Les Indiennes is more than just a brand; it’s a medium which brings an ancient Indian tradition of printing seamlessly into the modern Lifestyle. Mary Mulcahy without diluting any aspect of this age old tradition showcases Kalamkari in its purest form in harmony with the environment to the design connoisseurs in the Western world.
Kalamkari is derived from Persian, Qalam ( pen) and kari ( craftsmanship)
MM: I went to the UNICEF store in 1999 and saw some smashing block prints. This really got me fascinated. I felt like investigating further and soon began a search for block printed cottons. I placed a B2B ad on India Mart. After seeing the work and samples of many, one craftsman would soon stand above the rest. His name was Pitchuka Srinivas. I contacted him, but he told me he couldn’t afford to send samples. I set up a FedEx shipment and was amazed by what it contained, designs that were unique and elegant with a special quality that could only come from talented hands. I knew it was our destiny to work together. When I was researching these fabrics I pitched a block print story to a national shelter magazine. We ended up using some of my first samples in the article. It was a big success and there was so much interest that I decided to start my own company.....Les Indiennes, (which is what the French called these fabrics during the 18th Century)
Was it easy to liaise with the craftsmen & work with them?
MM:They lived in a small village in the South of India with only a remote airport. At first, language was a challenge, but as time went on, understanding emerged and we began to work in harmony as a team.
Considering the socio, cultural divide, was it easy to develop a good working relation?
MM: I feel that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, we are all basically the same. I had never been to India at that point and after getting over the initial cultural differences of this exotic land, I soon came to love it. As I got to know Srinivas, his wonderful wife and family, they became my second family.
Do you design based on your target group or you market the traditional Kalamkari designs?
MM: I can only work instinctively—without regard to sales and marketing. Before I started my work with textiles I had been an interior photo stylist and designer. I tend to work with traditional Indian motifs but I try to minimalize the usual busy designs by isolating single patterns, sometimes enlarging and placing them against a creamy white background. These patterns took hold with interior designers and enlightened home decorators. In short, the work found its own market. It’s a new take on Kalamkari as seen through western eyes.
The printing is done in a traditional way, does it pose difficulty in maintaining uniformity in quality?
MM: All of our quality control is done in-house. We make people aware of the fact that the work is entirely handmade from mixing of our natural dyes to the many steps necessary to complete the traditional Kalamkari process.
Your main hurdles in setting up this business.
MM: I started Les Indiennes on my own, at first working out of my small home office. Working long-distance is never easy. I was new to this and had to learn so much about import/ export just to get started. But with computers and FedEx we’ve been able to get things done.
Your target group
MM: Interior designers.
How do you distinguish yourself in this industry?
MM: I am the only one who strictly adheres to the traditional Kamalkari method. We use only organic cottons and hand-made natural dyes. We only block print, we don’t use screens. Our fabrics are very different from the others because of the way they are made. We are essentially making these textiles the same as they were made 400 years ago. We do not even use electricity with our process. My business partner’s father started Kalamkari in Pedana AP in the 1950s.
Your proudest moment.
MM: Designing textiles in India was a life changing event. I am proud of the fact that I was able to help people with their livelihood. I won The International Design award for Interiors in 2008. Also, I truly enjoy working by myself and having the privilege to present a unique vision to the marketplace.
Your dreams going forward.
MM: My dream going forward is to try to preserve this time honored tradition. It is my quest to help artisans create handmade textiles, supporting the timeless tradition of block printing and Kalamkari. Frankly, it seems to be a dying art. Today, screen printing is used to save money and increase production. This method can never simulate the beauty of printing done by hand using natural dyes.
As we came to the end of our chat Mary explained, that Les Indiennes never set out to industrialize or change the way things are done in India. The production uses no electricity, does not cause pollution nor does it disrupt the traditional lifestyle of the village where it is made. Les Indiennes provides fair trade employment for over 50 families, raising the standard of living for the entire community, and all the while leaving no environmental or social footprint. Now that’s an achievement!
A message to women entrepreneurs
MM: If you can dream it, you can do it. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Facebook: Les Indiennes
Written byShayonti Chatterji
Founder of OurFrontcover. With a career spanning over 20 years, in supply chain management and business development, believes in dreaming and living the dream.