DESIGN IN UNUSUAL PLACES: THE TAXI FABRIC PROJECT
Imagine stepping into a taxi and being transported to another world. WNW Member #5027 Sanket Alvani has done just that. He created an initiative that gives designers a platform to tell the stories of their cities through the unusual medium of... taxis. Because the perception of design as a profession is rather marginalized in India, Sanket was eager to demonstrate the impact it can have. A former engineering student, Sanket took the courageous step to pursue a path undefined, and finding his way as a designer in Mumbai opened his eyes to the opportunity to elevate it.
What started as a simple blog is now a full-fledged platform for designers in Mumbai to showcase their work on a taxi seat cover. Although a lot of attention is given to each taxi by its driver, to make it stand out from competitors, very little thought is given to the fabric used on the seats. The designs that cover the taxi seats are often dull and forgettable.
Sanket told us, “We put two and two together and started connecting designers with taxi drivers - turning seat covers into canvasses for young Indian designers to show off their design talent and storytelling skills. Each taxi is fitted with an identity label which tells anyone who rides in the taxi the designer behind the Taxi Fabric, the story of the design, and also how to get in contact with them for collaborations or commissions." The project was recently a Kickstarter Staff Pick and exceeded Sanket’s fundraising goal. Excited to see how it grows and where Sanket takes it next!
What's your background?
I studied engineering and happened to learn design on my own. Software and computers were new and almost like a trend at the time so I began to teach myself. While studying engineering, I started freelancing as a designer. Post engineering school, I went to a communications college and switched to advertising. I spent about four years in Mumbai as an Art Director and am now at Wieden + Kennedy in a more design/art direction role.
What did your parents think when you didn’t pursue engineering?
No one has ever asked me that! [Laughs.] They didn’t really understand... not sure if they do now.
It's very Indian to have a safe profession. I’m not sure I was fully aware of what I was doing then, to be honest. They always backed me up in what I wanted to do, and that is the only reason they were okay. They thought I would probably learn from my own mistakes.
I’m still deeply interested in technology, it’s just not what I thought engineering would be. It was a lot to do with information technology. I don’t think I was really interested in the theoretical. Art was always my hobby. It was more of a mistake to take engineering but better late than never.
How did you get the idea for The Taxi Fabric Project?
I started a blog taking pictures of the covers. It was a basic instinct as a designer and then started to evolve and develop over time.
What is most meaningful to you about this project?
The conversations I had early on with these taxi drivers. I realized that nobody is actually having a conversation with them about the seat covers that are being supplied to them. It meant that they weren’t really made for them, it was just passed on. When I engaged the drivers, they suggested what they would like. It was so simple and so ripe for designers to have that conversation. The full dialogue that has now started to happen with the designers and the cab drivers has been really interesting for us. I keep talking to the drivers and find the way they give feedback really interesting.
How is their feedback versus say, a client's?
Way happier! The feedback is plain, it’s simple. It’s just how they feel about it and that’s it. They don’t get into the details. It’s just how they feel.
What's been the most challenging thing about this project?
The durability and functionality of the fabric; keeping it clean, mending it. We have a six month expiration date for the fabrics though we're working to improve that. All of us are working on this as a side project but our producer gives a lot of her time since she’s the one actually in Mumbai.
Any favorite designs?
The beauty is that they are all different and that each designer brings something new and fresh. No favorite but we tend to be surprised every time we collaborate. You don’t expect designs to speak to you in that sort of environment but they do.
What advice can you can give to other members considering crowdfunding?
It’s really hard. The idea that you can simply put it on Kickstarter and it will get funded is absolutely destroyed in my head. That’s really not how it works. You have to push it outside of Kickstarter. When and if people start talking about it, that’s how you get it. One thing I want to mention is about the guidelines from Kickstarter: they give a lot of guidance on how to maintain a clean campaign. If you follow it, it helps a lot. Instead of listening to just anyone’s experience, listen to Kickstarter.
What's next for you?
A lot of people have asked where else I’m bringing this. I have that in my mind - I think it could work anywhere! Though the purpose of doing it in Mumbai would be different, I think it could work in London or New York.