Weavers, handloom and the city of Kozhikode have always enthralled Anjali Chandran. A native of Naduvannur near Kozhikode, this software engineer at Wipro, Bengaluru, quit her job to explore her passions. It was quite embarrassing for many when she started roaming around the city. The embarrassment touched the sky when she started selling handloom products. A software engineer with MS in Software from BITS Pilani selling clothes and launching a tiny boutique in a city like Kozhikode was difficult to digest for many. But those who knew Anjali were not amazed. Handloom products and the streets of Kozhikode were her two key passions. “Even in my early days I used to wear dresses made of handloom,” she says, adding that not roaming on the streets of Kozhikode makes her feel like a fish out of water. “Even while working in Bengaluru I used to visit the city alone, just to have a feel,” she adds.
It all started with a Facebook page named ‘Impresa’ in 2012. The Italian word Impresa was suggested by her husband, which means ‘signature’ or ‘emblem’. The venture was the first online boutique on Facebook from Kozhikode in those days. Anjali went to countless weaving villages in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. “We laid out on Facebook the rarest ethnic collections sourced straight from the weavers,” she says. “When I visited one of the famous weaving villages, the looms were almost abandoned and even master weavers were relocating to other jobs. After one year, the ‘Impresa’ team was successful in bringing back many of the weavers to work. Looms started sounding and for many families, life became colourful. It is not that I was able to revive the entire sector. But many families feel that I am their lucky customer. So they ensure that their first design work reaches me,” she elaborates.
During her visits to the weavers, Anjali stays with them. “Even if I want to stay in a hotel in Hyderabad or Jaipur, they will not allow it. They will insist that I stay with them as they are concerned about me,” Anjali says. The reach of ‘Impresa’ widened soon. The few collections were sold out soon. “In the early days, I was working in an IT firm. The sudden feedback from Facebook encouraged me. There was a good demand. So Anjali started a boutique in the same name at Emerald Mall in Kozhikode and also shifted the major operations to a commercial web platform impresa.in.”
Initially, when she started the boutique in 2014, it was a thunikkada (textile shop) for others. Business is still a male-dominated world. A young woman alone coordinating the painting, furnishing, purchase and everything, the adjacent merchants thought she was a divorcee. “We should support her as it is the fight of a woman to sustain,” they said. “I enjoyed it. Those who were aware of my IT background thought there was something wrong with me. Parents, who advised wards earlier to follow me and sent their children to get advice on the IT career, started telling their children ‘don’t be like Anjali’. Some even asked me to my face, ‘Are you not ashamed of starting such a tiny textile shop after leaving a top IT brand? Oh, it was such an era of opposition.”
But the family, husband and parents always backed Anjali. “Thank God, it was that support, which helped me hang on,” she says. But changes came. Recognition came. And more customers started coming in search of ‘Impresa’ online as well as at the boutique. International acclaim came from Capgemini, an IT company in France, which listed ‘Impresa’ as one of the best 10 social entrepreneurial attempts in the world in the competition session Innovatorsrace50. Anjali went to Paris with ‘Impresa’. The recognition helped her reach out to the best global players in handloom fabrics.
What next? She is not serious about expanding the business fast. It needs a lot of investment. Investment means liability, profit and repayment of loans. It is some kind of slavery. “You have to let the customers bleed to ensure the remittance on time,” she said. So let ‘Impresa’ be small in size. The online forum is enough to reach out to the right customers. “I need money only to live. Not for any exhibitionism. But what I tell the buyers is that when you buy the original fabrics, it would help some weaver in a remote village earn a living, helping the master weavers to remain in the craft. They will be proud to hand over the trade to the next generation”.
You can have enough duplicate screen printed versions of handloom fabric. But the original is original. The weavers follow the ‘tie-dye-weave’ system, where they weave the coloured threads and don’t follow colouring after weaving. It is not mechanical work, but a meditation. Anjali has more dreams. Projects focusing on Kerala weavers, an e-platform for weavers to sell products on their own, formation of a weavers’ network and so on. Anjali’s husband Laju is an administrative officer in a company. She has one daughter, Charu Nainika.