Rap Albums, Wrap Sarees
As a young boy, Gaurav’s parents would come home to Toronto from Delhi with their four suitcases chalk full of goods. His sister would flock to her brand new sarees and lehengas, his parents thrilled to have three fresh new jars of mango achaar and Guarav would run as far away from the smell of the suitcases and the brand new kurta pajama that his parents brought back for him. Fast forward to college, G was taking a Business Administration degree and on his way to wearing a suit and tie, likely working in sales one day. His world was turned upside down when he listened to the hip hop album “When This Is Over” quietly recorded by his friend, Shadrach Kabango (Shad K). Magnetized by the artistry he immediately started promoting for him and eventually became his manager. 10 years later Shad continues to pen tunes, win Junos and produce socially conscious hip hop. And G? He’s making good by making rap albums and running an indian bridal shop, CTC West. “Not bad huh, fe sum immigrans!”
Julian caught up with G at his apartment at Bloor/Christie in Toronto, birthplace of the famous t-shirt, “I want a Claire Huxtable”.
Julian: Love your Instagram handle, “rapalbumswrapsarees.” What does it mean to you?
Gaurav: It took a long time to get comfortable with the two worlds that I was playing in. I didn’t ever expect to be selling rap records; I didn’t ever expect to be selling wedding dresses. This is who I am. These are the two things that I’m working on, at least for this phase in my life. It just summed it up in a nice little catchy way and it made me feel really comfortable.
J: Did you think you’d be doing something else with your life?
G: Yeah, I expected to be working in a corporate space, in marketing or something. Climbing the corporate ladder, and have been the VP of a company somewhere.
J: Well you did that for a minute didn’t you?
G: I was selling margarine, olive oil and frozen dinners for Unilever before I really jumped in to manage Shad. But I just couldn’t care less and it showed at work — it showed on my face. I’d take the company car to gigs across ontario, at work I’d be on facebook promoting the next gig, and the Unilever photocopier… oh man there’s a reason we called it “Unileverage”.
J: What did you learn in the corporate space?
G: I learned a ton: How to present yourself, how to look professional. When I’m working on $300M of Ragu sales a year, then speaking to a label that doesn’t even do that much business in record sales I can establish my power at that table. I can speak that language. I’ve been to the restaurants or sat in the box seats with these guys.
J: So lets rewind for a minute. How did get involved with Shad?
G: I bought his album “When This Is Over” when we were at school together. Just taking in the content shaped a big question, “What do I want to be doing with my life?” I got more involved in his music, because I wanted to help (and continue exploring that question). He was one of the first people that I said, “I just want to help.” I was telling a bunch of friends about his music and I sold a bunch of tickets to his record release party. I just got this little high off selling tickets. I wanted more people to listen him. The concert went over really well.
Things really took off once I stepped up to put on the next show for him. I’d be working from 9–5 at Unilever then flyering and hustling downtown every other minute I could. A month before Canadian Music Week we filled the El Mocambo with 400 people, and from there we were asked to open for legends like Common and Lupe Fiasco. It was crazy — we printed this tshirt that said “I Want A Claire Huxtable” (one of Shad’s lyrics) and next thing we know Common is wearing it on stage and freestyling about Toronto!
J: What a transition — from the cubicles of Unilever to the indie stages of Toronto. What did you learn straddling these worlds?
G: Whether it’s illustrators, or directors, or graphic designers, artists have the best business practice because they care so much about their brand and being authentic. They have their core values and their morals, they care deeply for their audience — and the good ones don’t waver, not for a penny. The best artists don’t care about the money, as much as they do about their creation. Connecting with a human need is something that artists do really well, and that is something I was learning from the artist side — how Shad connected with his audience. There was always the temptation to drive sales that aren’t centered around the audience. Learning that’s not the way to do good business has helped me in all kinds of ways.
J: There’s this ancient human wisdom around building relationship and intimacy. How did this translate into Wrapping Sarees?
G: When I jumped on board with Shad in the beginning (making 10% of $0), I had to move back home with my folks. That took some adjusting, but it was a privilege that in hindsight I really appreciate. My mom and sister were running this Indian Bridal Boutique out of the basement and I started offering some ideas on what they were doing. I found that I was really good at developing structures and processes that clients would be able to navigate through, and I think that was probably because I didn’t understand what wedding dresses in India were all about. My sister loved the fashion, she was up on trends, and I had no idea. Stepping in from a space of not knowing really helped me step in, assess the brand and the product with a fresh perspective.
So one weekend the family was away and I decided I was going to rearrange the entire shop in the basement to reflect a client-centric business — focussed on the audience. This framing transformed what I thought it meant to be a business person. It took the sale out of everything. I remember this revelation where I was like, “I never sold a wedding dress, I never sold anyone anything”. It’s been about, “What are you looking for?” One on one interaction, really understanding their needs and then being like, “Here’s some options that I think will connect for you. If it’s here, cool, if it isn’t, let me know. I’ll recommend you to somewhere else to go.”
That sort of customer service has been, unfortunately, a really new thing for Indians to experience in a wedding dress store. They’re blown away by that shit. I remember seeing the look on a clients face when I suggested a competitor’s store would be better for what they were specifically looking for. They just didn’t understand.
J: Incredible to be able to transform your industry in a way that does good. What’s your 500 year vision for the work you bring into the world?
G: Just being aware of what Indian clothes mean to Indian women growing up in a Canadian context, that’s a big thing. I think that’s where my purpose comes from too. We don’t wear Indian clothes regularly. We call them Indian clothes because we only wear them to Indian functions. We don’t call them clothes, they’re specifically Indian clothes. It would be magnificent to see that changed, and to have a couple of sarees in a girl’s closet, or a kurta in a guy’s closet and be like, “That’s just part of my wardrobe.” It’s clothes. It’s not Indian clothes. Especially Indian people feeling comfortable to wear a sari at a business meeting, or at a gala for work.
With Shad and with music in general, I want to expand music that’s not crafted on the same basis that Unilever soap was crafted. To really have humans honor art and creation, it’d be nice to have a hand in propelling that.