V. Vimalan, the man behind Calonge talks to Priyadarshini Paitandy about the brand's international forays
His office is like a fashionista's closet. Rows of footwear and handbags in a gamut of colours occupy the room. There are totes, hobos, clutches, peep-toes, wedges, stilettos and in the middle of it all is V. Vimalan, proprietor Ayyappa Enterprises, better known as the man behind Calonge. “It all started in 1983 when I launched Ayyappa Enterprises. We began by exporting hand-braided leather. Initially it was semi-finished products and then by 2000, we were exporting finished products,” says Vimalan. Few know that the list of companies he supplies to also include numerous international brands such as Prada, Armani and JB Martin.
So how did Calonge come about? “In 1998-1999 we received an award for being the best export company. Former Union Minister Murasoli Maran who was at the event told us that you have to create a brand to be recognised. And that set me thinking, and in 2004, Calonge was born.” The first outlet opened up in Dubai and in a span of five months, Vimalan established five stores in the Middle East.
Chennai got introduced to the brand, named after a town in Spain, only by the end of 2004. “After Chennai, we spread to Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi, but the maximum business happens here. We sell about 250 bags a month and around 300 pairs of shoes,” he estimates. His target clients are those aged between 28 and 50, though, of late, he is pleasantly surprised to find even younger clients.
He believes that his customers are people who value craftsmanship. “Most of the bags we create are made of single leather. It's all hand-braided with a tussar lining and sometimes a single bag can take as much as 14 days to be made.” Calonge has a separate weaving unit where around 450 women are employed. Of that around 60 are physically challenged. “Our leather comes from Ranipet. We buy 50,000 pieces of leather a month and produce anything between 15,000 to 20,000 bags and 12,000 pairs of shoes.” The bags and footwear come in four different finishes — burnish, where the finished material has a shine, metallic, metallic with prints and crunch leather.
Besides his 27 years of experience, Vimalan has the support of his design team that includes Italian designer Beneditta Bruzechesses, Ammu Sreekumar from NIFT, and Spanish designer Nadal who specialises in designing footwear.
Initially, Calonge's collection passed off as classy but staid. But now their showrooms have chic patterns in bright oranges, neon greens, cool blues and the classic blacks, whites and browns. “First we tried only basic colours. It worked fine in India, but abroad they wanted more choice. Now, even clients here are particular about colours. They want their bags and shoes to match. We have around 80 shades to choose from,” smiles the entrepreneur adding, “For the upcoming season, the fashion forecast is purples, yellows and greens. So be sure to find a lot of those in our collection.”
Do the men have anything to look forward to? Apparently yes, because next up is a range for men that will consist of messenger bags, laptop bags, wallets and more. He is also working on a range of accessories such as pillow covers, iPad cases, tissue boxes, photo frames... And what does this man who gives people a choice of handbags, carry himself? “I don't carry a bag or a wallet. I just carry a money clip to hold the notes... made by Calonge of course,” he smiles.