Price is no bar for those who love wearing embroidered clothes in Tiruchi
The rise and fall of hemlines and necklines rather than that of the rupee would probably register more reaction from the style mavens of Tiruchi.
So deeply entrenched is the desire for sartorial exclusivity that the old norms of pricing no longer apply.
“My customers don’t want anything that is common or popular in the stores,” says Amutha Ramachandran, co-proprietor of Shree Nayaa’s, a boutique in Thillai Nagar that employs 25 people in high-end tailoring and embroidery.
Starting out five years ago in a 200 square feet store in the downtown Trichy with just two tailors, today Amutha’s enterprise is housed in a two-storey premises with a third floor under construction, and has five workers exclusively for embroidery.
Shree Nayaa’s offers Aari, machine embroidery, patchwork and appliqué work on kalamkari and kalahasthi material sourced from Andhra Pradesh. Tailoring is also undertaken here.
The minimum price customers can expect to pay for embroidery done at Shree Nayaa’s is Rs.1,000, for hand embroidered embellishments on the sleeves, neckline and back of a sari blouse or kameez (machine embroidery is a little cheaper). There are, predictably, no limits when it comes to setting a maximum price.
“I have recently finished a bridal blouse that costs Rs. 12,000,” reveals Amutha. “The sari to go with it costs Rs.4.5 lakh, bought from a prominent store in Tiruchi.”
Whereas a Rs. 12,000 blouse may have raised eyebrows earlier, today it is ‘justified’ by both designer and owner when the cost of the sari it will be accompanying is in the lakhs of rupees.
There are alternatives for those determined to stick to a budget, where places like Sudha’s House of Embroidery in Salai Road come in. Minimum orders here are for Rs. 500 per blouse says proprietor and designer Sudha, “because we’d like more people to be able to afford embroidered clothes.”
With price being no bar, there’s no doubt that the demand for high-end fashion is booming. But the business of embroidery itself is in a precarious position.
There is a very small circle of male artisans employed in the embroidery and tailoring business in Tiruchi. Most of them are from Ambur, Vaniyambadi or Bangalore, and earn up to Rs. 700 per day for a 10-hour shift.
Job-hopping is rampant, subjecting proprietors to a constant uncertainty in staff numbers.
“In a small place like Tiruchi, we have no option but to rotate the tailors and embroiderers within our tight network. They know that their skills are in great demand, so they have an upper hand in employment. The workers network between jobs, but the employers seem to be not that united,” says Amutha. Sudha however feels that “labour is not difficult to come by, but the worker should suit your requirements. Delivering the orders on time is the biggest challenge, other than customer satisfaction.”
Her workshop, set in one of the rooms of her apartment, delivers around 90 embroidered sari blouses using techniques like cutwork, aari and zardozi embroidery per month (tailoring is not offered here) and started out eight years ago. Amutha, on the hand, has around five to six sets of embroidered material completed everyday.
With so much emphasis on exclusivity, it’s clear that keeping one step ahead of the trend curve is a constant challenge. Both Amutha and Sudha keep catalogues of completed designs, and also look for inspiration online.
“Some customers bring their own designs and ask us to make it for them. Google searches yield many results. Several people also upload their designs on their Facebook pages which can be useful,” says Sudha.“If I like something, I take a picture of it on my cellphone,” says Amutha.
A basic interest in embroidery and tailoring has been the starting off point for both these women.
For Amutha, a tailoring lesson that she attended for just 10 days sparked her desire to turn professional, bolstered after marriage with a course in Aari embroidery. She set up Shree Nayaa’s with her friend Maggie Gerald.
Sudha developed her interest in embroidery by learning from masters in Chennai. She is a certified teacher for Madura Coats, and conducts embroidery classes for the students of Cauvery College.
Maintaining a male majority workforce can also be tricky. “As a businesswoman, I cannot over-dominate my male workers,” says Amutha. “Somehow men don’t resent other men shouting at them, but it’s different when a woman does it. We have to space out our strict behaviour with the soft.”
The materials, from metallic threads to ornamental buttons and fasteners, are all bought from Bangalore or Chennai in bulk.
Pretty clothes are a definite mood enhancer. “No matter how down you are feeling, if you wear a nice dress, it will automatically cheer you up,” says Amutha.