Indigenous Accessories with an International Audience

Srithi Sadagopan a.k.a Srirang (because most South Indian’s are given a second name after their place of birth) spent her entire life in the temple town of Srirangam until her marriage. The soft-spoken, 23 year old small-town girl was just about to jump into a life that would transform her life entirely. She moved halfway across the world, to the US for 12 years with her husband only to return to India as a bold entrepreneur with a philanthropic desire.

The eco-friendly accessory brand, SriRang (also a hat-tip to her hometown) is a manifestation of Srithi’s life-long passion for fabrics and her inherent desire to help those around her. “My house help, Shanthi, required financial assistance for her son’s education so I decided that while I helped her out, I would also ensure that she could employ her talents to sustainably support herself.” Coincidentally, Shanthi had a knack for stitching and the two began working collaboratively designing bags.

Within a year the brand expanded to designer clutches, a product that they are well known for to date. “I vividly remembered matching my cutch with my outfit when I was younger,” she gleams as she describes the various styles and textures that she used to hoard. Srithi’s design skill comes from equal parts of instinct, observation and hours of obsessive video watching on YouTube. “One day, while I was sitting on an easy chair I noticed how fascinating the weaves were between the large wooden frame. I am currently working on adapting that style to the frame of a clutch.

SrinRang consists of a small team of 4 people working in an apartment converted into a workshop in T. Nagar. “We find things lying around and ideate collaboratively on our products,” she describes, “We don’t waste even a little bit of fabric. We use the remainders to make fabric jewelry.”

Clutches are not as simple to make. The process involves cutting expensive fabrics carefully so that it fits the metal framework while also ensuring there is no wastage to ensure the brand’s sustainability policy. Srithi faced challenges along the way procuring the right type of frame made of metal as she did not want to use the brittle and polluting plastic frames that were widely available.

For the fabric, Srithi started by making ties with weavers in Kanchipuram. As the following for the indigenous clutch label expanded online, she had more people approaching her with fabrics from around India. She ensures that there is a choice for everybody. Though she focuses on Tamil Nadu based textiles certain fabrics like the Kancheevaram silks tend to be very expensive. That is when she started procuring Modhal silk (a textile that has a similar luster to Kancheevaram silk) from a weaver at Kutch as well. “This expansion has brought in Ajrakh prints to our designs as well!”

What makes the SriRang clutches unique is the craftsmanship and the affordability. All of SriRang’s designs are limited edition as they are handcrafted and only a maximum of five products are made of each design. Srithi now has a Tanjore artist in her team as well and has released a new line of designer clutches integrating the antique artform. “Most of our customers come to buy one clutch but usually leave with about six,” she says with pride, “More than the sales, what I find more important is that my customers get to meet the makers. I ensure my team gets the acknowledgment they deserve so that they feel encouraged and accomplished.”

So how did Srithi go from becoming a small-town girl to the founder of a small business with international reach? Moving to the US straight from Srirangam was a huge challenge. She was a small fish in the big sea where overcoming cultural and language differences were the biggest takeaway. Every experience increased her confidence and led her to become what she is today—a bold and outgoing entrepreneur of a small business with an international customer base.

“During the first month, I thrived because of my friends and relatives. My mom was the biggest support. She bought 50 bags and distributed them to everyone for Diwali!” Srithi laughs. The real crowd started pouring in when she started designing clutches. “Textile bags are available everywhere so it wasn’t as valued, but the clutches were a big hit.” Srithi launched an online store, which coupled with Instagram, built the brand an active following of more than 5K followers. Most are regular customers. She also regularly collaborates with influencers with similar brands like Madhulika Kapilavayi and her brand Margazhi, which has significantly helped with her brand’s outreach.

As is the norm with most products, customers would always request to see the product firsthand before buying it. Srithi would invite them to the workshop where they could buy the product and see it being made. Over time, the display and storage were shifted to another location in Mandaveli. “It’s a 3BHK apartment where I have taken one of the rooms and converted it into a small boutique where I can entertain my customers.”

Today Srithi’s small business not only has a client base that spans the entire country, especially from fashion destinations like Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad but also ships clutches to regular customers overseas—all around the US, Australia and Denmark. “Sometimes it gets overwhelming because we get about 50 orders per day and we’d have to package it and ship it, all within our team.”

Though running a small business seems easy to a bystander, Srithi recalls all of the challenges along the way—with procuring the right kind of materials and getting the right kind of support. She continues to thrive amidst it all and constantly focuses on innovating with her team and bringing in new talents—acknowledging their craftsmanship so that they can grow with the rising brand.

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GOTN is a platform that aims to bring together entrepreneurs from around Tamil Nadu to form a creative community by offering inspiration, information and facilitating connects.