The Iconic House of Angadi

Angadi Galleria

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A textile prodigy and a part of India’s foremost textile families, K. Radharaman is CEO and Design Head of the iconic House of Angadi. The family began their journey as court weavers to The Saraboji Maharaja (Serfoji II) of Tanjore and evolved into the retailer of choice to Heads of State, industrialists and celebrities including Indira Gandhi, Pupul Jayakar, Rukumini Arundale, MS Subbalakshmi and Gira Sarabhai. The best way to enrich yourself with its legacy would be a visit to Angadi Galleria in the garden city of Bengaluru. Here, I was awed to discover that legendary Mr. Raman — father of K. Radharaman and Chief Mentor to The House of Angadi — had contributed to the revival of handlooms in South India and was introduced tie-dye on silk. In the 1960s, the family created a model of rural growth which was so outstanding that the then World Bank President Robert McNamara visited The Angadi Family Estate in Tanjore. Its a little known fact that this family also launched India’s first modern fully integrated handloom weaving facility in 1969! There is so much to discover that introduction to the story behind this understated company is like striking gold for a sartorial editor! In this exclusive, for which I’m thankful as he’s a private person, K. Radharaman shares an insight into his textile legacy, design and textile innovations.

”The honour and responsibility of inheriting such a legacy cannot be described in mere words. Though I inherited the family legacy, the Company, Angadi Ventures and all brands associated with it were built by me in 2001” he explains when I visit him. ”My father was and is a textile legend. My childhood was animated with stories of his accomplishmentS and it feels great to follow his footsteps!” Smiling at childhood memories, he says, ”A memory I treasure is a video I recorded of my grandfather and granduncle. I wanted to capture accomplishments of our family on tape. It was surreal to see how much they had accomplished in a country like India, without the aid of the modern amenities that we take for granted today. My grandfather told me that his ancestral village had electricity owing to our family setting up the integrated handloom weaving facility there. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to do all of that in those circumstances! Today, after a decade and half, when I sit back and take stock of my career and the state of the industry at large, I become acutely conscious of the sheer weight of my legacy and I’ll be a proud man if I can achieve one tenth of what my forefathers achieved in their times.”

Your family has contributed fabrics to the archives exhibited at Calico Museum of Textiles… how did that happen, I ask? ”Gira Sarabhai — founder of the museum and sister of Vikram Sarabhai — was well known to my father. Although most textile artefacts found at the museum were a part of its archives, Giraben collected fabrics of historical value from private contributors. She requested a contribution to the museum from my father as he was a pioneering manufacturer of textiles in India. Our family was first to introduce tie-dye to silk in South India as tie-dye was earlier confined to cotton, hence his contribution to Calico Museum of Textiles fittingly was a tie-dyed fabric” he responded. The company has been media shy in keeping with the low profile nature that characterises many of South India’s famous business houses. The late Indira Gandhi, NIFT Founder Pupul Jayakar, Kamala Devi Chatopadyay, MS Subbulakshmi and many such iconic personalities were patrons of the Angadi family products, so why has The House of Angadi been low key? I persist. ”Our family has always preferred to be low profile and conservative in talking about our accomplishments. We prefer when our work does the talking!”

How did he begin setting up the first retail store in 2001, I ask him? Was it tough or did the family linage carve inroads? ”Both” he says thoughtfully. ”Since a kid I wanted to be a businessman but that did not make the process easy! I was fresh out of college, new to Bangalore, not familiar with the local language, did not know the first thing about how to start a business and had negligible seed capital. Yet, my legacy was the silver lining that gave me hope. It helped me gain trust from master weavers who work with only the families they know. This itself was a huge step! So I started my Company in a small space in Jayanagar. I had to learn each aspect of the business from scratch — inventory, accounting, security, legalities, designing and manufacture of handlooms. My father had retired from active business but he was a mentor and guide. The initial years were tough and my learnings are based on mistakes. I had the added pressure of learning fast as I was accountable personally and financially for slip-ups along the way. I think that helped a lot because I refused to accept mediocrity. My vision was to carve a niche in the global arena. I guess having gone through that phase of having to prove my worth is the base for the confidence I developed in my abilities as a leader and entrepreneur.”

