Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

'We need to modernise handloom': House of Angadi's K Radharaman

The ancestral textile label made news when Deepika Padukone wore its sari for her wedding to Ranveer Singh. In an interview with Forbes India, Radharaman talks about why his efforts are meant to stand the test of time, and not just celebrity weddings

Published: Oct 17, 2019 09:31:07 AM IST
Updated: Oct 17, 2019 11:00:51 AM IST

K Radharaman, CEO of the House of Angadi
Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

Known to be a strong advocate for the preservation of traditional textiles and craft techniques,  K Radharaman’s radical interventions in Indian textiles—such as the first-ever linen-blended Kanjivaram or khadi Kanjivaram—have won him critical acclaim. This self-taught textile designer with an engineering degree from Cornell University has taken forward his family’s 600-year-old legacy in textiles by founding the House of Angadi, a diverse collection of fashion and textile brands, including his label Advaya. The company opened a four-storied outlet, Angadi Heritage, in Bengaluru on October 3, with a curated mix of textile and luxury lifestyle labels.

In an interview with Forbes India, Radharaman, 39, talks about why his efforts are meant to stand the test of time, and not just celebrity weddings. Edited excerpts:  

Q. How was the transition from Angadi Galleria to Angadi Heritage?
Under the House Of Angadi, we have different retail formats, and Angadi Galleria and Angadi Heritage are independent formats of their own. The difference between the two is that Angadi Heritage has a mix of lifestyle products such as perfumes, bags, and accessories, in addition to clothing for both men and women. Another difference is that Angadi Heritage has an entire floor dedicated to men, which is not the case in Angadi Galleria. So as such there is no transition; the two coexist.

Q. Ecommerce and multi-brand brick-and-mortar formats are competing with each other. Is the latter a tough business?
Every business has its own challenges; so does ecommerce. So this debate between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar is not really a debate in my mind. India’s retail market is still nascent; brick-and-mortar outlets have not yet reached a saturation point as in other developed markets.

Brick-and-mortar retail has distinct advantages when it comes to high-end fashion. Most people still prefer to touch and feel the product. There are challenges such as the availability of retail space, which we aim to overcome by investing in our own spaces. As a player in the luxury business, I have the potential to also create an ecommerce platform with a high-end positioning. The reverse cannot always be done.

Q. What is the curation philosophy at House Of Angadi, and what is its value proposition?
All the labels we choose are home-grown luxury labels. The concept was to create a space for Indian luxury at par with the best retail platforms in the world. I don’t think such a concept exists yet.

The value proposition is a combination of different things. The first is customer experience, and the second is the wide selection of a tightly curated collection. Our prices are affordable, and millennials form an important part of our target audience, as they will grow into future consumers.

This industry, at large, has lacked an organising force, a large player who can define a set of rules. I think we have done that, initially by being definite about how we trade the products, and by being generous in terms of our business. We give people a lot of flexibility in terms of how they deal with us, translating into better value for customers.

Q. What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury to me is great design, attention to detail, and exclusivity in design. It has to be aspirational at all times. The outward expression of luxury can change from time to time, but the basic underlying premise remains the same.

Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

Q. What has changed for you since actor Deepika Padukone wore your sari for her wedding?
What many people forget is that the wedding of Deepika Padukone was a one-off event, and none of the attention that followed was premeditated. So what has changed is the media attention but what has not changed is the fundamental strength of our brand.

Yes, there are about 7 billion people who have realised that this is a brand that has been doing work quietly without really publicising its efforts. Deepika actually chose to buy the sari, in spite of the fact that most celebrities have their wedding trousseau sponsored by designers—we did not choose to do so. I think that explains to a great extent the fundamental strength of our products.

Q. In what ways does Angadi work towards improving the working conditions of weavers?
Typically, for handlooms, there are processes prior to weaving that are all decentralised. The industry continues to function like the cotton industry: The dyeing process and yarn preparation are carried out at decentralised units, while weaving is done at the weavers’ homes. At our integrated handloom facility, we have centralised the dyeing process, and have most of the weavers under one roof, almost like an industrial operation. It improves quality control, integrity of design, and working conditions of the weavers. It also results in better productivity.

The facility employs about 300 full-time weavers. We provide them with work throughout the year, and a guaranteed income, which is not common in the industry.

Q. Your father RK Raman has been one of the great revivalists of the Indian handloom industry. How do you carry that legacy forward?
The legacy is being carried forward in the kind of products we make through innovation, and by making sure that handlooms remain fresh and relevant. We also ensure there is a greater awareness created by these products.

Angadi Heritage brings together Indian luxury brands in a way that is at par with the best retail formats in the world
Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

Q. How did Advaya come about?
We launched Advaya in 2010. It is an exclusive handwoven textile label that blends the past and the present through uncommon innovations and interventions.

Staying true to its name, which means unique in Sanskrit, we design textiles and saris not just in terms of the motifs and weaves, but also the warp and weft techniques.

Advaya was the first design house to present blends of Kanjivaram with fabrics such as organza, khadi and linen. It uses 100 percent pure gold zari. The innovation in design results in a luxurious drape that is traditionally made purely in silk, but can now be pulled off with ease by a summer bride.

Another blend is the rich ikat upada Kanjivaram, where the beautifully blurred motifs combine with the luxury of zari. The textile interventions are not limited to Kanjivarams but extend to other weaves such as kota tissue, muslin Jamdanis and Benarasis.

Q. You have an engineering background. How does that come in handy?
It helps me overall as it has shaped my thinking, my personality, and all the products I create, whether it is a sari, a ready-to-wear garment, or a space. Because I am an engineer, and a self-taught designer, I think differently from most other designers. I always think innovatively and I am not limited or constrained by formal rules of design.

Q. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I am very inspired by the uniqueness of Indian craft. We have such a vibrant craft heritage, which is so unique that no matter which part of the country you are from there is a rich archive of crafts to draw inspiration from. I am also inspired by nature and architecture.

Q. Tell us about your most valuable sari.
Inherently, a sari or any textile should not be judged by how expensive it is but by how unique it is. The uniqueness of the product is dependent on the design, and the process. I feel all my saris are valuable. They offer the user and the wearer much more than what is paid because it carries a lot of symbolic meaning. My designs are meant to remain relevant over a period of time, and like all works of art the value will hopefully appreciate with time.

Q. What are your plans for Angadi and Advaya?
We have ambitious plans to scale up the business. We are now a collection of brands under the House of Angadi. We have Angadi Galleria, a format we wish to expand to other metros. The Angadi Heritage format is in phase one. Once phase two is operational, it will double in size. We will take this format to other large cities in due course.

Advaya will continue to grow its presence, being retailed out of the Angadi stores and hopefully other multi-designer outlets in the future. I can only guess what the future direction for Advaya will be, because it is going to become much bigger next year when we launch our ready-to-wear line. And maybe subsequent to that, we would also like to take it international. So the plans for both the retail and design side of the business are very ambitious and long term.  

● The writer travelled for a preview of Angadi Heritage to Bengaluru, on invitation

(This story appears in the 25 October, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)