Taxi Fabric How one start-up is changing the face of Mumbai's taxis

by John Ballot

A Mumbai start-up consisting of local graphic designers and artists is changing the look and feel of the city's iconic yellow-and-black taxis.

Taxi Fabric was started in 2013 by 28-year-old designer and entrepreneur Sanket Avlani. A collective of young designers and painters, Taxi Fabric transforms the interiors of taxis and auto-rickshaws into works of art in order to give exposure to emerging artists.

Following a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of this year Taxi Fabric has gone on and redesigned nearly 30 taxis and rickshaws, and are contemplating on expanding into buses and trains in the future.

Taxi Fabric’s designs are so increasingly popular that the music video for pop group Coldplay’s Hymn for The Weekend featured lead-singer Chris Martin driving around Mumbai in a Taxi Fabric taxi.

The designs are proving so sought-after that Taxi Fabric is busy preparing to move into the commercial market with a range of laptop covers, pillow cases and bags.

While Taxi Fabric founder and curator Sanket Avlani was not available for an interview due to him being at a tech event in New York, I sat down with two artists a taxi driver to discuss what Taxi Fabric has meant for their art and their livelihoods.

Mayur Mengle. Illustrator and Visual Artist.

"I love drawing people around me in a few lines, on my cellphone or sketch book, during the long train travels in Mumbai. Everything from old houses to historic monuments inspire me to create my work as a designer.

My design career starter after I graduated from L.S Raheja School of Art. In the last five years I worked at some of the leading advertising agencies in India like Creative Land Asia , J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy&Mather Mumbai. I am a visual artist, currently working as a Designer/Art Director at Taxi Fabric.

Taxis in India, particularly in Mumbai, are not only the most convenient form of transport but also are iconic to the city’s culture. Although a lot of attention is given to each taxi by the driver to make it stand out from his competitors, very little thought is given to the fabric used on the seats. The designs that cover the taxi seats are often dull and forgettable.

On another note, design in India has always had limited scope and impact. It has never been widely recognised in India as a medium of communication and social good. Older generations don’t understand it. Design to them is merely visual and not functional.

We put two and two together – turning taxi seat covers into canvases, thus creating a great outlet for our designers to channel their talent and enhance the everyday travel experience of thousands of locals. This platform has made contemporary design available to everyone.

I stumbled upon the work of Arvind Gupta, who makes educational toys from trash for underprivileged children.

I was greatly inspired by his work and the way it was contributing to the world. A curious mind made me look up for more such small scale innovators and was surprised at their presence in huge numbers in India. This is what encouraged me to tell their story to the world and Taxi Fabric became my canvas.

Our constitution states that all children have the right to education. But a lot of innovators in our country are taking this idea a step further and creating educational toys for the underprivileged.

This inspired me to tell their story and create 'Homegrown Innovators' for Taxi Fabric.

Working with Taxi Fabric has given me the chance to explore, take risks, experiment and it has helped me develop my design sense. It has given me a platform to exhibit my work to a large audience. ​"

Sanskar Sawant. Illustrator and Designer.

"I did an art piece in a rickshaw called The Three Wheel Vibe. It's a tribute to all the many different types of rickshaws found across India. Most people are familiar with the auto-rickshaws in Bombay, but across India there are many types of three wheelers such as Totos, Tumtums, e-rickshaws and even old pedal ones.

After a road trip I did across India, I wanted to show my family and friends all the different types of three wheelers I saw. I approached Taxi Fabric, and re-upholstered an auto-rickshaw with my artistic impression of the three wheelers from around India

Doing this piece in the three wheeler has had my art featured in several magazines, and has really helped my work get exposure.

Being an artist in India can be very difficult, but the gaps between designers and everyday people are closing. In India, people are often focused too much on what a product can do rather than just how it looks. It has been like that for a while, but slowly more people are buying products just because they think it looks nice. I think in the future more and more Indians will buy things just because of the aesthetics.

The designer community in Bombay has been growing very quickly in the last few years, and Taxi Fabric thinks it is really important to promote art and design to young people and kids because they are the ones with the newest and most interesting ideas.

Right now, I am just going with the flow. Who knows where I will end up someday? But Taxi Fabric has allowed my art to be noticed by some very well known Indian and international designers. It has helped our small community of artists out a lot, and it is helping the world realise the potential that modern art has in India."

Ankush Khade. Taxi Driver.

"I have been driving taxis since 1993, and I bought this taxi in 1997. It has served me well, it is a very trustworthy taxi.

Mayur redesigned the inside of my taxi about a year ago. It looks so beautiful! I have noticed when people are sitting in my taxi, they are happier. They look around at the colours and drawings, and it takes their mind away from their work or their tasks.

Customers are more attracted to my taxi now than before Mayur came along. They are happy in my taxi! So it has helped me stand out from the crowd and be more competitive, which has definitely helped my income.

I was approached by one of the artists from Taxi Fabric, and they convinced me that it would be a good idea and a fun project to work on.

A lot of my friends who are taxi drivers look at my cab and tell me they are now also interested in what Taxi Fabric is doing. Many taxi drivers are excited about the idea of making their cars more beautiful and making their customers happier.

Unfortunately my taxi will be destroyed next year because the car is getting too old. I have been driving it for 20 years now, so my cab is coming towards the end of it's driving life.

If I decide to buy another cab though, the first thing I will do is come to Taxi Fabric and ask them to put another beautiful piece of art in my taxi."

Created By
John Ballot


Photos by John Ballot, with some supplied by Taxi Fabric.

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