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Harinder Singh is the creative mind behind the invention of the "Pure Punjabi" T-shirt. One might assume that the mastermind of a thriving retail business is a no-nonsense corporate leader, someone who leans towards formal power dressing. But, surprisingly, that's not the case with Harinder Singh.

Harinder Singh, the visionary behind this enterprise, has made quite a name for himself with his unique t-shirt designs. If you haven't added one of his t-shirts to your wardrobe, you've probably spotted them somewhere around you.

What makes these shirts stand out are the catchy phrases printed on them: "Mein Gabru Des Punjab Da," "Sadke Jaavan," "Vekhi Ja Pher Cheri Na," "Proud by Birth - Sikh by Choice," and many more. These slogans are hard to overlook and leave a lasting impression.
His stores, located in various parts of India and Punjab such as New Delhi, Chandigarh, Karnal, and Jalandhar, offer visitors a truly memorable shopping experience. The products, the way they were presented, and the overall atmosphere  -all combine harmoniously to transport customers to a world steeped in the rich traditions of a culture celebrated for centuries.

Yet, beyond the remarkable stores themselves, it's the brand name that truly stands out – '1469.' This number isn't one easily forgotten, for it signifies a significant historical year: the birth of Guru Nanak.

But let's shift our focus back to Harinder Singh, the driving force behind it all. You might be taken aback to see him dressed casually in chappals, shorts, and a T-shirt (typically a 'Pure Punjabi' one), a backpack slung over his shoulder. He exudes a distinct bohemian charm, both in his natural demeanour and appearance. He's as far from the typical corporate image as you can imagine and certainly doesn't have a cutthroat, shark-like attitude. In an interview, he shared of how, and why he was running the brand - 1469. 

Love for Punjabiyat 

Harinder Singh is undeniably a city person at heart, but his love for Punjab runs deep. He has a genuine fondness for the state's rich and illustrious culture. In addition to managing his store, Harinder has made a concerted effort to preserve the essence of "punjabiyat" within his own family. They take immense pride in their ability to converse fluently in Punjabi, despite none of them have ever lived in Punjab.

Conceptualize a brand around Punjab

During an interview, Harinder Singh shared a unique moment from his life that profoundly influenced his outlook. He recounted a trip to Florence, Italy, where he was accompanied by his family. It was during this visit that a small incident occurred which left a lasting impact on him. Harinder was approached by some local children who, owing to his distinctive white puggh-the turban, mistakenly identified him as someone from a different background. This incident served as a pivotal moment, prompting him to reflect on his sense of belonging and duty to his homeland. He realized that if he genuinely cared for his homeland, he had to ensure that his endeavors helped in establishing the accurate identity of his community.

Why t-shirts?

Harinder Singh has a couple of compelling reasons behind his venture into the T-shirt business. To start with, his family has a deep-rooted connection to the garment industry, primarily focusing on exports. With an impressive 18 years of professional experience in Uni Style Image, the art of creating and selling T-shirts was not unfamiliar terrain for him.

Moreover, Harinder emphasizes the unique essence of a T-shirt as more than just an article of clothing. In his view, it serves as a powerful medium of communication. Unlike costly advertisements in newspapers or on television that run briefly, a message displayed on a T-shirt is a long-lasting, cost-effective approach. When someone dons a T-shirt with a message, they become a walking billboard, carrying the message in the public eye for as long as the T-shirt remains wearable. This perspective forms the foundation for his 'Pure Punjabi' T-shirt, which seamlessly blends cultural creativity with retail expertise.

The big launch 

Harinder Singh embarked on his journey in the world of fashion. At first, he decided to experiment with surplus T-shirts from his business. The initial chapter of this adventure began in April 2005 when he opened his first store in Defence Colony, New Delhi. He named it 'Traditional Value,' but he quickly realized that the name wasn't quite right. It sounded too commercial and didn't align with the aesthetic he had in mind.

Then, a unique idea struck him – '1469.' It was the year Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was born. This distinctive number represented the genesis of something new, making it a perfect fit for his brand. Moreover, '1469' as a brand name piqued people's curiosity and left a lasting impression on their minds. Many customers who visited his stores were intrigued and often asked about the significance of this particular number.

Harinder Singh believes that Punjabi is a language of profound depth and immense power, with a beautifully crafted script. He proudly shares that their T-shirts are in demand across the globe. Imagine wearing a Pure Punjabi T-shirt in a place where the language is unfamiliar. It piques people's curiosity, giving you an interesting story to share. The messages on the T-shirts revolve around art, character, humour, and religion. Harinder finds great joy in seeing their T-shirts adorning people in far-off lands like Spain and Portugal.

