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Mumbai cabs to showcase work of local designers

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2015-07-28 16:00:00 – Mumbai

Sanket Avlani, a graphic designer has started an initiative called Taxi Fabric that asks emerging Indian designers to create textile designs for the inside of the city's cabs. The iconic black and yellow taxis which is the most convenient form of transportation for the majority of Mumbaikars everyday but for designer Sanket Avlani, the taxi can also be a way to showcase local designers.

Avlani is running the project with the help of project manager Mahak Malik and writers Nathalie Gordon and Girish Narayandass, connects designers with taxi drivers to brighten up the taxi's interiors and showcase the work of local designers.

By giving designers an opportunity for their work to be seen by thousands throughout the city, Avlani said that the project aims to bring awareness to design as a profession in a culture that often takes the potential impact of art and design for granted.

In Mumbai, the taxi system is regulated by the government and taxi unions, but most of the cabs are owned or rented by individuals. Even for rented vehicles, Avlani said that the upkeep of the car's interior is left to the driver, most of whom decorate their cabs with trinkets and rosary beads but pay little mind to the make or design of the seat fabric. Decking out their interiors with bold, colorful patterns not only adds character, it also makes the cab recognizable to passengers. Taxi drivers are starting to want in.

Taxi Fabric has facilitated the design of six cars to date and are hoping to expand the project—which at this point is mostly self-funded or supported through sponsorships—with money raised from their Kickstarter campaign. They play the middle man, matching up designers with drivers and overseeing the production of the fabric. Some drivers have given designers free range to do as they please, while others have more of a hand in the design.

Avlani before working on with this project consulted with textile designers to figure out which fabric was best to use. After considering the practical elements—how long it will last, how it will hold up against dirt and water—he settled on a polyester-blend that looks and feels like canvas. Once the design is finished, it's transfered onto fabric using special heat sensitive dyes through sublimation. The fabric is then handed over to a tailor who handles the upholstery and sews on a fabric tag with the name of the designer and the sponsor.

Public reaction so far has been encouraging—with only a handful of Taxi Fabric's pimped-out taxis on the street, it's already generated a lot of buzz around the city. Avlani knows that if they can get people in Mumbai onboard and talking about it, the rest of the country will start to take note as well. Eventually, he hopes that it will bring a greater international awareness to talented Indian designers, even if it proves to be a slow process. The point is to take these steps slowly and correctly, he said.

The taxi drivers are very proud of the change and they are talking about the project. A lot them are looking forward to getting their taxis done.

As the project continues, Avlani wants to use it as a means for students and young designers to have their work shown around the city. He feels that right now, Mumbai doesn't take design as a profession seriously, and is losing talent to other countries as a result.

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