed was on Sally's Rehwa saris. Faith Singh of Anokhi is someone whom I had a long association with. From 1982 until 1994, I regularly created design collections for her home collections. 

John Bissell, the founder of the iconic brand Fabindia was someone I looked up to for advice and guidance. He visited us at the institute, and it was an enriching experience to learn and interact with him. So, when the company decided to have its active presence in the country in the retail sector, it was only natural that we collaborated with them. We worked with them until 2010. During the phase, when we worked with Fabindia, we also grew in size and volume of business. 

In the recent years, we have consciously stepped aside from the "commercial rat race" and cut down on production. To me, this very sensible decision seems like "to have come a full circle" by working on that scale, which is what we started with three decades ago-more manageable, more artisanal, more human and personal. At the workshop, our extremely skilled team of artisans-dyers, painters, hand-block printers and hand-screen printers produce extremely high-quality fabrics. Our team of women does the most exquisite embroidery. What is so special about Bodhi's embroidery is that it follows the print language that is already established on the fabric. The embroidery enhances it, by way of texture, a dimension and in many cases colour.

Do you think the sustainable and organic movement is more for publicity and less for reality?

MS: I do hope that the sustainable and organic movement is for real and not just for publicity. I do not know about the others, but we at Bodhi take our responsibility far too seriously.
Published on: 04/12/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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