As a schoolgirl, Radha Kapoor loved her art and craft classes. It was a passion that endured, defining her life and leading her to introduce a new model of design with the Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI) set up in Mumbai last year in collaboration with the renowned Parsons The New School for Design, New York.
The career choice was not the easiest one. Born into a family of bankers and finance professionals, Radha was the one who walked the different path when she set out to pursue her education in fine arts in London and later at Parsons. "It wasn't easy. My father had always been a banker, one of my sisters had studied at Wharton while the other is pursuing her studies at a prestigious business school in UK. I was sceptical and asked myself if I was doing the right thing. At the time, there was not much acceptance for design studies and people assumed that those who were not good at science or mathematics had to choose such an option," says Radha.
She believes the times are changing and people have begun to understand that design can be a valued and lucrative career option. The 29-year-old says she struggled to find a course with an international curriculum that would provide a holistic education in India when she was selecting a college for herself and decided to look abroad. "Though designers in India may be extremely talented, they are not taught how to market their product and make it a viable business."
At ISDI, the collaboration with Parsons ensures a mix of the best of the education systems of east and west. "Designers are taught packaging and marketing and provided a business perspective. They work on real time briefs and gain real time experience. We focus on research and conduct ethnographic studies which is also not done sufficiently in India."
Though designers need to be futuristic, Radha believes in delving into history as well for a complete perspective. "The interest in crafts has died down and we will ensure students go to villages and learn about traditional crafts. We also intend to develop incubation centres for people to work on these subjects at the new building into which we will be moving soon," she says.
"At Parsons one can do a course in liberal arts, study jazz music, learn an exotic language or do a course in creative writing along with one's studies. Design students in India are bereft of this kind of experience," explains the entrepreneur.
She thus set out to introduce India to Parsons, which has a presence in New York and Paris. ISDI is Parsons' first collaboration. Though she conceived of the idea in 2003-04, the school opened doors only in July 2013. "It was not easy to convince the authorities at Parsons and the process took between two-three years. The collaboration is a technical one. Authorities at Parsons will provide assistance with developing the curriculum, course development, quality assurance and training the faculty. Faculty exchange programmes and student exchange programmes are also on the cards," says Radha.
Incorporating an eclectic mix of subjects, Radha intends to ensure that students are familiar with the Indian history from Mohenjodaro to the Indus Valley Civilisation to mythology.
"There will be a mix of east and west but the focus in on India," she says.At present, ISDI has over 50 students pursuing their studies in the foundation year. Though the objective is to train them so they can get good jobs, Radha hopes some of them will turn entrepreneurs and step out on their own. "
When asked about what she thinks of the design scene in India, she says, "India needs more public art as this will facilitate greater interaction between society, people and the place."
Radha's first venture Pressto was India's first luxury dry cleaning service. "I stumbled upon Pressto. As a student in New York, I experienced the luxury of good dry cleaning and thought the idea could work in India." Well, this idea will work too.