Six months after her son was born, Neelima Chandran was feeling out of sorts. She was doing nothing except look after her child. Neelima is a chartered accountant who had worked in companies like the Trident hotel and Federal Bank at Kochi and McMillan publishers in Bangalore. “Since I wanted flexible timings, I decided to do something on my own,” she says.
Her initial plan was to do an online business. So she travelled to Balaramapuram in Thiruvananthapuram, which is the centre for handloom textiles. Thereafter, Neelima went to Pondicherry and saw some contemporary handloom styles.
That was when Neelima decided she would concentrate on handloom. “It is a fabric that breathes,” she says. “Once you wear handloom you will not wear anything else. It makes you feel so cool. For the Indian climate, handloom is the best. It is light on the body. It lasts longer than cotton clothes provided you take care of it.”
The best way is to wash the clothes by hand and dry it in the shade. “If you hang it to dry in the sunshine, the colours will fade fast,” says Neelima.
Apart from the online trade, Neelima opened a shop, ‘Neelaambari’, at Bangalore in 2010. But last year, Neelima relocated to Kochi and has opened an outlet at the DD Milestone in Kochi. She sells kurtas, short tops, skirts, trousers, kurthis and dupattas. “My clothes are a bit off-beat, and not the normal, jazzy, sequenced, button-wear kind,” she says. “We don’t have party wear. We only have handloom clothes with a contemporary touch.” In fact, Neelima does the designing and has tailors to implement her ideas.
The most popular item is Ikkat, a handloom fabric from Andhra Pradesh. “It is a rage with everybody,” says Neelima. “These are contemporary designs and appeal to 80 per cent of the customers.”
Indeed, buyers are happy. “The selections are awesome, elegant and classy,” says Nashiya Salim. “And the prices are reasonable.” Yes, one of the attractive aspects are the affordable prices: from `450 to `1000.
Jeeva Jayadas is another satisfied customer. “I liked the clothes and would definitely recommend it to my friends,” she says. Buyer Reshma Rao says that Neelima has an awesome collection of kurthis.
Meanwhile, Neelima has an interesting observation to make about her customers. “Many of them, especially in the over-35 group, are conservative in their dressing,” says Neelima. “They are reluctant even to wear sleeveless blouses. Somehow, they lack the confidence. Maybe, it has got to do something with our patriarchal society.” However, the college-going generation is willing to try out anything, thanks to their exposure to the outside world, because of Facebook and the Internet.
Incidentally, Neelima started the business with a social aspect. She bought the fabrics from non-governmental organisations, self-help groups, tribal communities, and women associations. “In the beginning, I just wanted to help these people,” she says. “But then I realised that if I had to make my business a sustainable one, an income is necessary. Otherwise, the enterprise will die.” So, it is with a mix of a social conscience and entrepreneurial spirit, Neelima is steaming ahead.