Meet The Former Metal Guitarist Who Designed India's New Cricket Jersey

In his childhood, Aaquib Wani watched in awe as Kashmiri craftsmen visited his home and laid their delicately embroidered shawls and carpets in front of his father, who ran a handicrafts business in Delhi. That early fascination would echo through Wani's life and set him on the path to reimagine one of India's most evocative and enduring symbols.   

Wani, who has roots in Kashmir, has worked on everything from magazine covers and album art to music festivals and Isha Ambani's pre-wedding celebrations, but designing the latest jerseys for the Indian cricket team has been the crown jewel of his career so far. "It was definitely an emotional moment for sure," he confesses. 

However, Wani's journey has not been a straight drive.

A Musical First Innings

Wani is frank about his struggles with academics during school. After failing the same grade twice, he picked up the guitar and turned to music as an escape. 

Wani playing with his band

"Music was something that sort of helped me keep myself sane at that time," he recalls. He eventually went on to play in a thrash metal band and found that he enjoyed it. His parents urged him to finish his studies, but life had other plans.

With an innate knack for art, Wani taught himself to make posters, artwork, album covers and t-shirt designs to promote his band. His work got noticed, and other bands soon began reaching out to him for commissions, which Wani was happy to help with.

That work also caught the attention of Rock Street Journal, an independent music magazine. The publication was impressed by Wani's talent and offered him a graphic design internship at the age of 18. At the time, Wani was making ends meet by teaching guitar to kids.

Some covers Wani designed during his time at RSJ

In five years, Wani worked his way up to art director, having designed covers, handling layouts and directing shoots.

Getting Used To The Pitch 

In 2014, Wani moved on to Scenographia Sumant, the design studio founded by noted designer Sumant Jayakrishnan.

There Wani designed movie sets, big, fat Indian weddings and installations, among other things. It was here that he learnt how to design in 3D and handling scale.

"It was a big, big shift from where I was coming from," he says. "That sort of taught me about scale, taught me about space, spatial design interiors, weddings, and everything."

During his time at Jayakrishnan's studio, Wani was also part of the team that represented India at the London Design Biennale in 2016.

Going On The Front Foot

In 2018, Wani took the big jump and decided to set up his own studio, Aaquib Wani Design. And he hit the ground running; his first gig as an independent contractor was to design the pre-nuptial festivities for the wedding of Isha Ambani, daughter of businessman Mukesh Ambani

He also went on to work with brands like Adidas, MG Motor and Fastrack.

Wani’s work at NH7 Weekender

He continued to keep in touch with his musical roots by designing for music festivals like NH7 Weekender and Lollapalooza. Wani's ambition and his body of work also earned him a spot in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which he counts as one of the highlights of his career.

Wani says that as someone who dropped out of college and never had any formal education in the field, the honour was a validation of his skill. "Sometimes, it could just be purely your body of work that can get you there."

But the best was yet to come.

The Cricketing Spirit

"If I was not a designer, I'd be a cricketer for sure," Wani says wistfully. "In my summer vacations, I’d go to Kashmir, where everyone had lawns, everyone had big spaces in their gardens, and we'd just be playing cricket all day long."

Though Wani's work as a designer had taken him far from his childhood passion, it came knocking on his door unexpectedly.

Since it had collaborated with Wani before, Adidas, which would become team India's kit sponsor, reached out to him while he was working on another project in Mumbai that he describes as being "the most hectic". He says he was one of two designers on the brand's radar to design the new jersey for the Indian cricket team.

"We were like: You know what, we don’t want to give up on this opportunity," he says. The team worked late nights to come up with ideas. They shuttled between Mumbai and Delhi as they presented their designs to the brand and headed back to the other project.

The Indian cricket team’s new jerseys, designed by Wani’s team

Wani says that the biggest challenge was getting everyone to agree on a single vision. "There are so many stakeholders involved, and everyone needs to be on the same page," he says. "So from players, to coaches, to their management and everything, everyone really needs to be aligned with one thought, right? And to be able to do that is a big, big task, which I feel is something that’s probably underrated."

On June 3, Adidas officially revealed the new Indian cricket team jerseys for tests, one-day internationals and T20—and it was Wani's crisp, bold and energetic aesthetic that featured on the iconic blue and white jerseys.

"Growing up watching cricket and imagining being a part of it somehow, and then managing to do that—you know, it was definitely an emotional moment for sure," Aaquib says.

Players wore the test cricket jersey in the recently concluded ICC World Test Championship, in which India lost a hard-fought contest against Australia. The iconic blue jerseys for shorter formats will be on the field during India's tour of West Indies next month.

Cricketer Virat Kohli dons the jersey designed by Wani.

Playing The Numbers Game

Obviously accomplished as a creative, Wani says he's now digging in deeper into the business side of things.

"I feel like as a designer, the easiest thing for me to do is design, while the most difficult part is actually running the damn show," Wani explains. "[The business side] can keep throwing you different challenges every now and then, in form of clients, in the form of the scale of projects that you’re working on."

He adds that he doesn’t really settle on a single style and that helps him adapt quickly to the requirements of his clients.

Wani says that his exposure to his father's business in his childhood also helped him develop a knack for finances and managing teams — skills he believes many artists and creatives take a lot of time to wrap their heads around.

Actor Ranveer Singh wearing Wani’s creation

He also says that leveraging the power of social media can supercharge an independent business like his. "Nowadays, everything’s so easy because of Instagram, most of the clientele reaches out through Instagram."

He says his studio doesn't even have a website up yet because most clients view the team's work on social media and contact them through these apps.

When it comes to business, Wani holds one value above all else. "I’ve seen your designs could be great, but if you’re not professional, everything falls apart," he says. "You stick to doing what you do, be consistent at what you're doing and things will follow."

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