Pure Punjabi t-shirts gaining prominence 

Harinder Singh, the proud founder of the venture, shares exciting news about their initial Punjabi batches. These creations, inspired by the earthy colors of Punjab, have made a significant impact in Delhi, drawing a massive response. Furthermore, Punjabi communities living abroad have eagerly embraced these earthy-themed items, purchasing them in large quantities. Harinder Singh and his team have received well-deserved recognition for their dedication to preserving Punjab's rich heritage. The Sikh Council on Religion and Education, based in Washington DC, commended their efforts as a successful initiative in heritage conservation.

Harinder graciously acknowledges the invaluable support of his wife, Kirandeep, who stands as his pillar of strength. Alongside her, the creative team plays a crucial role in bringing their vision to life.

Ideas for T-shirt messages

When asked about how they got the idea for t-shirt messages, Harinder Singh enthusiastically exclaimed, "Everywhere! Anywhere!" Their creative process knows no boundaries; it's not about being confined to a desk like copywriters. In fact, they hardly ever accomplish their work while sitting. When inspiration strikes, they seize the moment without delay. For instance, there was a time when Harinder decided to rent a Bullet motorcycle and embark on a thrilling journey from Okhla to South-Ex. Maneuvering through the traffic, darting between larger vehicles, it felt incredibly liberating, almost like a tiger on the prowl. Without hesitation, Harinder parked the bike and jotted down this exhilarating experience. This idea later found its way onto a T-shirt, featuring an image of a Bullet motorbike and the catchy tagline 'Khulle Sher' - translated as 'The Free Lion.' Unsurprisingly, this design became one of their top-selling products.

An array of products that showcase Punjabi culture 

Since its inception, '1469' has been more than just a store; it's a concept store that celebrates the rich tapestry of handicrafts. In their charming shops, you'll discover a treasure trove of Punjabi craftsmanship like nowhere else. One can't help but be captivated by the wide array of phulkari embroidery, a true hallmark of Punjab's artistic heritage, proudly on display. The '1469' stores are a haven for lovers of this intricate embroidery tradition. They offer not only phulkari textiles but also delightful figurines that depict women immersed in the art of phulkari embroidery or men joyfully dancing to the vibrant beats of bhangra.

Harinder and his team are passionate about curating their collection, and they source these exquisite creations from every corner of Punjab. It's not just East Punjab; '1469' proudly showcases items imported from West Punjab, further enriching their diverse offerings. But '1469' isn't content with offering the typical handicrafts you might find in state emporiums. Punjab's culture is far too expansive and multifaceted to be encapsulated by a mere selection of common items. They're on a mission to capture the essence of Punjab in its entirety.

In pursuit of this mission, '1469' is ready to surprise and delight its customers with an extraordinary range of products. Whether it's a bust of the legendary Bhagat Singh, beautifully framed calligraphy of mukh vaaks from the Guru Granth Sahib, original paintings depicting the resplendent Golden Temple, antique locks, keys, vintage gramophones, traditional utensils, or even historic swords, '1469' is committed to sourcing the uncommon and the extraordinary.

Harinder Singh and his team want every visitor to '1469' to experience Punjab in its full glory and appreciate its rich cultural heritage. In their stores, you don't just find handicrafts; you discover pieces of history and tradition that bring Punjab to life in all its vibrant splendour.

Not just Punjab; other parts of India too 

1469 stores proudly showcase a diverse range of products sourced from different parts of India. Among their offerings, you can find beautiful pottery from Auroville in Pondicherry, elegant silver jewellery from Jaipur, and intricately embroidered bags from Gujarat. In a unique and heartwarming twist, they strive to infuse a touch of Punjab into each of these items, truly making them their own. For example, the tea set from Auroville bears the word "cha" written in Punjabi script.

In Gujarat, talented women from the WAMA community are crafting bags adorned with embroidery featuring symbols like the "Khanda" and "Ik Oankar." Harinder's shop also holds exclusive marketing rights to sell CDs by the renowned Australian artist Raagi Dya Singh.

Notably, Harinder's passion for Punjab shines through in their store's offerings. They are equally passionate about environmental sustainability and responsible development. All the products in their collection are lovingly handmade, devoid of any plastic components. In a bid to reduce waste and support local communities, cloth scraps from their garment factory are sent to Kangra villages, where skilled women repurpose them into fabric for various other products. This not only provides a livelihood for these women but also helps in recycling materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

With a beaming smile, he said, “After all, it's not really just about doing good business. It's about adopting a lifestyle. Natural and simple! Our ancestors did it and I think we should too.”

“All I do is live by Sikhism's most central teaching, Kirat Karo, Naam Japo aur Vandh Chakho!” Harinder Singh added. 

*Based on an interview by Neharika Sabharwal, published in Sikhchic on 9th September 2009 

 

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