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Getting to know Rengé & Sheena

Getting to know Rengé & Sheena

by Anya Gupta

My name is Anya Gupta, and I’m a 24 year old conscious lifestyle advocate. A daughter, sibling, keen farmer, dog mom of four and a citizen of the Earth. I live with my family on a beautiful farm called Aura, on the outskirts of Chandigarh. The farm life is everything I could ask for. We grow our own organic fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, create micro ecosystems and even run a pottery studio called Aura Pottery.

I also head a homegrown venture called Aura Life, an initiative to bring concepts of low waste living and sustainability to my city. A lot of this is achieved through workshops, open days and events at Aura.

I first stumbled upon Renge’s Instagram page in 2019. I had just started my ‘sustainable journey’ and was looking for small businesses I wanted to support and associate with. Reaching out to homegrown brands introduced me to various ideas of sustainability and what it meant to them.

I believe that brands and businesses are as good as the people behind them. They’re an extension of their founders. This could not be more true for Sheena. From interacting with her as the founder and creative director of Rengé, to being a friend with whom I share life values and goals. Getting to know Sheena has been heart-warming. Dog mother, animal lover, nature enthusiast and a fashionista - I resonate!

Here’s getting to know Sheena and Rengé better.

1. Tell me about yourself. How did you step into the world of fashion and start Renge.

I’m from Delhi, but I grew up in the Himalayas and attended Woodstock, an international boarding school situated in a small town called Mussoorie. Those years were the most impactful and formative years of my life. I then went on to study Fashion Marketing at the London College of Fashion. From a young age I was very particular about how I wanted to dress. I think a part of me always felt rebellious and that rebelliousness turned into an expression of self through fashion and body art. I’ve been through all kinds of phases – bleached blonde hair, baggy jeans and sweatshirts, dreadlocks, lip and chin piercings, and lots of tattoos. I started Rengé in 2016 while I was living in Bombay. It was a particularly low period in my life personally, and Rengé was the light at the end of my tunnel. To be honest I wasn’t even sure of what direction I wanted to take it because I didn’t have the confidence just yet. That first year I outsourced all sampling & production and learnt so much along the way. Slowly, by the grace of The Instagram Gods, we started to get noticed by women that were looking for fuss-free, conscious clothing. The first time a celebrity wore Rengé (Miss Malini) I screamed and jumped with joy! These past 4 years have come with their own challenges, but Rengé has moulded me into the woman I am today. I don’t think the 15, or for that matter the 25 year old me, ever thought I would be bold enough to run my own business.

2. Why the name ‘Renge’? How does it translate into principles your brand runs by?

Rengé means lotus flower in Japanese. During my time in Bombay, I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism. Through Buddhism I learnt to find happiness and a sense of purpose, so when it came to thinking of a name for my brand it couldn’t have been anything but Rengé.

A lotus flower is beautiful, yet it grows through muddy waters. This short, melodic name brings to life such a powerful message; that through the mud you can shine and find your beauty. That’s how I feel all women are. Strong, resilient and gorgeous. That’s also how I choose to view every member of my team. They bring their own experiences and something incredibly special and unique which then translates to beautiful garments that are made with a whole lot of love, thought and care.

3. Renge incorporates sustainability uniquely. Share some activities that you undertake to make Rengé a conscious brand.

I like to think of us as a conscious and thoughtful brand. We purchase surplus fabrics and bring them to life. Because we do dye and embroider these fabrics we make sure we work with factories that follow the strictest social and environmental compliances. The dyeing unit we work with is Oeko-Tex certified, which is one of the toughest certifications in the world, for a dyeing and printing factory. The embroidery unit is Sedex certified another world renowned certification for ethical and environmental practices. A part of our unit runs on solar power, reducing emissions and applying with factory norms. Another really amazing thing about our fabrics & garments is that all processing happens within a 3km radius. Most of our orders are made to order, as we don’t believe in over producing. For us being thoughtful also means that we offer custom fits so that every woman can have access to our designs. When I moved back from Bombay to Delhi in 2017, I came with a vision to design and manufacture, all under one roof. We have a small team of employees who have well paying, secure jobs. Especially through these uncertain times, my priority has been to make sure that our team stays intact, and one of the most important messages we send out to our employees is that if there is anyone in their family that needs a job, we will try and create one for them. We have 2 people on our team currently that have joined us because of this. Kajal, who joined when she moved to Delhi from Nepal (and had never previously travelled outside her village) first started by helping with packing our orders. I soon realised she’s a skilled seamstress, as she and a lot of other young girls learn this skill while growing up. This is her first job, and from the work she does you would think it comes with years of experience. Roshan, whose father has been working with us for over 2 years now joined us a year ago. Roshan has a speech and hearing impairment, and is one of the sharpest and most willing people I’ve met. For his father it was important that his son work in a safe and healthy environment, and I’m so grateful that we can provide that for him. Roshan is head of QC and you won't believe the kind of minute details he can spot.

