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He is reinventing nine yards of silk

January 13, 2014 11:32 IST

He is reinventing nine yards of silk

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Gireesh Babu in Chennai

Predominant in the silk saree market, the company is keen to extend the brand to other segments of the apparel market as well.

The 89-year old, Chennai-based silk saree and apparel major, RmKV, is re-inventing the saree.

Steered by young members of the fourth generation of the company’s promoters, innovative products are quickly lending it a contemporary image.  

With a turnover of a little over Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion), RmKV recently launched an ethnic womenswear brand, Srinika.

The silk saree manufacturing and retail company was founded by Rm K Visvanatha Pillai in 1924 and is seeing a slew of branding changes now that members of the fourth generation such as Niranjana Viswanathan are taking over.

Three more members in their mid to late twenties are expected to join as well.

Managing Director K Sivakumar says that the young blood joining the company would make the brand more youthful, which is essential in retail sector.

The image is used for representational purpose only

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Image: A weaver works on a silk saree.
Photographs: Reuters

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Predominant in the silk saree market, the company is keen to extend the brand to other segments of the apparel market as well.

The brand started with focus on silk sarees for weddings but now spans apparel for the entire family.

It has showrooms in Tamil Nadu and one in Bangalore. With its decades-old experience in handloom silk weaving, the company is now trying out design and technological innovations.

The RmKV Design Studio, responsible for conceptualising the statement pieces at its stores,  has created sarees with themes such as the Chinnanchiru Kiliye, depicting the 33 Bharatanatyam poses set to the poet Subramanya Bharathi’s lyrics.

Sarees based on Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings and a hand-woven saree for which the buyer could choose from over 50,000 colours have also gone on offer.

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Photographs: Courtesy, www.rmkv.com

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Of late, RmKV has launched the reversible saree, a natural silk and a light silk collection.

Sivakumar claims that these innovations have helped the brand maintain its relevance in the retail hub at Chennai’s T Nagar, which sees sales revenues of Rs 2,500-3,000 crore (Rs 25-30 billion) from silk sarees and apparel.

The place has a significant share in theRs 4,000-crore (Rs 40-billion) silk market in the country, adds Sivakumar.

“Innovation, be it in the theme sarees, which promotes our culture or the 50,000-colour range, will attract the customer who is looking for new designs,” says Sivakumar.
RmKV is also working with weavers in other parts of the country to showcase the products.

“Weavers in each region have their own methods and styles, which make each of them special.

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Photographs: Courtesy, www.rmkv.com

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“We are trying to bring them together and probably look at modifying our collections according to the taste of the customers there,” says Viswanathan.

She says that RmKV would also work with the women self-help groups for supply of handicrafts to Srinika, the brand she manages.

Such associations in Gujarat, for example, is expected to infuse new styles into the brand, making it ready to capture the youth market.

The company is planning to expand, with a focus on south India.

It will set up three to four new outlets in next five years, in malls, especially.

The total investment during the period would be of Rs 75-100 crore (Rs 750 million-1 billion), funded through internal accruals.

However, the twin challenges of the invasion of powerlooms that churn out volumes of cloth and the lack of skilled artisans are affecting the company.

While it still employs master craftsmen to weave its sarees, it is turning to technology to conduct training programmes.

Earlier RmKV, in association with the Central Silk Board had pioneered the pneumatic weaving machine which simplified pedaling on handloom machines.


Photographs: Courtesy, www.rmkv.com

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