Papreeka was showcased at this year’s New York Fashion Week, a big feat for a small WOC-led collective. Amidst the bustle of preparing for the show, we caught up with Dhanya to discuss what this moment feels like, her life stretched across continents and the earliest memories of her life that inspired her to walk this path.
(You can find out about the brands featured & shop them at www.papreeka.store)
This is certainly a milestone for Papreeka and for you. Can you take us through the journey of your brand and what this means for the future of local businesses on global platforms?
Papreeka was a side-gig of mine when I realized I was extremely interested in the Indian retail industry in 2012, but was living in Singapore. Since I was far away, I said I would start by researching brands, aesthetics and entrepreneurs in the industry. That interest stayed on as life evolved, and over 10 years we built a community of 60K followers on Instagram who were interested in the conscious South Asian fashion stories we have to tell. 3 months ago, I took the leap to build Papreeka into a curated conscious collective sourcing products from these very brands that I have worked with over the years.
Small craft-based businesses in South Asia are typically women/family-run engaging a community of artisans to make their products using traditional techniques. This is Papreeka’s gold mine, as I like to call it. We curate from these businesses, products that fit a global aesthetic, in order to attract customers from around the world. That way we preserve the tradition, but gently influence the type of products that do well internationally.
A huge road to growth for these small businesses is accessing international markets for new customers - Papreeka is the curated bridge that facilitates this growth! We’ll only see more and more collaborations like this propping up and aggregating the highly localized industry.
Papreeka is called an online ‘sandhai’ (marketplace in tamil). Which sandhais did you go back to, in memory, while you were curating for Papreeka? Which sights, sounds, smells, touch or taste from these places do you carry with yourself the most?
My paternal grandparents are from a small town called Melakalkandarkottai, near Trichy, Tamil Nadu. My maternal grandparents are from a small town called Virudhachalam near Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu. Growing up, visiting my grandparents in the summers, I have incredible memories of small farmer and trader led markets that are called ’sandhais’. These were held in an open ground, all day when the entire town would come to an exchange of sorts. I remember my grandparents talking about selling their cattle to fellow farmers or buying some rare pulses that they didn’t grow themselves. Another type of market that I remember are ones outside temples - these were typically places of trade for clothes, jewellery and other household items. I remember these sandhais being personal, genuine and curated. I remember them being labors of love. My family tells me that sandhais happen less frequently these days and don’t have the glory of the past.
I often re-visit these memories from my childhood when I think of a wonderful shopping experience. Today, urban cities like New York pride their farmers markets - every time I visit one, I ponder on the circle of life. It might take a few generations for us to revive sandhais in Tamil Nadu the way they were in my grandparents days, but I wanted to use that ethos as inspiration to build Papreeka.
What are you looking for in a brand or local business, when you try to bring them into Papreeka?
Every Papreeka brand/product has a certain global aesthetic - that is the first & most important criteria. You will notice this when you visit our site. We want to first curate beautiful products that will elevate your life. And have the bonus of a meaningful shopping experience behind it. Every brand is thoroughly vetted for 10 consumer-friendly sustainability principles, built from years of scientific research, which makes the shopping experience an educational one. Examples are: natural materials, women-owned, vegan, responsible sourcing, handmade etc. The brands have to pass at least 5 of the 10 principles in order to make it to the platform. We are proud of our mission to encourage our customers to shop responsibly while thoughtfully curating their lives.
Living in New York and running Papreeka which is headquartered in Madras, what does a day in your life look like?
Its rather interesting! I typically break my day into 2 parts. I start my morning with a walk, some chai and a few calls with India, either vendors or our team. I then work on content and emails for the next couple of hours. I take a mid-day break to complete my chores and any other personal to-dos. I get back to work around 4PM or so and work into the evening - this is usually my zen time when I get the longer flow of work done.
In this curation of South Asia’s shared history, what is the story you want these objects to tell?
We simply have one mission: That something can be beautiful and yet be well-made, while paying homage to the earth; that shopping can be a mindful experience when you only buy what you need but cherish it for several years to come. Our products are sourced from all over the country with a varied collection of craft & technique on display. Every piece reflects the story of where it comes from, what its original use was and how it still might be relevant in today’s context. All our pieces have functionality, not just looks.
Lastly, what does it feel like these days, to see your work being showcased at the New York Fashion Week?
Presenting the collection at NYFW is a surreal dream come true for Papreeka and its women-led conscious partners - Krithaa, Hydes Studio, Baka, Aadikara, Messiah, & Dhuri.
Our dream is to share a well-made piece of South Asia with every home around the world. Today we got one step closer by taking our WOC-led brand to the most prestigious stage in fashion. We wanted to showcase the rich history of South Asian artisan-led craft through a conscious lens.
We have many, many more milestones to reach, and we’re so glad we started off with New York Fashion Week. For a small Madras based brand - this is truly the heights!