Karthik Vaidyanathan's Varnam gives new shapes to lacquer and provides employment opportunities to artisans

Channapatna is a gingerbread house of lacquer, where bright and colourful traditional home décor come alive through Karthik Vaidyanathan's new venture, Varnam.

Started over a year ago, Varnam began as a hobby. “I had just designed my home in Chettinad style and people really liked ‘khanaa', the fabric that I had used for the cushions, curtains and other home fabrics. This material is used in the North to make blouses but I decided to try it this way and everyone started asking me where to get it. So I used this fabric to make home décor and hold exhibitions, which were a sell out,” says Karthik, “Then I decided, why not get into crafts since it's close to my heart and I've already worked in this sector. That's when I visited Channapatna.”

This village, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, is the house of lacquer toys, and Karthik began to work with them to produce other craft items. “I met some artisans and liked their work. I spent the first few weeks looking at how they made their toys and gaining hands-on experience. Channapatna is usually famous for its toys. The story goes that 200 years ago, Tipu Sultan got artists from Persia to teach people here to make toys. But I want to redefine the way this product has been used to far,” he explains.

Varnam specialises in Chettinad baskets and lacquer home décor. It offers a range of door handles, lamps, tea light holders, candle stands and more. “While Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh's crafts have been developed so well over the years, not much improvisation has entered Karnataka's crafts. If you search online for Channapatna, almost 95 per cent of the results will be about toys,” adds Karthik, “Very few players have entered the market, and therefore, I decided to single-mindedly explore it, especially in the lighting space, where it hasn't been used. We've made 6 to 7 feet floor lamps with the base in lacquer and the shade made out of ‘khanaa'. I want to present lacquer in a form that intrigues people.”

While Karthik, who was in the corporate world for 15 years, quit his full-time job, he continues to work part-time to sustain his work at Varnam. “The response has been so good that I decided to quit my job. But since this is the handmade segment, there's only so many you can make at a time. We started off on a very small scale and did customised orders in the beginning since it was a niche clientele. But now we're taking it very seriously and it has become more than just a hobby. People usually associate crafts with NGOs but if it's going to be sustainable, it needs to be a business model and my experience in marketing will help me there,” he says.

Karthik currently employs two clusters of artisans and is soon looking at adopting a third. “Since there's more demand now, I'm looking at increasing the number of artisans. We have about 20-30 people working with us but the challenge in this kind of set up is to make it profitable and employable for the artisans. A lot of them are leaving this traditional trade to find work in industries where they get better money for easy work. I want to sustain this craft and the only way to do it is to employ people in their own set up and give them designs that they can work on. While I make my own designs, I usually sit with the artisans and discuss the designs and there are invariably some changes, since lacquer has some restrictions. We work on colours, and that's why this is called Varnam,” he adds.

For more details, visit Varnam at https://www.facebook.com/VARNAMS

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