Sobha Ashwin and Sreeremya Sambath give handloom a makeover
“I am the dreamer, and Sreeremya is the doer; she turns my dreams into reality,” says Sobha Ashwin, proprietor-cum-brand manager of Karalkada. Hmm, looks like behind this successful woman, there is a woman!
Laughs Sobha: “Sreeremya is my right hand woman. I call her at odd hours in the day with all sorts of crazy ideas, usually when she is busy.”
Sreeremya Sambath adds with a poker face. “I usually tuck my daughter, Parvathy, in bed by 10 p.m. Just as she is about to doze off, comes Sobha’s call. It is probably about an idea that will come to fruition five years down the line!”
The duo who dreads ‘boredom and monotony’ is part of Weaver’s Village, a venture from C.P. Rajendran and Son’s Karalkada. Sobha is the founder of the enterprise that focusses on designer wear, jewellery and lifestyle products. “I started Weaver’s Village with a friend, Cindya Mammen Cherian. She had to leave as she moved to the United States.”
An MBA graduate, Sobha entered the Karalkada family “through marriage.” As a new bride, Sobha who comes from a “business family” herself decided to observe her husband Ashwin’s family business. “I watched and learned. Although I was into fashion, I had no knowledge of handloom and textiles. It was fascinating.”
It was amidst dusty old looms that Sobha decided to weave an interest amongst people, especially the youngsters, in handloom. “I realised that I had to make handloom trendy as the youth feel it’s boring. Not only can handloom be ‘hip’, it is comfortable to wear. That is why we chose Pearle Maaney as our brand ambassador for Weavers Village; she is bold and beautiful, just like our products. When five years ago there were 4,000 weavers in the State, now there are only 1,000. Weaving is a dying art as there are not many takers for handloom. Weavers also do no get a fair remuneration for their work. As a result, there is no new generation of weavers. That is why I decided to start Weavers Village – to promote handloom and handcrafts that carry motifs related to Kerala and its culture. Part of our profits goes to the artisans behind the products. Not only do we have weavers in our team, we also have tailors, artists, craftsmen…,” says Sobha.
Started two years ago, Weavers Village is now going places with many hearing about the venture through word of mouth. “We have a Facebook page where we showcase some of our products and a website page is currently under construction. I think the reason why customers flock to our doorstep is because our pieces are all designer products, be it dhavanis, saris, bags or bracelets. For outfits, we talk to our customers, find out what they are comfortable in, recommend designs that will best flatter their body and features, and also give them styling tips to help complete the look. We also give young designers a platform to showcase their designs and ideas,” says Sobha.
Sobha and Sreeremya, an alumna of National Institute of Design, have launched ‘Bodha’ a line of “Ayurvedic clothing” which is available at a couple of retail stores in the city. “I met Sreeremya while she was doing research on Ayurveda clothing. As we share the same wavelength, we decided to work together. Ayurveda clothing is basically handloom fabric, dyed in medicinal herbs. Earlier such outfits were available in mostly whites and off whites, now we have introduced some primary colours. We have also mixed colours to come up with new ones. These fabrics can be customised according to the customer’s needs at an affordable price,” says Sobha.
The highlight of their products from Weavers Village and from the Bodha line is that all of them are eco-friendly. “And the handloom sector, which has mainly women employees will be empowered,” says Sobha.
So, what next? “Well, we plan to introduce fresh designs for the Bodha line and hope to launch the collection in other cities. There will be more colours introduced and the concentration this time will be on the weaving patterns on the material,” says Sreeremya.
“Well, our designs did walk down the Miss South India pageant runway; I hope to see products from Weavers Village and Bodha on the international fashion runways soon,” says Sobha as Sreeremya sighs, melodramatically.