A true patriot and a workaholic, much of his work is engaged with weavers’ financial empowerment. I requested him to tell me some more about his work behind the scenes. He is thoughtful and then responds. ”The House of Angadi employs 1300 weavers directly and indirectly — the largest number of weavers by any family or firm in the handloom trade. Apart from helping their community by providing employment for generation after generation, we have been engaged in the improvement of their working conditions. In 1950s, the family was instrumental in bringing electricity, telecommunications and roads to the entire village. Weaving happens in each house and is a de -centralized activity. If there was no electricity or ventilation, work suffered. In this backdrop — our integrated handloom facilities had mechanised twisting, mechanised dyeing and finishing facilities and all looms were centralized in one large weaving shed where all workers weaved under what can be called as modern industrial conditions with proper lighting, ventilation and other amenities. If the family desired, they could have set up facilities closer to a city like Madras but the fact that they chose to do this in a remote village in Tanjore District to drive the infrastructure to that village to support modernisation speaks volumes. The development of our village received praise of the Government and we also had the then World Bank President Robert Mcnamara visit our estate in the village.’’ What is your viewpoint on the issue of exodus of weavers from handlooms to other jobs, I ask? ”It’s a hopeful sign that this issue has been brought to the fore. Textiles have historically been the second biggest employment generator in India, after agriculture. The exodus of weavers from these informal sectors to so-called organised sectors has happened historically in all countries after the industrial revolution and more so post-war when industrialisation and urbanisation has increased. The shift is in reality from activities that are manually intensive and less productive to those that are more productive and less laborious. However it is my belief that handlooms are an integral part of our national and cultural heritage and these skills are imparted from one generation to another. Once this informal system of training stops these crafts shall be lost to successive generations. This is worrisome.”

He is arch about ambition. The newest showroom Angadi Galleria is a must-visit shopping destination for would-be brides and textile connoisseurs. ”Handmade products, including textiles, are luxury in the purest sense. We wanted to create a space that gives handlooms the spotlight it truly deserves. It’s mainly through word of mouth that Galleria has grown and our customers are our best brand ambassadors.” The same goes for the popularity of design and textile innovations under his brand, ‘Advaya’. It has a waiting list of two months for some of the pieces! ”Under this label, we create products that cater to those with an evolved sense of style — someone who is a traditionalist at the core but is unafraid to experiment.” This is just the beginning of his accomplishments and I feel immense pride for a young Indian who has does so much tirelessly and has carved a niche on the global textile map. Today he designs traditional Indian fabrics as well as western home textiles though both require different sensibilities and expertise. How does he ace both, I ask in awe? ”Design is a Universal language — much like music” he smiles, sipping a cup of tea. ”My design sensibility is driven strongly by my personality. My having lived in India and overseas and travelled widely gave me exposure to International trends. My roots in the weaving community blessed me with an appreciation for textiles. I love imagining, creating and hence, designing, in a wide array of disciplines. It’s deep-seated passion.”

There is more to this K. Radharaman and The House of Angadi that meets the eye. He is too humble to mention that he has worked with International design houses such as Ralph Lauren Home, Calvin Klein, Kravet Couture etc. How did he break into this competitive market? Did he ever feel a loss of creative freedom? ”In the beginning it was tough to break into a market controlled by established International mills. Most of our peers were the top European mills who were working in the home textile industry for far longer than us and had a close relationship with buyers. So we had to work extremely hard to match up to them in terms of quality, design and innovation and then go a step ahead. In the highest end of the market, being lower in terms of price is not a big advantage as it is in other industries and segments like apparel. At the higher end, creativity in design and superiority in quality makes the difference, so we are happy to be in that league today. Speaking of creative freedom, most International brands have a signature style which they like to retain while being innovative. As long as a designer is able to match their design sensibilities, they are open to buying the designs from the Company to add to their own collection.”

By JASMEEN DUGAL
Photographs : COMMON LOOM PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE COURTESY HOUSE OF ANGADI
Read the original article here : Explosive Fashion.IN

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