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Wrapping a Saree Around California’s Haveli on the Hills: How I Showcase India’s Artisanal Genius

Wrapping a Saree Around California’s Haveli on the Hills: How I Showcase India’s Artisanal Genius

  • Social justice is a core value as Pia Ka Ghar seeks to preserve the dying arts and textiles of the Indian subcontinent and support the artisans who otherwise might not have a market for their handiwork.

Pia Ka Ghar (PKG) is a California-based company that offers a carefully curated selection of Indian and Indo-western clothes for a most discerning audience. High design and high presentation are of the utmost importance. I am going to take you from our ‘haveli on the hills’ on a journey behind the scenes of our family-owned boutique.

A Wharton grad came back from a vacation in California in 1980 and told me it was ‘God’s own country.’ When I moved from Philadelphia to California in 1982, I chose this liberal country’s way of life and living. The enterprise that is now PKG was started to benefit artisans in India and have maximum impact. It found home ground here in 2003.  

And now, 20 years later, we find our location ideal. Beaches, mountains, valleys, deserts, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, cities and countryside, all to the power of their ultimate potential exist and give us a perfect backdrop for our marketing campaigns. PKG’s clients wear their clothes artisanal and bespoke, in all of these environments, in all micro-climates, all over the world, and part of the mission is to show them the best version of themselves. As a California company, PKG imbibes the whimsy spirit of this great region, which has a lot in common with many regions in Italy.

Before a photo shoot comes a story. The sprays of ocean waves at Pebble Beach, the sea animals, the salty air, the fruity scents, and the lush golf courses, for example, inspire stories of Botticelli’s ‘Venus.’ We borrow heavily from our love of Italian art, literature, and essence. I’m always making up stories – that is my stock-in-trade and to come up with a storyline for a shoot that is subtle and poetic is what I like to do best. Doing anything for shock value is the antithesis of the PKG aesthetic that embraces a love of the sensual, beautiful, and endearing.  

The PKG team has traveled around the world – Europe, Latin America, Africa, and of course, India. These global travels provide inspiration for our campaigns. Each place has revealed backdrops and colors (cerulean blue, creme fraiche, positive pink, Calcutta Rani, topographical red) that PKG has used for shoots and stories about diverse people and situations. I made it imperative for the team to read the major literature of the land before visits, so they could connect viscerally with the city.  

The team brought back creative ideas to the PKG campaigns, design motifs and the company credo. Before a visit to Colombia, for instance, the team had to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, before Turkey, Orhan Pamuk, before Argentina, Borges, before Vienna, they listened to Mozart and read Freud, before Calcutta, of course, Tagore. With an expansion of world view (Rabindranath Tagore’s life is a perfect example of this world consciousness), PKG gave the regional craftsmanship of India a universal consciousness.

PKG has amazingly good ‘model karma’ – extraordinary models for our campaigns arrive at PKG’s doorstep. It has never been necessary to go looking for professional models – there was that “je ne sais quoi” in a particular woman that would make her ideal to represent the PKG brand. This story hasn’t changed since the first model that PKG chose to represent Sabyasachi saris in 2010.  

Priya was gorgeous and I had her wear a Sabyasachi ‘lal paar,’ (red-bordered white georgette sari), go barefoot and wear a big red bindi. She is now a successful model in Mumbai and much sought after all over India. Jas is another gorgeous person, and she fits into the ‘California woman’ profile as does a right-sized glove in a hand. PKG models in Calcutta, Sushmita, Diti, Jessica, Arpita and Anushka have all found a path to successful modeling careers after their start with PKG.  

Once someone has modeled for PKG, it seems to open doors for them where only traps existed before. PKG does not just elevate size 0 models. Instead, the diversity and beauty of women are celebrated. Zakir Hussain, the tabla maestro, had once told me that Indian beauties are not a size 2 or a 4; curves are felicitated in Indian sculpture, art, and cinema. With a much more inclusive approach, PKG understands that women’s bodies change over time and whether a size 2 or 20, they deserve fashion that accentuates their inner and outer beauty.  

Some wonderful women who are not career models have chosen to model for us as well; investment bankers, psychologists, computer programmers, et al, representing the powerful force of women’s power (naari shakti).

In planning campaigns, PKG has some other advantages. I worked exclusively with Sabyasachi for 12 years and the experience imparted many useful lessons. Whether it was a photo shoot at the Lake Palace in Udaipur or a couture show in Delhi, he paid attention to every little detail himself, the music, the wrinkles in the clothes, the sets, the ambiance or the masala khichuri everyone was going to eat. His eyes see more than most people do on a plate of food in front of them. 

Neel Ganguly, my son and PKG stylist, who has a finance degree but was pulled into the fashion business by our Sabyasachi initiative, learned fashion details in an apprenticeship. He got to watch and learn how Sabyasachi organized his IIFA presentation in Toronto with supermodels including Bipasha Basu and Nayanika and quotes from Dante’s Inferno flashing on the screen while the models walked the ramp. He learned the making of the “Opium” fashion show where Leonard Cohen’s music was used for the ramp walk. He learned design and its management. This tutelage raised the ante for PKG.

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In addition, Neel became a good photographer – by good, I mean his eye is trained. A photo is not just the juxtaposition of a lens touching a subject – a good photograph reflects the photographer’s sensibilities, the music he has heard, the books he has read, the places he has visited and the people he has met, actually and virtually in his imagination. Imagination is necessary for reality to be swallowed, Anais Nin had said. We live in a make-believe world with our five dachshund rescues and we translate that make-believe into reality every single day.

PKG has added another dimension to our raison d’etre because it functions as a genuine social entrepreneurship. It is essential for this company to have the maximum impact on the lives of the artisans in the Indian subcontinent. PKG’s campaigns are being designed to bring that consciousness to our customers, that when you buy from PKG you are contributing to a larger cause than simply dressing yourselves. 

Sabyasachi always called me ‘a fairy godmother’ and told me to stop being that! However, nature is hard to deflect. I passed this trait on to my kids. Shona, my daughter, who has several major degrees that could be jockeyed into a profitable career chose to work on environmental policy. Neel and Ishan, my two sons, work hard to benefit our artisans. The family has a categorical imperative to invest in communities and make a difference. When customers buy anything from PKG, they are joining into our bandwagon. 

The inequities in society are real and cannot be ignored no matter what sector and no matter where in the world one travels. Social justice must be central to any enterprise, and in many ways, it is a core value as PKG has been preserving the dying arts and textiles of the Indian subcontinent and supporting the artisans who otherwise might not have a market for their handiwork. PKG’s campaigns are always designed to keep the motto of Aldous Huxley’s perennial philosophy and Tagore’s ‘The Religion of Man.” The mission at Pia Ka Ghar has always been and remains to make someone’s next day a little bit better.

Pia Ganguly is the CEO of Pia Ka Ghar, a haveli in the hills of Los Altos in Silicon Valley. ( She is a social entrepreneur and the primary mission of PKG is to promote inclusive growth in the Indian subcontinent and make someone’s next day a little bit better. She is a ferocious dog lover. 

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