Neela Edwards and Padmaja Bhandary with young models wearing their creations
And along the way, Padmaja Bhandary and Neela Edwards are also reviving global interest in traditional Indian textiles and prints. How are they doing that? By incorporating traditional textiles such as kalamkari, ikat, ilkal, kanjeevaram and cotton mangalgiri—alongside evergreen motifs such as the ‘hamsa’ (bird) in the blouse pieces. The finished products, largely in rich plums, reds, maroons, gold, silver, warm ochre and striking coral, work as timeless, unique creations; as wearable art.
Not surprisingly, Padmaja and Neela, both aged 56, have admirers across the world who wear their bespoke pieces with pride and joy, and yes, self-confidence. This despite the fact that the designers have no store or publicity campaign for their label, Ravikes by Padmaja and Neela. All they have is a Facebook page, created last January. “Our brand has grown purely through word-of-mouth. Friends of friends, friends of family members, friends of our children, all of them come to us,” they smile. “Ravikes is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘blouse’; we liked the traditional connotation,” explains Padmaja.
Crafting a story, together
How did these two women build up the brand, purely on the strength of their craft? Neela explains: “Our story began with Paddu (Neela’s affectionate name for her friend) and her talent for quilting. She used to recycle and rework old sarees into bedspreads and quilts.” Padmaja’s cousin in Delhi, a fellow quilter, asked if she could create some blouses for clients in Delhi. “So Neela and I brainstormed and designed a batch of blouses. Unfortunately, they did not fit my cousin’s clients, who happened to be large-framed women. But when we showed the pieces to our friends in Bangalore, they loved them.” And the two were on their way.
That was two and a half years ago. Today, the two friends-cum-business partners are co-creators in the fullest sense of the term. “We share similar sensibilities,” is how Padmaja puts it. Cuts and designs are Neela’s forte; Padmaja is the expert on weaves and fabrics.
The duo now have clients from across India and countries such as New Zealand, the US, Singapore and Germany. “Our value addition is that we deliver, no matter where the client is, and our price range goes from `1,250 to `3,000. This is much lower than the `5,000-`13,000 that the boutiques charge,” explains Neela.
Designing for the desi divas
The most enriching part of their journey has been sharing their love of textiles with clients, be it teenagers wearing their “first” saree, grandmothers pairing personalised blouses with heritage sarees or corporate women seeking powerful, yet practical, style statements. “Some older women tell us that wearing blouses with ‘bust-pads’ or bust support (so that no inner wear is required) is a liberating experience. And teenagers find it fun to experiment with strappy, tie-up, heart-shaped, or seriously low-backed blouses,” say the duo.
Ravikes also sells block printed sarees and a line of bespoke cholis that can be paired with both ghagras or sarees. It’s the juxtaposition of the traditional with the trendy, the pairing of a sensuously cut, utterly feminine and totally vibrant blouse with a modestly draped saree that excites the two women. “We source our materials locally. We attend every textile exhibition and fleamarket in town. And we criss cross Bangalore to visit wholesalers and textile traders,” stresses Neela.
Technology meets tradition
To cater to their scattered clientbase, Padmaja and Neela have embraced technology wholeheartedly. “We use Skype, What’s App and Facebook (FB) to discuss cuts, colours, designs and price points with our clients,” explains Neela. The FB page is testament to their no-fuss style of working. The photographs displayed there have been shot by Padmaja, who used her twenty-something daughters and niece as models. Neela, incidentally, has two grown up sons. “My son’s female friends are also our clients,” she laughs.
Going forward, Ravikes plans to create a range of men’s shirts. Plus, on their FB page, the designers hope to put in place a sizing tool that can help clients order their blouses online. What better way to show that heritage can be high fashion–and contemporary– too.