Taxi Fabric, a Bombay-based independent design project, has been pushing the envelope when it comes to everyday design in a public space. Think head-turning, vibrant designs on their canvas of choice: the upholstery of our kaali-peeli taxis, as they ply the streets. Interpreting local stories in unique styles, they’ve combined the aesthetic joys of design with its potential to affect change, in the most accessible way.
What makes their work really special is how it moulds itself into the city in a way that reflects its ethos, as well as starting conversations amongst people stuck on the go. “We wanted to be able to reach out to as many people as possible with our art, and to inform them about the range of work designers in the city are creating,” founder Sanket Avlani explains the concept. “We create visual interpretations, print them onto fabric and fit them out inside taxis. We’re always looking for new designers to collaborate with in different cities.”
Earlier this month, Taxi Fabric held a workshop in association with Indiefolio with 24 designers to give three taxis a makeover in two days flat. The creative network hosted the works of over 200 applicants from Bombay, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Goa and Chennai, with the final list of participants being curated by three mentors, Mayur Mengle, Pavithra Dikshit and Aniruddh Mehta, all established designers in their own right with a distinct style.
“I have been following Taxi Fabric on Facebook since they started, and that's where I read about the workshop,” Bangalore-based designer Shikha Nambiar, one of the final participants, says. “I knew I had to apply for it. I've been a big fan of what they do and this would be a great opportunity to get to meet the team and learn about their work, processes etc. Thankfully, I was one of the first 6 designers that got selected for the workshop.”
“The workshop was intense, and of course a lot of fun,” Aniruddha Mehta elaborates on the process. “Conceptualising the theme and the actual design work happened on the first day, the printing, overnight, and the fabric-fitting on the second day. After an hour of introduction, I gave my team members' their theme — 'Bombay Disco' — which they accepted with a huge smile on their faces, and we all got cracking on it. What's interesting about having such little time to execute a project like this, which usually takes about 3-4 weeks, is that there's less time to think so you rely on your instincts.”
“After narrowing down on the theme, I left the team to brainstorm and ideate,” mentor Mayur Mengle shares. “They churned out some great ideas in just two to three hours, which I then helped them work out. This ensured that the original designs and ideas were theirs and I only helped them stitch it all together. It was a great two days filled with excitement and enthusiasm, and I enjoyed watching the students collaboratively work as a team, adapting to each other’s styles and pace. ”
“In a team, people each have their unique skills and techniques and there’s a lot to learn from each other,” Priyanka Karyekar, who participated in the workshop, tells us more about her experience. “To get the best performance, we had to share and grow as a team, and to work together with the same responsibility and energy. Luckily, I had really cool team at the TF Workshop, all really talented designers! Our theme was ‘Disco’ and we were super excited about it. We all related to it on some level, and inspired by the Bappi Lahiri era, decided to go very retro.”
“Everyone did a spectacular job and some of the ideas that came up definitely took me by surprise,” mentor Aniruddh Mehta says. “For example, Mukund Iyer came up with a fantastic idea where we have some sort of typography scattered across the ceiling and the side panels of the taxi which would prompt a passenger, step-by-step, to point at them; at the fourth step, they've just completed a classic disco dance move. This was the perfect level of interaction that was needed for the Disco taxi.”
Nitisha Chawla, a designer whose team was mentored by Pavithra Dikshit, shares, “During our ideation phase, we realized how taxis could be a powerful medium to change your mood in an instant. Keeping that in mind, we made a list of good manners that were important, and decided their placement in the taxi. After that, each member was given the freedom and space to design based on their unique style, tastes and experiences. We had a very unified approach and we decided to keep a minimalist style and a consistent color palette. For me, such experiences are not only about contributing, but also learning something new from people around me and improving.” On the mentoring process by Pavithra Dikshit, a typographer, designer and artist who is 1/3 Postcard People and 1/8 of Kadak, Nitisha says, “To begin with, she was able to clearly communicate the whole idea behind our topic ‘good manners’. She was our cheerleader who really helped and encouraged all of us throughout the creative process. With her knowledge and constructive feedback, we were all able to take our ideas to the next level and design the taxi.”
“I think the only challenge was the time constraint, as there were all kinds of participants from students to working professionals,” Pavithra shares. “My personal experience was fantastic as I got to meet a lot of upcoming designers with great talent. I'm surprised and beyond at how they managed to push themselves because of the time constraint, and the outcome. Super proud of all 24 of them.”
“I think we really underestimated the participants, and they really surprised us,” Taxi Fabric founder Sanket adds as an afterthought. “From conceptualising to sketches to finishing, their performance has given us the confidence to view the whole process with a new lens about what we can achieve. The energy levels were very high, and then a lot of people showed up to check out the work.”
“This is great because this means that there is the possibility of involving the student community, which is raw, energetic and also very talented. There is also potential to turn something around quickly, which can be achieved through bringing like-minded people with similar skills together. This also had to do with the curatorial skills played by the mentors.”
Culminating in a viewing session on September 4th, the event also hosted discussions with influencers who have moulded the Indian design industry such as Kunal Anand from Kulture Shop. “We discussed topics like, ‘What does it take to be a good millennial designer?’ Quality of work is one thing, but etiquette is very important, and so is attitude, more so for independent designers.”
The winner, Priyanka Karyekar, was announced by the mentors as well. “Not only does she have a great understanding of the craft, but she could also see the design through very clearly in her head, while being able to collaborate with the other designers. We also looked for leadership qualities. She’s going to be working on her own taxi now, and being quite an experienced designer herself, we believe she’s capable of pulling this off quite well.”
As for what’s in the cards next for Taxi Fabric, he says:
“We are also going to be launching our first social rickshaw in Delhi, the concept of which is based on women leaders, especially those who have fought fearlessly against suppression.”
Taxi Fabric is no stranger to helping spread a meaningful message, having collaborated with Ted X in the past with a focus on serving as a platform for designers involved in social work. One of the taxis redesigned as a part of this initiative was done solely by kids with special needs, while another memorable work would be a taxi designed by Harshit Vishwakarma, which had the Indian sign language printed on the fabric — a way to communicate with the hearing impaired.
“Besides that, there will be more workshops across different cities; what we’re focusing on currently is our display at the London Design Festival at the end of the month, as a part of their 10th anniversary celebrations for which they’ve invited independent designers and studios from India as representatives of their first annual guest country pavilion. We’re going to be developing textiles based on our existing designs there, and we’re really looking forward to it.”