Indian craftsmanship needs to transition from the concept of ‘handicrafts’ to that of ‘hand-crafted’, believes Kunal R Sachdev, founder of Caravan Crafts, a Bangalore-based design and retail company that aims to plug into India’s many crafts traditions and use them in unusual and contemporary ways. “The minute you use the term ‘hand-crafted’, the perception of the product changes. It becomes more exclusive – something a person with discerning tastes would choose,” says Sachdev. The term ‘handicrafts’, on the other hand, often indicates something small-scale and decorative. “Our crafts evolved to create products meant for everyday use. But somewhere along the way, convenience took over and more mass-produced stuff came into general use,” says Sachdev, who used to head the high-end leather goods brand Hidesign.
Caravan aims to help us integrate crafts into our daily lives once more, and is doing so with the help of apparel, home and lifestyle products and toys that bridge the gap between traditional Indian craftsmanship and the needs of contemporary living. Created with funding from the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and seed money from Unitus Capital, the company is going to open outlets in Indian cities like Pune soon, and is also looking to open a store in Europe within a year.
We are at the very first Caravan store, which opened at the Phoenix Market City mall about a month ago. In this spare, cool space, Caravan’s first line of products have been displayed. The company works with around 20 crafts clusters from around India – from the muslin weavers of West Bengal and Channapatna’s toy makers to Bidri artisans from Karnataka and Andhra’s ikat weavers. The apparel line of the brand uses traditional techniques such as kalamkari, zardozi, ikat, and jamdani in unusual and modern ways. For instance, kalamkari, a fabric painting technique that has been in existence for more than 10 centuries, is usually printed on cotton with a dense pattern, but at Caravan, the motifs have been lifted and sparingly used on kurtas and tunics. Similarly, dyeing techniques such as bandhini and leheriya have been combined to create garments that adhere tocontemporary silhouettes but retain the essence of the craft. “Even while using a technique like zardozi, which is usually thought of as ‘heavy’, we made sure the patterns are used sparingly and don’t become overwhelming,” explains Sanhita, who designs Caravan’s apparel and soft furnishings.
The brand has also created a range of wooden toys made using the Channapatna technique, but with completely fresh designs by Michael Foley, one of India’s bestknown product designers. The toys are simple yet imaginative, intended to stimulate a child’s motor skills as well as engagementally. Along with stacking and nesting toys, there is a deceptively simple toy called the ‘toadstool knitter’, which enables the user to create a knitted pattern using wool or thread, enhancing concentration and creativity in the process.
One of the most successful Caravan products since its launch has been a USB pen-drive decorated with a bidri pattern (bidri is an inlay-work technique using molten metal). “We sold out six months’ stock in six weeks,” says Sachdev gleefully.
To him, this is one more indication of the fact that we all want a little bit of beauty in our daily lives – no matter how many prosaic alternatives exist. “People essentially buy things for three reasons: functionality, where you buy something because you need it; aesthetics, which prompts you to buy something because it looks good; and the product story, which says something about you,” explains Sachdev. The best products are, of course, those that combine all three – and creating these kind of products is Caravan’s USP.
— Shrabonti Bagchi | TNN