Reviving Kerala’s ‘Thorthu’: Meet the women behind Kara Weaves
As I walked through the quiet and serene street, bordered with palatial houses and large rubber estates, it was mind-boggling to imagine how such a peaceful environment could house one of the popular clothing enterprises.
Approximately 10 meters from a fork on the road, I could see a house that hid two giant shipping containers. Believe me; it was unique in every sense. At first, it looked like a load of unnecessary junk. But a glimpse of the interiors had me bowled. With tables, chair and air-conditioning in one, and boxes of the Kurtas made of ‘mundu’ (also known as ‘Dhoti’), I was convinced that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Over a period of time, only few were awed by Kerala’s handlooms. The onset of the more popular professions in the country’s metropolitans cities were said to be one of the reasons behind the decline in business.
It was not long before Indu Menon, a former researcher at IIM-Ahmedabad and her daughter Mrs. Chitra Gopalakrishnan decided to challenge the changing scenario of textiles. While Indu pursued her research in India’s handloom industry, Chitra is a graphic designer.
Kara Weaves – Starting Small Kara (which means the coloured borders of the cloth in Malayalam) weaves was established in the year 2007. While the venture had started out as an attempt to help revive the small weaving units in and around Kerala, today the products of Kara Weaves have become a sensation among those residing abroad.
“I had a few visited a weaving co-operatives in Kerala, including those situated in my home town – Kanjiramattom, in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. These trips were part of my research work. Many years later, I had moved back to Kerala as my father was ailing. It was then that I had noticed the manner in which these weaving centers were being ignored and the art was beginning to turn to dust. Soon, my daughter and I decided to work towards bringing these centers to its original glory and popularize the Kerala thorthu (a towel made of woven-cotton),” explained Indu.
While Indu began working towards establishing tie-ups with weaving co-operatives, Chitra decided to focus on the way in which they could present the merchandise in an appealing manner via an online store and on a website. “I was working in a branding company after pursuing my graduation in graphic design. As a student, I used to follow a popular blog by a writer based in the USA. This writer would display various works of creativity that were mostly for sale. I had written to her regarding Kara Weaves and she agreed to write an article about us once we had set up an online store. Since then, it has been a very interesting and fruitful journey. I began working on the ways in which these products could be displayed online using various elements of design and had also developed a website,” explained Chitra.
Towels, Table Cloths and a Lot More When asked about the most sought after merchandise produced by Kara Weaves, Chitra said that the thorthu has been a favourite among many. This is because the towel is soft, light and is easily transportable. Moreover, the traditional Kerala towel can be used during all seasons of the year. It does not take too long to dry as well. Hence, it is easy to wash and maintain as well. It could be noted that the thorthu is similar to cloth made in Sweden, Japan, southern France, Romania and even Turkey!
The textiles created at Kara also follow the ‘minimum wastage’ principle. According Sandhya, a senior employee at Kara Weaves, each attire is woven in a particular manner with a specific variety of thread. A variety of table cloths, yoga mats, baby bed-sheets have also been made by the weavers.
The team also decided to produce kurtas, shawls and other garments by January 2016. Interestingly, a large section of Kara Weaves’ customer base hails from the USA and Japan. “Unlike the Kanchipuram silk or the Gujarat Handlooms, Kerala’s handlooms are known for its minimalistic design. It does not look as grand as the others, but is still elegant,” Chitra said.
A few samples of the merchandise have been showcased at the Berlin Fashion Week in 2016 as well as during a fashion show by ace apparel designer Wendell Rodricks.
The Social Business With precious little experience in the area of business, the mother-daughter team did have to learn several aspects from scratch. It was not long before they began showcasing their work at Trade Fairs in various parts of the country and the world. “Trade fairs are like speed-dating. You have relied on your instincts to know when to sell and to whom,” Chitra said.
Social media also helped the team at Kara Weaves to reach out their customers hailing from different parts of the globe. The firm is ‘active’ on various social media portals like Instagram and Facebook.
A Happy Family and a Happy Community Both Indu and her daughter have expressed their joy in being part of a family that has been supportive in their venture in several ways. Interestingly, Kara Weaves has been instrumental in improving the levels of transparency in the sale of handlooms. The income of the local weavers has improved by a significant margin. Not to mention, that more people have taken up weaving professionally. In short the venture has guaranteed both parties of a win-win deal.
13/256 A, Kanjiramattom PO, Ernakulam District, Kerala 682315, India