Smitha Srinath’s love for Kanjivaram handlooms resulted in her boutique Maya that is an exclusive space for saris from Kanchi.
It was an article I wrote in The Hindu that first connected me to Smitha and after following her work on Instagram for months, I finally got to meet her at her home boutique done up in aesthetic hues of wood. The collection of saris arranged colour coded had me smitten and there were almost all saris that I liked immediately. A rarity as most conventional stores do not have saris that catch my fancy easily. An architect who moved to US and returned to India, Smitha did some freelance work and was associated with some civic projects initially. However, she knew she wanted to do something on her own. Toying with different ideas, she finally decided to have her own store. She admits that growing up her parents, aunts and grand mother had a keen eye for weaves, and she says her father especially understood traditional weaves. “When I wanted to start, I approached Saree House who gave me several references of weavers in Kanchipuram.”
Starting with 12 handloom cotton saris in 2008, Smitha started adding more saris to her collection. “I used to buy only cotton saris initially as I was skeptical about how the response would be. In fact, it took me four years before I diversified into adding silks to the collection.” Today the delightful store also has silk cotton saris as part of its collection and the loyal customer base has been built entirely through word of mouth. The store has always operated only on prior appointment (call 99023 56001) so you know there is personal attention. The saris are all personally handpicked by Smitha who visits weavers once in 6-8 weeks and selects saris. Smitha also gets her own designs and colour combinations woven too and currently works with about 10 weavers. She also exhibits annually in Raintree and at smaller annual events and at gated communities. She has also participated in Go-Coop exhibitions to showcase her work. In 2017, she started her website Weavemaya with her husband who helps her with the backend work associated with the store. She tells us more in this quick tête-à-tête.
What lesson has Maya taught you?
For someone who has no idea of how to do business, I have learnt to be professional and work with customers. It has taught me a lot of patience.
How do you deal with customers who ask for discounts?
I have learnt not to be flustered and I am very firm and say that our prices are fixed. Also, the market today is inundated with cheap imitations and there is a need to educate customers.
Why the name Maya?
I like Goddess Durga and Maya is a manifestation of the same. It is also easy to remember being a simple and short name.
What comes in your mind when I say handlooms?
It is passion, respect for the art form and I can say that I breathe Kanjivaram.
What attracted you to Kanjivaram?
Kanjivaram saris were worn by my family and somehow it was ingrained into my psyche. I did have saris from Pochampally and Rajkot but somehow, I felt I was lacking focus and I veered towards Kanjivaram. Maya is now associated with traditional designs and weaves.
What is your take on textile sustainability?
Kanjivaram is inherently sustainable as it is a sari that can be used and reused over years. Traditional kanjivarams are the perfect example of slow fashion and can be passed on as heirlooms.
What are your future plans?
I want to reach a larger audience in India and abroad with the same focus and same kind of setting, but I do not have plans to make the store larger than it is.