What started out as a hobby, grew into a developing business for Karthik Vaidhyanathan, whose work with the artisans from Channapatna, Karnataka, spanning over 4 years, led to the birth of his flagship store – Varnam.
Located in Indiranagar, Bangalore, Varnam houses a variety of functional products in the home, lifestyle and women’s accessories space that are made entirely by the Channapatna artisans.
Channapatna, also known as the ‘toy city’ or ‘Gombegala ooru‘ in the local language, is famous for its wooden toys. Known to have been taught to the local artisans by the Persians during the reign of Tipu Sultan, this traditional craft used ivory wood and sometimes rosewood and sandalwood for nearly two centuries to make toys. Today, the artisans use rubber, sycamore, cedar, pine and teak along with vegetable dyes that are considered safe for children.
However, with the changing trends and the lack of innovation, the artisan community faced financial problems and ended up requiring assistance from the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation (KSHDC) and several other NGOs. “I used to volunteer for the craft sector by helping with their communications,” said Karthik. “I knew I wanted to work in the social sector space and had even volunteered with Fabindia very briefly. I managed to visit certain Channapatna artisan groups on my own and started developing designs for products other than toys. It started as a hobby with one group or artisans and then it slowly grew!”
His first collection, that he launched at The Ants Store in Bangalore had a great response from the customers. They were surprised to see products such as lamps, wine bottle holders and coat hangers instead of the usual wooden toys that they had always associated with the Channapatna craft from.
Though Karthik insisted that he had never really planned on having his own store, it was clearly the next step. And in 2014, he launched a store dedicated to the Channapatna artisan community.
“A lot of our products that we had designed during the first year still sell! So we haven’t phased out any of the designs,” says Karthik. “The whole idea of the store was to generate regular work for the Channapatna artisan community. Newer designs are just added on to the existing collection.” Karthik intends to focus on different product categories every two months. Currently, Varnam store is bringing out more ranges in lighting and jewellery products.
Karthik continues to support his mission by educating more and more people through social media and, at the same time, train the artisans to make better designs. The packaging at Varnam also tells the story of the craft and explains how the products that are handmade are one of a kind. Unlike machine-made products, their slight imperfections make each item unique! “It’s been tough and every customer feedback has been a learning,” explains Karthik.
Karthik’s advice to home design enthusiasts
Your home should be a reflection of who you are. There is no set formula. People may try to replicate what they see in magazines, but it usually doesn’t work. Keep the basics in mind – good lighting and comfortable furniture. At the end of the day, when you open the front door to your house, you should feel you’re ‘home’.
No.444 , Basement, 13th Cross, 5th Main Road,
Indiranagar II Stage, Bangalore, Karnataka 560038