Youth culture, and all of its various forms, is definitely what has interested me the most throughout my career. While North American youth culture has the biggest impact outside of its own borders, what I’m really passionate about is how modern popular cultures are growing outside of the Western World, whether it’s out of reaction against what’s created in the West or directly influenced by it.
India and the entire South Asia region is, for me, the prime example of a youthful continent consistently creating their own youth culture by finding inspiration in their traditions and heritage, or by reinterpreting what we are doing with their own twist.
Over the last 18 months, I had the chance to visit both Delhi and Bombay, and got hooked by the energy that these two cities are projecting. Visiting India really made me realized how little I know about this entire region. During my last trip to Bombay, I got introduced to Varsha and Varun Patra and Mandovi Menon, founders of Bombay-based website and agency Homegrown.co.in, the leading media for fashion, music, art and social conversation, for anyone interested in India.
Varsha and Varun were in New York last week, and we sat down to talk about building Homegrown, the necessity to create offline projects, and the future of both the brand and Indian youth culture. .
Can you tell us how you guys started and what was the original ambition behind Homegrown?
It started informally as excited phone calls, full of disjointed ideas between Varun and Mandovi at their prior desk jobs as a digital agency creative and a journalist/writer. It was never about one particular thing but slowly, all the ideas began developing cohesively into a youth media platform that would allow us to grow and pursue all of our varied interests. Varsha was our biggest supporter and advisor right from the start, always directing our strategies in a bigger and better direction. Within six months, she formally came onboard as our co-founder and business/ strategy head. The way things came together so seamlessly with the three of us was pretty fated.
In terms of the original ambition, the idea has always been to represent Indian youth culture in an authentic, fresh way through quality content and experiences for both people in India and outside of it. We wanted to create a space that was nonlinear, unshackled from culture stereotypes; a place where identities are fluid and self-defined.
We also wanted to help grow subcultures in the country while we did it. It’s been about telling both untold stories from the subcontinent as well as re-telling important stories from a fresh perspective and these ambitions keep evolving as we go.
India is a seriously exciting place to be creating in right now and there’s a lot of soul in everything we do. The underlying hope is always that our work is truly making a difference — encouraging our young audience to think more critically and be excited by just how much this country has to offer.
Homegrown has grown as a very cohesive online platform for culture in India and the surrounding regions, but on top of it, you guys are very active in offline events connecting the community on a local and regional level. How do you manage the balance between online and offline projects?
Neither can survive or thrive without the other. Right from its inception, we knew that offline events and experiences would be as big a part of what Homegrown does as the online publication. We believe that online and offline share a symbiotic relationship; the narrative is only more powerful when we begin the storytelling online, continuing to connect people in a tangible way offline, and then leading the conversation back online.
Any media startup involves a thousand moving parts, however from the onset, the event and creative agency have been core to our business, and not an adhoc development. It does help that our brand identity has evolved into something strong enough over the past three years to come through no matter what we’re doing though.
Additionally, the culture at our workplace is the kind that lets creativity thrive. Most of our team is encouraged to get involved in the “thinking aspect” of everything we do, even if the execution is ultimately handled by dedicated teams. Some of our best ideas for marketing and offline activations come from our editorial team and some of our best content ideas come from marketing.
India is a world of its own, and Homegrown offers to the Indian youth a platform to better understand the evolution of their country. It also gives to the outside world a window to what’s happening in South Asia. Are you guys consciously considering both the local and overseas audiences when building content?
It’s not a completely conscious decision at all, but our voice very naturally lends itself to both audiences. Our lifestyle content is much more hyperlocal but almost everything that’s culture or identity-driven is appealing to interested people, anywhere. Homegrown is in many ways an extension of the three of us and how we see the world — as something that connects rather than divides.
We were initially surprised at how sizeable our overseas audience really was and is, but when you consider how many Indian diasporas exist all over the world, not to mention the amount of interest people who aren’t from here have in what’s actually going on here, it makes sense. India, or our concept of the country, is the glue but we definitely want people to feel included by the voice of our content, no matter where or who they are.
You guys are based in Bombay; can you tell us about life as a creative in India’s larger city and how do you see the city evolving in the next decade. What’s the future for Homegrown?
It’s electric to say the least. Almost everything in the creative spaces or subculture scenes are still in nascent stages here, or at the receiving end of a catalyst that’s compelling them to pivot completely. This means things are going in one of two directions. Either people are jumping in to fill gaps by aping the west with ideas that already exist there, or people are seriously reinventing the wheel, taking into account the many unique contexts and opportunities India offers, and taking risks. The city is already an overused canvas but the right artists with the right intentions will always know how to improve upon the original without obliterating what’s charming about it completely. The city is pure potential right now, so in a decade we can only hope it’s being led by the most disruptive minds we have and that there’s more fruitful collaborations than ever before.
The future? We see the possibilities in everything; changing the narrative with every word strung together, image created, and experience crafted.