A large, floppy straw hat, oversized sunglasses, and a syrupy cocktail by the beach are what vacation dreams are made of. While we can only dream of travel at the moment, we can reach out for that one accessory that protects us against the sun, while making a strong fashion statement. Straw hats have always been ‘in’. From the Panama hat made famous by US President Teddy Roosevelt on his 1906 visit to the Panama canal, to Brigitte Bardot’s oversized, undulating straw hat in the 50s, to their introduction to the catwalks of haute couture in the 90s by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre, they had arrived. Easy to style with Westernwear and Resortwear, the world can never have enough of straw hats. And meeting this demand head on is Myaraa, a sustainable accessories label started in 2019 by Namrata Lodha, inspired by the natural grass fibre baskets and objects made by the women of the villages surrounding her hometown in Madhya Pradesh. Empowering marginalized women, and making customizable boaters and fedoras available to women all over the world comes easy to Namrata.Namrata Lodha, founder, Myaraa
How did you get the idea to start making accessories – and that too, straw hats? What was your profession before you got into business?
I am a homemaker. I always wanted to start a business of my own. My entrepreneurship journey started in a living room with a germ of an idea – to (re)introduce the concept of hats as an accessory but with a unique design element in it. During one of my trips to my mother's house in Harda, Madhya Pradesh, I saw local artisans creating various tools and handicrafts using straw and wheat grass. With my experience in design and craft, I thought we could make fashion accessories from these natural raw materials, which also makes a positive impact to the environment. Then and there, I decided to pursue and explore this segment.
Are you a hat person – was it a holiday to the beach that inspired you?
Accessories like hats always caught my attention. A hat is universal and is one of the easiest ways to transform any look, especially on a bad hair day. My trip to a beach in Los Angeles inspired me to learn more about hats as an accessory, and how to use them to style various outfits.Myaraa by Namrata Lodha - a Boater Hat with a long ribbon
The straw hats are made from local crafts and local material from your childhood home in MP. Could you tell me a bit about the area and its crafts, and how you got them to start making hats?
The place where I grew up (and currently staying) is surrounded by wheat and other grain farms. The grass from these grains is used by local craftsmen to make handy tools and local crafty items that can get them a little additional money from their produce. Looking at the raw material, I realized we could mould them and polish them perfectly so they could be used as hats. As easy it may sound, it was a long journey before we came up with our first Boater hat. It involved a lot of sweat and patience before we were able to get our design consistent.
Do you have a workshop there – how many women work there?
Yes, we have a workshop and design studio where hats are made; we call it a 'farm to fashion' workshop. Until last month we had 10 women working for us, as we have now seen a rise in orders we have about 17 women that work here.Myaraa by Namrata Lodha - hats for every occasion
Yours is a sustainable brand – did you set out to make one or did the local production happen by chance? How is this work helping the women there? What village are they from?
I always try to be careful with my consumption and the impact it has on the environment. The local natural raw materials are what inspired me to build accessories that could potentially be environmentally friendly along with being great fashion accessories. We are careful of the products we use in our workshop to ensure we have a minimal impact on the environment. The production empowers rural women whose families abandoned them for marrying outside their community or for being a widow. They belong to nearby villages like Khidkiya, Timarni, and Harda. Our company makes work accessible in rural India for these women, making sure that when you buy a sunny hat it comes bundled with the social and financial empowerment of a woman.
Does your family still live there?
Yes, we all stay here including my mother, brother. and his entire family.Myaraa by Namrata Lodha - another Boater Hat
Where do you get the designs from?
We started making basic designs which would resonate with our customers. Over time, we received customer feedback on what they wanted – more in terms of trend, design and colours. We challenged ourselves and worked closely in creating new designs and incorporated them in our collection.
Do you sit with the artisans and show them the ropes?
You will find me spending most of my time in the workshop and design studio. We are still a new brand and a relatively new team of people. Most of the time is spent sitting and working with them shoulder to shoulder on each design and artwork.
How many different kinds of hats do you retail?
We have six styles of hats available (Boater Hat, Floppy Hat, Fedora Hat, Fringe Hat, Ruffle Hat and Raffia Hat), where the Floppy is available in over 10 colours and styled with various ribbon knots and designs.Myaraa by Namrata Lodha hats are customizable
What I love particularly is the customized aspect – that you can have your name or a saying embroidered on it? Can this be done in different colours?
Absolutely! The sky's the limit. We can write custom text in various colours with either sequins or fabric strings (cords).
Are there different colours and kinds of straw used?
Straw is naturally used from wheat grass and available only in its natural colour. Having said that, sometimes our hat shades also vary slightly depending on the natural colour.
Which ones are your personal favourites?
My favourite is the Boater hat and our newest creation, the Ruffle hat. More than being fashionable, they are about being protected from the elements and staying comfortable, no matter what the weather is like outside.Myaraa by Namrata Lodha hats are perfect for the beach
What are the hats one should pack on a vacation – when the pandemic is over?
Due to the pandemic, everyone's vacations, bachelorettes, parties, are either postponed or done virtually. I believe one should pick a Boater hat with a long tail bow for a vacation as it's a timeless, elegant piece which you can style with a nice long dress or beachwear.
You ship internationally – is it via Instagram too, along with your website?
Yes, that’s correct. Since our inception we have seen more international customers than national. I believe it has to do with hats being part of the Western wardrobe and styling outfits whereas over here it is gradually picking up now.Myaraa by Namrata Lodha hats complete your look
You have women from the world over appreciating your hats! What are some of the nicest things they have said?
The one common string between all the positive responses is about our the ‘high quality’ of our products, and an option to personalize them as well. Most of our overseas clients also praise the delivery lead time. So far our products have been shipped in over 50 countries and every day, we strive for perfection.
What is next for Myaraa in 2021?
In terms of growth, it feels like we are just getting started. In the new product segment we are working towards making lightweight Fringe hats that would be foldable and easy to carry, and wavy Ruffle hats. These are a perfect combination of classic yet chic accessories. It is one of the most complex products we are building so far, mainly because it needs to have a smooth finish but at the same time look rustic. Apart from the hat collection, we are looking to venture into our own style and design of ribbon patterns that reflect the work of my local kaarigars (artisans). Along with these, we are also looking to explore oversized straw hats that make for a fun travel accessory.
History speaks for itself that India is known worldwide for its art and culture. Our heritage and craftspersons have been applauded globally for centuries. That makes my job easy, if we continue to focus on quality, the product and the craftsmanship involved in personalizing the hat will sell for itself.
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A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.
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