This magazine has proudly used their spectacular lungies/dhoties for our cover shoot with Funktuation and this author has been in awe of the brand since forever. We finally get a chance to sit down and chat with Pavithra Muddaya, co-founder of Vimor, to discover everything we ever wanted to know about the brand.
“Vimor (meaning purity in Indonesian) was born out of necessity, way back in the 50s. We became a brand and registered only in 1974, but the beginnings were made in the late 50s when my mother, Chimy Nanjappa, worked with the Cauvery Arts Emporium. When we began, we were selling old temple sarees that were auctioned from temples. In those days, temples often received several sarees as gifts for the deity and sometimes they would choose to auction these sarees at very affordable prices. Some of them would be in pristine condition, while others would require some work on them — so we would re-dye it, print over it, add some embroidery to mask oil stains, etc. It slowly, of course, became a passion,”
“Something that we did right then was to copy the designs on the saree before we sold them. I don’t think we realised how important that would turn out to be in hindsight, but I am glad we did it. As time passed, antique heirloom sarees started dwindling and we suddenly realised that we needed to start conserving these ‘pieces of history’ for the next generation. I guess that’s where Vimor’s journey really started. All our knowledge of sarees and fabric came from studying these diverse sarees, up close. It was always a new challenge. It was never just a kanjeevaram or a banarasi; temples received sarees as gifts and in thanksgiving from all across the country and so our knowledge of weaving styles, patterns, designs and fabrics grew exponentially,” Pavithra adds.
Was Vimor always imagined as a revivalist brand?
Not really. We were still very small and we knew we didn’t want to go the multi-store format. The need for conserving these weaving traditions led us to get involved with the actual weavers and that’s where Vimor’s journey took its second leap. We began to train weavers. We realised we had the capacity to train them and we knew the designs we wanted them to work on. My mother would handhold each of these weavers and mentor them and today, that’s our biggest success story — these weavers have outgrown us and are now far bigger than the Vimor brand in itself. Today, I’m training the second generation from these families and it is pleasing to see them believe in this art form and tradition. People keep saying there’s no money in it. We showed them that there is. We give them an advance and a promise of buy-back. They’re therefore confident and very secure. And through these efforts we have managed to preserve many weaving traditions that would have otherwise died out.
But does this make business sense?
We were often told that we were practicing bad business. It wasn’t hard to notice that a lot of these weavers would outgrow us. We were learning from them, but we were also teaching them what we were learning in such a way that it could be beneficial to them. Often we would recommend them to other bigger institutions around us, so that they could grow beyond us. Now, a lot of them have their own stores and believe that they can manage on their own, on their own weaving skills and that’s a win for us. It makes me smile to see the second generation — educated engineers and MBA graduates still continuing in the field. Government officials often ask us how we’ve managed to keep these weaver communities alive and our simple answer is that we showed them that it can work.
Does Vimor exclusively work with South Indian weavers and only with sarees?
We used to work exclusively with weavers from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and largely with sarees. Recently we also began working with lungies/dhoties and our new partnerships in Rajasthan have allowed us to also work with weavers there. Vimor now knows that we aren’t defined by a particular region. We may have begun in the South, but we’re now working in Bengal, and several other parts of Western India. I’ve never wanted to impose my design sensibility on anyone and I always look at what the weaver is capable of doing. Sarees need a lot of fabric, be it cotton or silk, and over time I realised that smaller products were easier for weavers to produce. So we went the whole length, from stoles to dhurries and rugs to table linen. Somewhere along the line, we realised dhoties/lungies were a great option for several weavers and they hardly have any competition in the market. We’re always open to new ideas. Whatever helps the weaver communities will always be our choice.
How come you never ventured into being a ‘designer’ label?
We’ve never wanted to be ‘designers’. We are, you could say, protectors of antique heirloom designs and have a certain aesthetic sense that we know will work. The idea is to help weavers achieve a healthy supply-demand base, so their endeavours are profitable. We also teach the market to value the weaver and do not shy away from paying more than the industry standards. The idea is to ensure the weaver feels secure. The idea is to have a larger impact. Some of my designs have been in the market for over 40years now and it’s absolutely fine. These designs have travelled the country and nobody knows they had their origin in Vimor and we’re okay with that.
Is there a bright future for handloom in India?
Sadly, while I do not want to believe it, handloom traditions are disappearing fast across the country. All over, weavers are giving up on their trade. One cannot expect weavers to be weavers for 100s of years if the trade isn’t profitable. The only way forward is to train weavers to practice the trade properly and teach markets to respect the value of handloom. These traditions are our inheritance and probably India’s biggest asset at a global level.
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