In December 2013, we first featured Priya Menon, the founder of Sankalp Creative Ventures that was launched to provide a platform to talented entrepreneurs in her home state, Kerala. After the success of her maiden venture, we’re back in conversation with Priya as she steps into yet another venture – Weaves by Sankalp, to provide authentic Kerala handloom to the world.
When life gives us lemons, make lemonade and what better way one could put it into practice than Priya Menon and her co-founders of Weaves by Sankalp, Deepa Viju and Varun Menon have done. Backed by more than a decade’s experience in organising exhibitions and other events, The Lifestyle Portal is proud to share Priya’s new venture promoting handloom weavers from Kerala. Indian handlooms are something that is very close to our hearts.
How did it all begin?
Sankalp Creative Ventures was launched way back in 2009 where she and her team decided on a theme – Empower women, encourage entrepreneurship. Priya recalls, “We started organising lifestyle exhibitions in a small way at Palakkad to give a platform to women who want to sell their handmade/sourced out products and find a customer base directly to build upon their businesses. Gradually, the exhibition known as Sankalp’ Crafts’n Weaves’ was taken to major cities in Kerala like Kochi, Kozhikode, Kottayam and Thrissur and more than 800 women had benefitted from this directly.”
How Sankalp Creative Ventures bounced back during the pandemic
The pandemic put a break to these offline exhibitions, which encouraged Priya to start her online venture – The Sankalp Store, where they began featuring the products of various vendors across the country through Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp groups.
The birth of the handloom vertical for Sankalp
It was in January 2021, when Priya and her son, Varun visited a weaving cluster in Palakkad, where she understood the pathetic situation of handloom weavers who were struggling for existence after the pandemic.
The influx of cheaper power loom products in the market was of growing concern, and they were unable to sustain themselves on the meagre wages they were able to earn by weaving. What was more alarming was that none of their younger generations was willing to learn the trade or follow the craft since they all had started looking for greener pastures.
“It was a shock to know that handloom weaving was dying a slow death, and the next decade may not have enough skilled weavers who could produce quality handwoven garments. This led us to the idea of starting ‘Weaves by Sankalp’, where we could start creating and promoting handwoven garments which would not just be the traditional ones in the typical Kerala style of off-white and gold borders, but also include new products, designs and colours which would be of more appeal to the younger generation of global Indians,” explains Priya.
The first step was forming a Private Limited Company so that in time, Priya could scale up her business and create a more prominent and more visible brand that would cater to the handloom loving customers across the globe.
“My sister, Deepa and my son, Varun had joined me as co-founders, and the three of us got together and invested Rs. 5 Lakhs. We were clear that we would not end up being just traders who buy the readily available products from weavers and sell them in our brand. Instead, to control the quality, we decided to source out the best quality yarns, get them dyed in the colours per our designs and then give them to the weavers who would weave the handloom products we wanted. We also brought in a design team who created the various designs of the garments, which included Sarees, Double Mundu (men’s dhothis), Dupattas and Stoles. We also decided to explore other possible product ranges in handlooms. And that’s how we started off our company in April 2021.”
One of the main challenges Priya and her team faced was that an authentic handloom product costs more than an average power loom product. The labour involved is extensive, and each piece is individually crafted. The cost factor is more in comparison, which can affect sales. It is indisputable that the handloom sector needs a great deal of support from people.
Priya further explains, “A great challenge we face is the fact that today, there is a heavy influx of power loom ‘Kasavu’ sarees and mundu which are manufactured in Tamil Nadu. A whole industry thrives over there on supplying cheap products to Kerala, which gets passed off as handlooms here. Many of the so-called ‘Kasavu Sarees’ actually use various recycled plastic forms that are very much hazardous to the health of the wearer. Toxic ridden paints are used in screen printing, and many of these garments are substandard in quality and do not survive a wash. A genuine handloom product, though comparatively expensive, can last for decades. The fabric is breathable and hence there is a great level of comfort while wearing handlooms. The fact that it cannot be manufactured in bulk is also a major factor in the exclusivity of the product.”
Priya also realised that most weavers do not like to experiment. Instead, they would stick to their traditional designs than try our new designs suited to contemporary tastes. It has been challenging to find skilled weavers ready to comply with our designs. But we are confident we can gradually penetrate the weavers’ mindsets and convince them to adapt to new designs.
Fabrics available at Weaves by Sankalp
Weaves by Sankalp has handloom sarees with a thread count of ’80s and 100’s. Apart from the traditional gold and off-white combination typical to Kerala, Priya and her team have experimented with pastel shades, and other solid colours, often bringing out exciting combinations that are much appreciated.
Apart from sarees and double mundu for men, Weaves by Sankalp also has a range of exclusive Dupattas, Stoles, Unstitched Salwar Sets, and Running material. We are in the process of setting up a readymade manufacturing unit where we intend to bring out a collection of ready to wear products like Kurtis and Shirts. This material is handwoven as per our design and of premium quality too which definitely would make it exclusive.
