The pandemic has thrown open the doors to look within, buy and manufacture locally, and promote the country’s treasure of crafts, as Kanupriya Verma of Ikai Asai tells Architect Nishita Kamdar
Nishita Kamdar is a Mumbai-based architect whose eponymous firm is engaged in diverse fields — ranging from architecture to bespoke products. In 2013, Kamdar was the recipient of the prestigious Charles Correa Gold Medal, for her thesis Eyes of the Skin: A Recreational Center for the Blind. Since then, she’s won many accolades. Kamdar believes that architects don’t just create spaces, they create memories and emotions. She ventured in to product design with P.O.D (Pieces of Desire). She’s also the co-founder of Jar Designs — a dessert company.
Starting this month, the architect will not just give her insights on the theme of the month, but she will also engage in a conversation with an expert from that domain. This issue, she reflects on the “Make in India” movement, as part of our #InspiredbyIndia Campaign.
What is it that makes Indians go weak in the knees for the prized ‘Made in Italy’ or ‘Made in China’ tags? Is it that such labels act as confirmation of fine quality and authenticity and grant a sense of style that is internationally praised? Is it because they lend an ego boost of having bought from an international designer or store? Are we so oblivious to notice the treasure trove of Indian designers and craftsmanship, or are we just too busy glorifying Western capitalism? A known fact in the design industry is that most of the well-established, popular and largest international furniture brands manufacture their products in India—a market they see as unparalleled in terms of quality and price. Then why is it that we Indians shy away from buying or making these same products in India and proudly flaunting our thriving culture and craftsmanship?
‘Make In India’, a groundbreaking, trendsetting, headline-making and not to forget a long overdue initiative by the Indian Government launched in 2014. It aims at making India a global manufacturing hub by not only opening up more jobs in the country, but also attracting domestic and foreign investments into the manufacturing and innovation sectors, in what is a carefully curated progressive move. We often find ourselves becoming prisoners of Western culture and influence, whereas it was the West that first identified our richness of taste, design and wealth, and by many means overexploited us, thus turning us from the richest land to the one of the poorest. It is now time to look within once again, and recognise the talent and ability of our people and our businesses.
With the ongoing pandemic severing trade and travel routes to the design hotspots of China and Italy, many buyers in India have started looking towards Indian manufacturers and designers for their home requirements. Indian designers and manufactures, on the other hand, have seized this opportunity to capitalise on their immense talent pool and accessibility to resources and top quality craftsmanship. If there was ever a time to be a manufacturer, it is now! With the world’s attention shifting from China, Indonesia and Malaysia to India, the demand for home products from the country has definitely seen a tremendous spike.
Also, the way Indians buy furniture and lifestyle products seems to be changing over time. India is touted as one of the largest domestic furniture consumers in the world. With an average urban Indian middle class home featuring two bedrooms, a living space and kitchen, the number of pieces of furniture owned by any Indian house owner ranges from 30-40 pieces—a staggering figure compared to their Western counterparts. Now imagine what this initiative means for an artisan—a glowing chance to revive tradition, an opportunity to save his dying art, and the respect and recognition his skill deserves.
Kanupriya Verma, CEO of Ikai Asai, a textile and homeware brand that recognises and brings together the finest craftsmanship from India directly from the artisans, talks to us about being inspired by India.
Nishita Kamdar: Is ‘Make in India’ a movement, a trend or a business for you?
Kanupriya Verma: We started with the vision to celebrate human creativity, to bring together the Indian creative ecosystem and build value through collaboration—so it is both a movement and business. Our philosophy, design and offers are rooted in India in every way.
Kamdar: What is the core essence of your venture and how is it relevant to ‘Make in India’?
Verma: Ikai Asai empowers one’s instinct to create by building a community for craftspeople, designers and the artists to thrive through collaborations based on a sustainable and equitable model. Our ambition is to build a strong foundation for a global contemporary language to emerge that manifests an identity and aesthetic that is distinctly Indian—driven not only by our heritage, architecture, handlooms and crafts, use of textures and colours, but also our landscapes and natural marvels. We are intrigued by the everyday motifs, the attention to detail, but also the rough edges, the thick and thin of Indian art.
Kamdar: Are consumers slowly realising the power of Indian craftsmanship? How can we as designers and entrepreneurs push for this at all levels?
Verma: Yes, most definitely. As designers and entrepreneurs, it’s important for us to work towards a collective vision to empower the Indian craft ecosystem, to foster a community of self-sustained creators and entrepreneurs. The richness of knowledge and creative skills that they possess needs to be supported with consumer/market connect, technological interventions for increased effectiveness in quality and process, infrastructure and tools, and design interventions. The future lies in increased and effective collaborations—where artisans, designers and consumers can be an equal and inclusive part of the whole process.
Kamdar: Had it not been for the pandemic and the ‘Make in India’ initiative, how would this have panned out for the manufacturing and design community as well as for Ikai Asai?
Verma: The last few months have definitely been difficult, however, we feel it has also created a curious new shift in the design landscape, one that puts a brand like Ikai Asai ahead of the curve. I think it is very crucial to have launched during this time because in the last few months,a conversation has started in the craft ecosystem. The thoughts we have had about collaboration, sustainability and creativity for so many years, are now coming alive because the whole world really needs values like these. And that is where I feel Ikai Asai’s context becomes even more relevant. For clusters in need, we worked in partnership with The India Design Fund to raise funds and launch the Ikai Asai Foundation. The foundation’s aim is to rally the creative ecosystem to come together, and provide the necessary equity to empower the craft sector.
Kamdar: Why is it that we find it hard to accept and acknowledge our craftsmanship and culture until we get it from an international source?
Verma: I think this notion goes beyond just craftsmanship and culture, but I do believe that over the last few years, there has been a shift in the perception of ‘Made in India’, as more homegrown brands and creators are bringing forth awareness and working towards reviving and innovating through design.