4. How did you manage to combine your love for pets & fashion. Tell me about Renge’s impact in the animal rehabilitation world.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had dogs as pets. I get this love for animals from my mother. As a child I was always kind and gentle with animals, and I think especially when I was going through my awkward teens I felt nobody understood me like my dogs did. Once I moved back to Delhi after college, I started my activism with things like spaying dogs around the area I lived in. My mom and I also rescued and rehabilitated injured street dogs that we would find. I think in my early 20’s I started to get the sense that my true life’s purpose is to work for the betterment of the voiceless. And I continued this work even while I lived in Mumbai. Feeding street animals, rescuing donkeys and birds. It’s been quite a wild ride. In 2017 we started our manufacturing unit in Faridabad and of course feeding the street dogs that lived nearby. None of these dogs were spayed or vaccinated so in November 2018 on my birthday, I made it my mission to spay and vaccinate 500 dogs. I’ve worked with Friendicoes over the years and really admire the incredible work they do. They agreed to take on this project and we agreed to raise funds for it. Over the course of 2 years we spayed and vaccinated 401 dogs! This is how I see it: creating beautiful garments is my passion and working for the welfare of street animals is my life calling; my soul work.

5. What, for you, are the most fun parts of work? What parts are not so fun?

One of the most challenging and fun parts of my job is conceptualising and designing. I look at a surplus fabric, which are basically like blank canvases in a lot of the cases (when we’re with plain fabrics) and dream of their silhouettes before dyeing and embroidering them. This really gets those creative juices flowing which in turn opens up different parts of my creative mind. I also really enjoy interacting with customers. Whether it’s a happy customer, or someone with constructive criticism I’ve learnt to listen to what people have to say. We all like to be heard, and as a small growing brand I can be accessible to my customers. The not so fun part is all the damn paperwork! Ugh, the amount of challans etc we have to make gets a little overwhelming for me.

6. Where do you see Renge in the next 5 years. What will change? Are there any more sustainable practices you plan on including into the brand?

If I were to shut my eyes and think of us 5 years from now, this is where we will be: running a cute little boutique B&B on a sustainable farm in Goa. I dream of a slow paced life where I can continue my passion for creating garments and open a shelter for old and injured animals. In the future I would like Rengé’s focus to be solely on using plant based fabrics. And the truth is I have the desire to run a small successful brand, because that’s the only way we can continue to be conscious and offer a personalised experience for our customers. I am hugely inspired to live the farm life thanks to you!

7. As Sheena Uppal, what kind of impact do you want to make in this industry?

I want to be able to be a part of the successful, small business world. Where businesses remain small and diversify without over producing. I want to hire more women. I want to be local, always local. Use things that are locally available, and improve the lives of those that work for us by empowering them with self-sustaining knowledge. I like to live my life through a lens of compassion and although I will forever be a work in progress, I hope that through my work and my life I will always be remembered as a kind human being. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that life is precious and you can only survive if you’re passionate and kind.

8. Having lived this life for a while, share with me your top 5 tips on low waste fashion.
  1. Buy less, but buy quality garments. Garments that you can wear again and again, yet style them differently for a fun change up.
  2. Donate! Clothes that you don’t wear, don’t need to live in a dark corner of your wardrobe. In India there are more than enough people who would value and appreciate that garment.
  3. Understand where your garments are made and the story behind the brand. Always wash your clothes in cold water (hand washing is ideal) and wash them when they’re actually dirty, and not after every use.
  4. Buy local. There are some amazing brands in India, doing some amazing things.

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