“The world of handloom fabrics need not have any borders, and this is the reason why we created stoles, which is used the world over as an accessory. The same goes for handcrafted dupattas, a truly versatile unisex accessory that can go with any Indian attire. We also intend to create a range of readymade handloom saree blouses soon,” says Priya.
Kerala’s rich handloom heritage
Kerala is renowned for its unique type of handloom – the off-white and gold traditional Kerala kasavu sarees, set mundu and double mundu. These simple garments are genuinely symbolic of Kerala’s rich culture and tradition. The gold border adds to the elegance of the garment and it is a fact that even today, no occasion in Kerala is complete without the Kasavu garments. The borders are also seen in plain colours that were normally used for daily wear instead of the gold ones used for functions and other occasions.
Traditional Hindu weddings in Kerala are a simple affair and one of the significant parts of the ritual involves gifting the ‘pudava’ or a new set of clothing to the bride by the groom. A Kerala Kasavu saree or set mundu is a mandatory part of the pudava and is worn by the bride subsequently. Many brides also prefer Kasavu sarees/set mundu as their bridal attire to this day. Similarly, grooms wear the traditional kasavu double mundu for the wedding. Similarly, Malayalees also prefer this simple attire for temple visits and other religious functions. These days, silver kasavu or zari too is used extensively. Festivals like Onam and Vishu involve buying new clothes mandatorily and people gift kasavu sarees and mundu to friends and relatives.
Contemporizing traditional Kerala handloom
“Upon researching on the various designs of the Kerala Kasavu sarees and other garments available in the market today, we found that most handloom products of reputed weaving clusters in the state still stuck more or less to traditional designs and themes. But we realised that to appeal to a greater audience, especially the younger generation of handloom wearers, we needed to bring in new designs, yet keep the traditional theme in mind. All our garments are designed keeping this in mind,” adds Priya with a sparkle in her eyes.
She further adds, “We have also introduced coloured collections too, along with the traditional off-white and gold combination, which would be of appeal to all. Our range also includes handwoven dupattas and stoles and ready to stitch sets in handloom. More people are wearing salwars and kurtis regularly, and we wanted a collection that would appeal to them too.”
Weaves by Sankalp – Design Team
Weaves by Sankalp has a textile design team that comes up with appropriate designs for their collection. Many of their themes are derived from nature. Their garments also reflect the vibrant Indian festivals and colours. For example, they have a Panchavarna collection or an Utsav collection in sarees. Similarly, the traditional gold and off-white sarees have a theme, Parampara. They normally decide on the theme after a thorough discussion among the team.
What makes Weaves by Sankalp unique
There are very few exclusive Kerala handloom brands in India, and it is that space that Weaves by Sankalp intends to occupy. One of the main advantages of handlooms is that they cannot be mass-produced. It takes days of painstaking and intensive labour to create individual pieces and for that reason, no two pieces will be the same. This would ensure a fair bit of exclusivity in the first place. Secondly, the fact that individual pieces are created in the loom makes it apt for customisation of products too.
“Weaves by Sankalp has a dedicated shopping website for handloom lovers which features a truly exclusive range of products, all of which have been created at our looms. Since we are responsible for creating the garment from scratch, sourcing out the yarns, to dyeing and weaving, we can assure impeccable quality. We also have plans to create an app that would make shopping easier for customers.
Sankalp provides the facility of getting blouses stitched, attaching saree fall, and sewing the edges to its customers. This is a boon to customers who find it difficult to find a suitable tailor,” adds Priya.
Another feature that Weaves by Sankalp provides is the facility of pre-ordering and customisation. Our website has a dedicated page where customers can book a slot with our designer and craft a handloom garment to their specifications. This would include bridal sarees too, which can be done as per requirement. The team is e extending the full advantage that handloom offers them as a company to their customers to wear apparel that they design. Sankalp provides worldwide shipping at very competitive rates. Overall, Priya and her team would like to project themselves as a total Indian handloom brand.
Future plans with Weaves by Sankalp
The age of slow fashion is dawning and more people worldwide are getting to see the positives of an organic lifestyle. More and more people are realising the value of handlooms and have started appreciating the fabric for its intrinsic worth. Priya aims to establish contact points in various countries across the globe in a gradual phased out manner and connect with handloom lovers.
She adds, “We understand the importance of connecting with buyers directly so that they can see the product to gauge its superiority. We intend to participate in prominent exhibitions and other handloom events across the country and familiarise our range of products to our target audience.”
Sankalp also plans to create more handloom clusters or collaborate with existing clusters in other parts of the country to bring out new handloom products.
“Sankalp plans to make use of technology and further our online selling and other activities by creating an app. We understand the importance of having an online presence and have plans to make ourselves more accessible to the world. We also have plans to connect with the handloom artisans in general and provide a platform to introduce their specialised works to the world through stories and articles available in our blogs. Our ultimate aim is to make internationally accepted, trendy handwoven garments that would appeal to the old and young alike and make them available easily to everyone. It’s just a small effort on our part to revive this dying industry and bring it back to its former glory!” adds Priya with a big happy smile as she signs off.
Contributor: Tanya Munshi
Writing Mentor & Founder of The Lifestyle Portal.