Roopa Pemmaraju is the new fashion hotline between Melbourne and Bangalore, selling saris and kaftans to the people Down Under, finds BHUMIKA K.
You'll find a bit of Bangalore's Yeshwantpur and a bit of Yelahanka on Australia's beaches in the form of itsy-bitsy waif-like translucent kaftans — a hot favourite worn over the bikini.
Roopa Pemmaraju, all of 30, is making the best of two worlds — her knowledge of fabric and printing in India, and the fairly untapped Australian market when it comes to Indian design.
Having debuted in the Gen Next section of the Lakme Fashion Week 2007 (with her former design partner Kanick Raj on a label called Haldi), Roopa later took off to Australia to do her masters in fashion and textiles at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
“The course was a complete eye-opener for me on the overseas market. Sitting here I would have never understood their seasons and prints,” admits Roopa, in Bangalore recently to start off another new collection. It is difficult, she admits, to sell pink to Australians who stick fastidiously to their blacks, whites and grays.
Roopa now shuttles between the two countries, with her home studio in Bangalore. It's here that her trusted printers in Yeshwantpur and her dependable weavers in Doddaballapur and Yelahanka make her fabric and prints that she herself designs. “I come here thrice a year, but my team is always on Skype. My manager here takes care of orders. I start a collection and they take over,” says Roopa, explaining how things have been working.
The clientele for her eponymous label of beachwear, eveningwear and casual wear is largely Australian. She also designs for other Australian labels that buy her designs and sell them under their own name. They even give her themes, such as Valentine's Day, to work on collections for them. She retails in five stores in Australia, says Roopa. This bachelor of fine arts student from Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath took designing in Australia as a challenge upon herself, once she settled down in Melbourne and understood what people there wanted in their wardrobe.
“I wanted to prove a point. Many designers abroad come to Bangalore to buy silk. Buyers know that you get quality handmade weaves in India. It is so easy to source from my own country, specially my hometown Bangalore, known for its flowy fabric, which is a big hit with beachwear. Selling there is not difficult but the ‘Made in India' tag is important,” she stresses. So she adds on a dash of embroidery over the geometric prints that is her trademark in the beachwear collection. Chiffons, georgettes and crepes need a lot of explaining in the overseas markets, with people being rather unfamiliar with these textures.
Her kaftans sell for 200 to 300 Australian dollars and her embellished ones go up to 700.
Indians in Australia are a different ballgame altogether. “Indians in Australia want Indo-western wear for parties and weddings. They don't really know their Kancheevarams or Bangalore silks. They see Bollywood movies and are largely inspired by it,” she concludes. Vintage saris are a big hit — those embellished with that bygone era embroidery and stone and sequin work. Roopa does an exclusive line of these saris and salwar kameez too.
Her Indian wear is much appreciated here too and she doesn't want to give up on her home market either, says Roopa who claims she also stocks in over 20 stores in India, in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. She will soon be in Bangalore too.
Roopa holds on to her Indian citizenship because it's a necessity if you want to show at fashion weeks in India, she admits. She's also a smart businesswoman and is putting together www.saasgallery.com.au, an online gallery for Indian designers to showcase their collections for the relatively untapped Australian market.