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Showcasing Indian Handlooms

Oct/01/2023 / by Rashmi Gopal Rao

Kalaivani Sadagopan’s platform highlights heritage weaves globally

South Asian woman in a sari surrounded by textiles
Photo courtesy; Kalaivani Sadagopan

Kalaivani Sadagopan has always done things differently. She shunned conventional career choices of medicine and government jobs, doing an MBA instead. She then worked in startups before they were even a buzzword. Today, Sadagopan is a 51-year-old single adoptive parent to a daughter, and co-founder of Avishya.com.

The brainchild of Sadagopan and her ex-colleague Jawahar Singh, Avishya is a platform that highlights the creations of India’s weavers and artisans to a global audience. The company aims to preserve the essence of Indian handlooms and democratize access to these timeless beauties. Dating back several centuries, these are a testament to rich traditions and the incredible craftmanship of weavers.  

Working With Startups

Born and raised in Chennai, Sadagopan always chose to tread the path less taken.  An avid reader, she completed her MBA from Bharathidasan Institute of Management, Trichy.  After a brief stint in advertising, Sadagopan joined Club Mahindra as part of the organization’s initial team.  Later she worked with CSS Corp, a Chennai-based software company, in their product division named Synaptris. “During this time, we were among the pioneers in India’s software product landscape. The startup nature of the role allowed me to gain experience across various functions and markets,” says Sadagopan. 

When Sadagopan moved on to work at CaratLane (a jewelry e-tailer) as a leader in their startup team, she was involved in a wide range of functions. This included website design, product selection, customer acquisition, marketing, media relations, and even raising the initial rounds of venture funding with the founders. 

After several years at CaratLane, Sadagopan felt the urge to start something of her own.  Collaborating with her friend and former colleague Jawahar Singh, Sadagopan soon ventured into business consulting for small and medium enterprises in Chennai.  “I come from a conventional middle-class family where risk taking is not a virtue. In my earlier years, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur was never on my radar,” she says. “Nevertheless, my professional journey introduced me to the exciting realm of startups. Eventually, my work experience motivated me which transformed into an innate desire to do something independently,” says Sadagopan.

Inception of Avishya

The birth of Avishya is steeped in serendipity.  “While working with one of our clients who happened to own a Kanjivaram silk saree business, Jawahar and I were captivated by the incredible beauty and cultural significance of handloom sarees,” Sadagopan says. “As we traveled and interacted with weaving societies and master weavers across India, we realized that Kanjivarams were just one of over a hundred distinct weaves nationwide,” she explains. 

The astonishing diversity of India’s weaving heritage coupled with the limited accessibility of these exceptional products to consumers got her thinking.  She also noticed how fragmented the sector was and the fact that most shopping environments were far from ideal. Plus, Indian handlooms reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage, diversity, and creative expression. 

Recognizing the potential, Sadagopan and Singh conceived the idea of an online platform to showcase the creations of India’s weavers and artisans to customers across the world.

Eclectic Collection, Universal Appeal

Avishya’s repertoire of offerings are exclusive, varied and tailored to a global clientele. “Our selection encompasses bridal and celebratory sarees, featuring renowned varieties such as Kanjivarams, Banarasis, Gadwals, Ikat, and more,” says Sadagopan. The platform also goes beyond traditional collections, curating sarees that resonate with modern tastes, such as pastel-hued Banarasis and silver zari Kanjivarams, among others.

Their other products include salwar and kurta materials, ready-made kurtas and dresses crafted from materials like cotton, silk, and modal. “These garments are elegant and designed for casual and professional wear in India and the West.  They infuse the beauty of Indian fabrics with aesthetic workmanship,” says Sadagopan.  

To complement their offerings, they offer an extensive assortment of saree blouses that enjoy immense popularity among their NRI clientele. Their services encompass bespoke tailoring for blouses, salwar suits, and kurtas. “Clients can provide their measurements for customized garments that align with their preferences,” says the entrepreneur. 

Positive Impact at the Grassroot Level

Avishya has been making a positive impact on weavers and manufacturers. By establishing a direct relationship, they have been able to eliminate intermediaries, allowing them to offer favorable payment terms, fair pricing, and reliable transactions to weavers.  This not only empowers them economically but also brings stability to their livelihoods. Additionally, the platform has opened new markets that were previously inaccessible, creating opportunities for growth and sustainability for the artisans.  

Looking Ahead

Avishya opened their first offline store in Chennai in June this year, and recently secured a $1.4 million investment from a private angel group in the U.S. “This capital infusion will drive inventory expansion, enhance in-house tailoring, and facilitate the opening of our additional stores,” says Sadagopan.  

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