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Published on: July 29, 2020, 3:01 p.m.
Kalyan and the journey of silk
  • Kalyan Silks was the first textile retailer to launch branded bridal saris in India

By Sabin Iqbal

Mahatma Gandhi once famously said that if one wanted to know the real India one should go to the villages. Ask T.S. Pattabhiraman, chairman and managing director of Kalyan Silks, which is celebrating hundred years in the textile business, and he will say with a glitter in his eyes, “Weaving, nothing but weaving, is the soul of Indian villages.”

“One of the most lasting images of Gandhiji is the one with a spinning wheel.” he adds, out of satisfaction at building one of Kerala’s most recognised silk retail brands. “Nothing is more labour-intensive than weaving,” says Pattabhiraman, sitting in his office at his sprawling Kochi showroom, which is claimed to be the world’s largest silk sari showroom.

Kalyan Silks, which will be touching a turnover of Rs400 crore this year, has built its business on customer loyalty, quality and an understanding of customers’ changing tastes of fashion and trends. In his early days, Pattabhiraman says, he knew almost 90 per cent of his customers by name. “Our strength has been that kind of a personal relationship.”

In the textile business, especially in silk, one needs to be in constant touch with the customers, lest you will be in the dark about their fleeting tastes and trends. “You need to know their heartbeats – their likes and dislikes – to keep them with you all these years,” he adds. “A silk sari is an expression of one’s personality. Each customer takes hours to select her sari. You need to provide a variety of quality and cost. That’s a challenge, and we have been largely successful in satisfying their needs.

A customer who buys a sari that costs between Rs1 lakh and Rs2 lakh obviously wants to see a wide selection. We have many saris worth Rs2 lakh each. And it takes two men and 15 days to weave a traditional silk sari. So imagine the labour involved in weaving all these saris,” says Pattabhiraman who shares his days between showrooms in Thrissur, Palghat and Kochi.

Main business

Kalyan Silks was the first textile retailer to launch branded bridal saris in India. This series is called Sougandhika Silk and is only available through Kalyan Silks outlets. It also has a wholesale division called Kalyan Collections, which caters to the needs of small and medium retail players in Kerala.

Pattabhiraman’s grandfather, T.S. Kalyanarama Iyer, started the Thrissur-based Kalyan Silks way back in 1909. “Our main business was weaving, and we had a small retail centre of just over 400 sq. ft to go with it,” says Pattabhiraman. After his graduation he took over the showroom from his father at the age of 22. “Though my friends advised me against ‘wasting my time’ in the small showroom, I had my own ideas and vision for the future of our business. At that time, there were a couple of other big retailers with much larger showrooms. Obviously, I wanted to ‘rebrand’ the showroom and move to a bigger place.”

Pattabhiraman says his biggest hurdle was making his father agree to have a 4,000 sq. ft showroom. “He was very tentative in the beginning. I had told him I’d use only 2,000 sq. ft., and the rest would be for something else. But I used the entire space for the showroom. It was a big jump for us.” Now the Kochi showroom is over 100,000 sq. ft, and in season there are at least 20,000-25,000 customers daily. 

His two sons Prakash Pattabhiraman and Mahesh Pattabhiraman have joined him in the business as executive directors. “At present Kalyan Silks is known as a South Indian brand. But out goal is to make it a national brand in the coming years. In 2009 we will open our fourth showroom, in Kannur, and in 2010 the fifth one in Trivandrum,” says Mahesh. “And, we have some pretty elaborate expansion plans, such as to go overseas. Dubai is one of the places we have in mind,” he adds. 

Kalyan Silks is also actively involved in humanitarian activities. The most notable is the mass marriages it conducts for the poor and needy. In last year alone, Kalyan Silks helped 300 girls to get a new life. “That’s what we believe in. Helping those in need,” says Pattabhiraman.

After all, it is the personal touch that has made Kalyan Silks a household brand in Kerala.

(This article is reproduced from Business India Magazine. It first appeared in our issue dated February 8, 2009)

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