Kate Middleton carried a bag made by Manojna J. Tarin on her skiing trip to the Swiss Alps. Anasuya Menon catches up with the designer who also makes home décor products

If beach bags could tell stories, this one has all the markings of a best-seller. Manufactured in a factory in Kannur, it went all the way to the Swiss Alps, resting elegantly on the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s shoulder while she went sledging on snow.

Manojna J. Tarin, who made the bag, could not believe it when her client in the UK sent her an online link of the photograph in which Kate is seen sporting her bag. “One would expect people like her to use top class brands. And there she was with the bag I made,” she says. Manojna’s home décor brand, Eshana, exports to the west and has a substantial client base in the UK. “My client does not know how it reached the Duchess, but now, everybody seems to want this bag,” she says.

The roomy, faded sea blue and jute coloured cotton bag with an appliqué of a blue elephant is just one of the many “100 per cent cotton, hand-woven” products Manojna makes. The design was sent to her by the client and she got it manufactured at her unit in Kannur. “The buyer intended it as a beach bag, but now that Kate has taken it on a skiing trip, I don’t know…,” she laughs. The bag also comes in navy blue, old rose and fuchsia. “Generally, clients abroad tell us what would sell in the market there and we design and manufacture accordingly,” she says.

Home décor is so vast an area, one can go berserk with ideas, Manojna says. “A small tuck here or a button there can create a world of a difference.” Her fridge handle covers were one such idea. She made them in different colours, patterns and sizes— one of the most utilitarian things for a kitchen. Same with hand towels. While in the west, they are sent as normal towels, for the Indian market, Manojna added a little cloth clasp so that they could be hung on a peg. The buttons are either made of coconut shell or sea shells.

She is proud of her collection of ‘hostess aprons’, which are a hit in the US and European markets. A frilly apron, which resembles a dress, was designed keeping in mind the younger women. “There are a lot of bakers among young girls now. And they love the pattern. These aprons look like a dress on a dress.” The vintage-style aprons come in a variety of pastel shades.

An electronics engineer by qualification, 28-year-old Manojna could not ignore her soft spot for fashion and fabrics. “I guess it is there in my blood.” Her grandfather established the Hindustan Textiles in Kannur in 1939, which has been manufacturing and exporting the famous ‘Kannur kaithari’ (handloom). “The foundation and the goodwill were already there. All I had to do was build up on that.”

Statements in cotton

When Manojna launched her brand, Eshana, five years ago in Kannur, she was designing and selling just bags. “I would bring the leftover fabrics from the Hindustan Textile factory and use them for the bags.” Later, she moved on to accessories such as bed, table and home linens. Earlier, she made her cotton bags with jute trims. But jute would wear out soon, so she started using jute-coloured cotton trims instead. When she launched her line, cotton bags were not so popular as they are now. There was a craze for jute. Things changed and cotton is in vogue now. “The best thing about cotton bags is that they can be machine-washed and the colours will not bleed,” Manojna says.

She exports to the UK, the US, Italy, Spain, France, Sweden and South Africa. Recently, she started exporting to the Gulf countries, too.

The latest in her collection are bath towels with Angry Birds embroidered on them. These towels in high-absorbent cotton fabric are meant for children and have been priced at Rs.100. Woven floor mats, bed linen, wash bags, and kitchen cloths with embroidery are others.

Manojna moved to Kochi after she married lawyer Tarin Rajendran and is now considering opening an exclusive outlet in Kochi. Since her manufacturing unit is in Kannur, she has to shuttle between the two cities. She also makes it a point to travel abroad to keep abreast of international trends.

One of her biggest dreams is of launching an eco-friendly and organic bedding range for children. “Organic and eco-friendly cloth are two different things. Organic cloth is made of fibre, which is grown without using pesticides,” she says. Even the dyes used in organic cloth would be natural, vegetable colours.

Manojna will conduct a sale of her products along with her mother-in-law Shamerian, who will be displaying her collection of saris, in Kochi on April 5 and 6 at Lotus Club.