About 5,000 women in Narsapur, Andhra Pradesh, are master crochet artistes. They used to work with whatever they had — mostly bent cycle spokes, to create a tapestry rich in tradition. But, they little knew the worth of their talent. Today, their crochet work adorns shrugs and tunics retailed by Caravan, the affordable luxury store.
“Their work was exquisite, but not the finish. When we gave them Pony needles, the quality improved tremendously,” says Sanhita Kandpal, head, product design.
The newly inaugurated Caravan store, in Bergamo Mall on Khader Nawaz Khan Road, celebrates stories such as these. Everything on offer is traditional — the textiles, the embroidery, the craft — but they’ve been used in cutting-edge style. Think smart tops in Mangalagiri fabric, muslin trousers that are as durable as denim, Bluetooth speakers featuring Bidri work, and the like. “For instance, we worked extensively with the weavers in Mangalagiri, who were used to making only saris, which have more flow. They would not have handled cutting and tailoring well. So, we got them to create a tighter weave, skipped the starch and softened the garments. The result? A pliable fabric that allows scope for experimentation while retaining the core aesthetic.”
Chennai is Caravan’s fourth stop after Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. The brand believes in creating products with an international look and feel, but with an Indian soul, and priced at that sweet spot between mass market and high-fashion. This, says founder Kunal Sachdev, is the way forward. “We needed to be relevant to a large audience to have an impact of any scale,” he adds.
Speaking about how he started Caravan, Kunal, who used to be with Hidesign, says, “When I saw how luxury brands around the world imbibed cultural influences, I realised there was a way to create products of great desire for customers and also create sustainable value for artisan communities.”
It took him about three years of research to find a way to link artisans and customers. And, though it was tempting to offer couture design, Kunal opted against it. “The crafts are beautiful and the talent pool is phenomenal, but if we went couture, we would not be able to have a sustainable impact on artisan communities.”
Caravan strives to better processes. They have trained more than 11,000 artisans, providing them an opportunity to showcase skills in areas other than what they have traditionally pursued. “Our creations are Evolved Indic Craft,” he says.
Today, craft clusters trust Caravan, and that’s because of the credibility they’ve worked to earn, according to Sanhita. Many were initially wary, as they had been swindled and left disappointed, but they now know that work is guaranteed. “Caravan makes use of the facilities and Government schemes, and we work with the local panchayat and block development office,” she explains.
The brand works like any other when it comes to design. “We follow trends and forecasts, and we offer the colours of the season. You’ll find at Caravan what you find in other high-end stores, but the soul is always going to be Indian craft.”
Caravan offers a range across styles. “You can use our garments for office wear and formal meetings, or even vacations… because of the array of styles,” says Sanhita. You’d agree. The store features tunics with sleek cuts and elegant buttons, a hint of embroidery on the collar or a spot of kalamkari in front, tussar-cotton kurtas with a smattering of zardosi, monotone lacquerware that doubles up as candle holders, vegetable-tanned leather…
But what Caravan is happiest about is the joy they bring on the faces of artisans. Once, they took the women from Narsapur to their store to show them how their work had been used. They were overawed, and returned with a renewed sense of self. When a craftsperson is happy, the craft thrives.
— SUBHA J RAO