A January evening sees a commotion on the terrace of Ogilvy’s Mumbai office. Those gathered at the global advertising firm’s function are pledging to “wear out plastic”. At the centre of it all is fashion entrepreneur Masaba Gupta, happily chatting with the media. Her design house, House of Masaba, was launching a clothing line called ‘I Will Wear Out Plastic’ in association with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Ogilvy. The collection will use fashion trends to reduce plastic usage.
When we sit to chat, Masaba has a confession. “I was not someone who was conscious of the environment,” she says. “When you are young, you are in your little bubble and you just do your own thing. You think ‘unless it is affecting me directly, I will not really make a change’. But it was time. I have been reading so much about plastic pollution and, turns out, it is a crisis larger than you and I can imagine.”
In June 2018, Ogilvy wrote to her about its association with UNEP and its intent to involve the fashion industry. “The whole idea was to [stop] plastic pollution. We thought why not do a collection of clothes that turn into bags,” said Masaba. The new line is quirky like most collections from House of Masaba.
Besides working on her fashion line, Masaba is involved in Netflix’s upcoming show Masaba Masaba, starring her and her mother, actor Neena Gupta. Calling her life a “glorious mess”, Netflix says the scripted series is based on “real-life moments from the designer’s life that follows her unique background, the diverse worlds she straddles across fashion and family, and her foray back into the dating world”. Masaba divorced film producer Madhu Mantena last year.
With fingers in multiple pies, Masaba has a way of finding meaning in all she does. The love child of Gupta and West Indies cricketer Vivian Richards, she used to be bullied for her looks. But launching a successful beauty line with Nykaa Cosmetics has been therapeutic. At one point during our conversation, she talks about battling acne as a kid. “There was no solution to it other than steroids,” she says. “And that was really painful. I want to work on a line of skincare that takes care of that in a better way.”
She has been a torchbearer of making fashion inclusive in India, by roping in models of all ages and sizes. That, too, emanated from her own experience. And, she is happy the masses have accepted her ideas. “You have to be very careful with the way you communicate with people now and what you say to them,” says Masaba. “Fashion has become inclusive. We have less Photoshop and more real girls in big campaigns. You have to have girls of different shapes, sizes and ethnicity.” She believes that every time she posts an unedited image on Instagram, at least two girls learn to embrace their own bodies. “For a brand to recruit a 60-year-old model, a northeastern model, a dark-skinned model and a plus-size model, it makes people feel like they can touch and feel the clothes. Fashion was always intimidating. Today, it is less so. People now feel, ‘Oh, I can wear that [too].’”
The biggest change in fashion over the last decade has been the messaging. “I think fashion is the number one reason for mental health problems; the vanity that comes with fashion. That is why brands are changing and [focusing] more on loving yourself,” she says.
It is no coincidence that her 60-year-old mother has been flaunting shorts and dresses on her social media handles. “She really gets trolled for it,” says Masaba. “People are shocked, asking how a 60-plus woman can wear such clothes. But she says she has nice legs, so why shouldn’t she wear it?”
This attitude of her mother, Masaba says, has also kept her grounded. In an interview recently, her mother mentioned that if she could change anything from the past she would not have a child out of wedlock. But Masaba says it does not affect her. “I am so used to it now,” said Masaba, explaining that she was never hidden from the truth. “I think both of us agree that it is cool to be candid. When you can say what you feel, that is a superpower. Because then, nobody can hurt you. You have already said the worst. It is like you are bulletproof. I do not mind [what she said] and I am very happy. She is 60, so nobody can stop her now!”
Masaba cannot divulge details about the Netflix show right now, but is happy to share on screen the natural camaraderie she has with her mother. Three years ago, Neena had posted on Instagram seeking work. “I felt like she did not utilise her potential,” says Masaba. “I felt that something like Saans (1998) or Suraj Ka Saatva Ghoda (1992) could definitely happen again. And today, you have the internet and so many other opportunities. I told her to use her mind before it rusts. Now, she is very happy. And, so am I.”
Masaba does not want to settle with fashion. She wants to grow and experiment. “I am comfortable with the idea of being a fashion entrepreneur, but I do not think that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to try new things. I am big on beauty and skincare at the moment. I feel at home here, but I am not a part of the active industry. I do my own thing. I launch collections on my own,” she says, adding that the fashion industry has a way of spoiling a person.
But she does not want to end up that way. She is happy being “fussy, straightforward and honest”, traits that are not always appreciated in the industry. “I am a very different animal like that and I like it,” says Masaba. “Fashion requires a lot of mollycoddling. I cannot do it. I am not in a rat race.”