Natsu Fest is just around the corner and it’s anticipated to be a student staple in the coming years. Happening Wednesday, Oct 26 at Manchester Academy 3, the evening is full of lively acts from headliners Saint Nusu and Messy Bao, to Sasha Little and Mixle. But who’s behind the rise of Natsu? More importantly, how did a back of the bus business go from a student’s backyard to Academy 3?
Dhara Patel is a man of many talents. He is CEO of Natsu Clothing, The Mancunion’s Deputy Fashion editor, and a third-year Politics and Chinese UoM student. His business is quickly rising in name and popularity among Manchester students, and for good reason. Natsu’s a brand that students can fall in love with for so many reasons. From its small beginnings, heritage and strong ethics, Dhara knows how to run a business.
It all started in a school art department. As a teenager, Dhara had been drawn to art graphics, initially experimenting with collaborative T-Shirt designs in his GCSE year, combining Harry Potter with modern clothing brands like Nike. By A-Levels, Dhara continued to experiment with printing and textiles, using all the time he could get.
“I’d go home on the school bus and just get my laptop out, working on Natsu for an hour. There was just a constant build-up of doing that extra work after school over a few months,” ultimately pathing the way for Natsu Clothing to become a brand.
That brand name itself is grounded in family, with Dhara explaining “The name stems from my middle name [Nat Sufraz]. Nat is my grandad on my Dad’s side from India. It’s a sort of ode to him. And then my mum’s side, her dad has a cool surname: Sufraz.”
It’s clear from speaking to Dhara that he has drive. He’s determined to not only make a name for himself but make his family proud. When talking about the early years, one story summed up his ambition.
“After my final politics A-Level, I went to the art department to print 40 t-shirts whilst everyone else went to Spoons. I then met them with a bag full of t-shirts.”
Skip to 2021 selling £800 worth of Natsu merch from a student kitchen with the first Natsu Fest in the background. How? Well, we can thank Tyler, the Creator.
Natsu Fest started as a joke. After three cancelled Tyler, the Creator shows, including Parklife, Dhara had had enough. “At that point, I was just like, “let’s do a Natsu Fest as a joke,” just so we had a festival to go to. I then got thinking… what’s stopping us from actually doing this?”
In just three months, Dhara organised the first Natsu Fest, using all the tools he had. Artists were recruited from MSG, friends helped manpower the event. Other than that, it was all down to Dhara to make sure things ran smoothly.
The festival was a huge success, with students flocking to the backyard to hear artists perform on the Dhara-built stage. It had small beginnings for sure, but Natsu 2022 is already shaping up to be a night to remember after popular demand for its return.
Natsu is more than just a clothing (and festival) brand in Manchester. It’s Manchester-based through and through, supporting local businesses and charities. The printing and clothes are sourced from Manchester wholesalers and stores. The embroidery itself is lovingly done in Stockport by an elderly woman. For Dhara, local businesses are important, stating, “It’s a good way to keep it in the city.”
As for the charity side, Natsu has a strong ethics background beyond outsourcing to locals. Throughout the years, various collections have been released to support social justice programmes and initiatives.
Starting with tie-dye tees, Natsu Clothing donated 20% of the profits to the NAACP. This was followed by 20% to the Yemen Red Cross with their hoodie collection. With the help of Stockport senior embroider, Natsu then released a series of embroidered fleeces, donating 20% to 42nd Street. Natsu Fest is no exception, with headliners Saint Nusu and Messy Bao collaborating on t-shirts, with 10% of the profits being donated to Manchester South Central Foodbank.
But what can you expect from Natsu Fest 2022? Well, a lot. Thanks to the guidance of Robbie Beale, who ran GABS’ Cut Loose Festival this summer, Dhara first off doesn’t have to build the stage. Academy 3 has a compacity of 470, with a cheap bar, amazing sound quality and of course a Natsu Clothes store. Secondly, there’s music for everyone, especially if you love Manchester’s club scene.
“Absolutely no DnB!” Dhara assured me, laughing at the idea of it. Instead, Natsu Fest is inspired by the likes of Blues Kitchen and Funkademia, as well as the Patel family’s music taste. “If you like funk, soul, disco, jazz, hip hop – come along to this. It’s going to be a mixture of artists across the genres.”
It’s fair to say it won’t be a friend of a friend playing decks on ironing bored. Instead, think of Parklife in the making. If you liked Cut Loose Festival, R&L or Wireless, then Natsu Fest 2022 is for you.
Natsu Clothing and Fest are just the beginning for Dhara. His business has the potential to be something big, and with the direction, it’s going in right now, that could be fairly soon. Natsu may have been born on a London bus, but its roots and future lie in Manchester.