Minimal looking rattan (cane) chairs, aesthetic bamboo furniture, chic and retro-looking wired furniture with wood and steel frames are being increasingly preferred by interior designers and home decorators. While many of us may own a couple of pieces of cane furniture and maybe even an old wired chair, the resurgence is a good sign for artisans who depend on it. That the furniture makes your space look minimal yet fashionable is an added advantage.
Irukkai, a Nagercoil-based startup run by 29-year-old Santhosh Kumar, specialises in rewiring your chairs, steel cots and other furniture, and in custom-made furniture. Santhosh, who learnt the art of weaving with wires from his father who does it as a business, says Irukkai is only a platform that links customers with artisans.
“Often people find it difficult to find artisans who work with cane or bamboo. Sometimes they find them but the artisans don’t turn up. Through Irukkai, we make sure there’s a successful partnership,” Santhosh shares.
He continues, “Workers too get exploited and don’t get the income they deserve, therefore they don’t show interest even when work comes their way. At Irukkai, we don’t bargain with them. We take about 5-10% for our running expenses.”
The startup was formally launched only last year and has about 15 artisans spread across Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Nagercoil, Tirunelveli and Salem. Santhosh also has a few teams in Trivandrum in Kerala and Bengaluru in Karnataka.
The idea itself came to Santhosh quite accidentally. He recalls wiring an entire cot when he was about 17, on a whim to earn some pocket money, and this gave him confidence to tell people about his skill. “I posted on a blogging group that I knew weaving and that anyone who wanted work done can contact me on my number. I still get calls from that post and, in a way, it was a start to what I’m doing today with Irukkai,” Santhosh shares.
After working with an IT firm in Chennai for some time, he moved back to Nagercoil to begin his own startup. He also runs a boutique with a few friends. “At first I introduced customers to a few established furniture makers because I simply could not handle all that traffic by myself. Only later did I come to know that the customers were not satisfied with the service. I then took it up myself,” Santhosh says.
The BE graduate travelled to a few places across the state and put together a contact list of all the artisans he could manage to meet. “I also had some help from customers who shared contacts of the artisans they had engaged in the past. This helped build my directory.”
With this crowd-sourced team of artisans, Santhosh’s Irukkai helps customers find people who can assist with their furniture needs. He explains that in addition to being used in furniture, bamboo/ wire-woven sheets are also used in cupboards, cabinets and as space separators these days. With patterns like bird’s eye, tic-tac-toe, four-way, six-way, diamond, cross, Star of David, double-daisy, honeycomb, lace, etc available, there’s artistic beauty in owning such furniture. Santhosh adds that such furniture is also preferred over rexine and plastic that tend to get uncomfortably hot when used over long periods. “Drivers especially get a wired frame made for their seats to avoid health issues,” Santhosh adds.
The furniture is made using plastic wires or natural fibres such as bamboo, rattan and even palm fibre. The skill needed to work with each type and the cost of the final product varies. “We source the bamboo fibre from Assam, which is readily available and costs about 10 times more than plastic fibres/wires. There’s also palm fibre, which is sourced from southern districts but is very seasonal,” Santhosh explains.
Nagercoil all-women team, Santhosh's mother on third from left
As a next step, Santhosh hopes to reach out to different communities of people and train them in weaving. “In Nagercoil, we have an all-women team which my mother is also a part of. In Chennai, we have a couple of teams made up of persons with visual disabilities. In future I’d also like to reach out to the trans persons community, the elderly, and persons with any kind of disability. This skill may help them earn a livelihood. We’re ready to train anyone who is interested,” he says.
You can get in touch with Irukkai here.