Nanimarquina: Spanish Indophiles
After over a year in New York, I have become hardened to the prices that Indian craftsmanship fetches outside India. And we’re not talking about Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla type embroidery over which craftspeople go blind. In my second week in New York, for instance, I was furious when I found an absolutely unremarkable Bandhni scarf that sold for close to $200 in a museum’s gift shop. But distance and repeated exposure have gradually blunted that anger. Now, when I find a lifestyle brand like Nanimarquina — a Spanish design-led company that has celebrated Indian craftsmanship and has created an international presence — I find myself wondering what they got right, that Indian home-grown brands are missing out on.
The Kala rug (above), part of Nanimarquina’s 2010 collection, is an excellent place to start talking about the ties this brand has built with India. The rug’s design, so unmistakably Indian, began as a doodle by a 10 year-old boy who studies in a school that Nanimarquina helps fund in the city of Bhadohi, Uttar Pradesh. Bhadohi is apparently India’s ‘Carpet Capital,’ and Nanimarquina’s major production facility in India. Since 1993, when founder and head designer Nani Marquina decided to move all her rug production in India, the brand has been donating a small portion of its annual turnover to the NGO Care & Fair, which campaigns for fair trade in the carpet industry, fights against child labor, and runs 13 schools in India. The Kala rug represents a deepening of this commitment, because for every rug sold, Nanimarquina will donate a further 150 Euros (about $205) to the school in Bhadohi.
Now, the fact that Kala rugs sell between $1,500 to $6,500 depending on the size, puts that figure in some perspective. And it is hard for me to find any justification for selling Lungis for 30 Euros each in the Barcelona showroom. But it is impossible not to be struck by the respect that Nani Marquina has for her Indian carpet makers, and her celebration and promotion of Indian craft, however simplistic the basis of that celebration might be. There are photographs of the making of the rugs on the walls of the showroom, there are little curios from India everywhere, and the press release for the 2010 collection spends much more time emphasising the contributions of the craftspeople than is necessary, or even customary, for a very high-end luxury brand. Nani Marquina is inordinately proud of the fact that her rugs are made in India.
So even though it is tempting to dismiss Nanimarquina as another foreign brand utilizing Indian expertise at very low costs, there is a lesson to be learnt here, and there are questions to be asked. Nanimarquina’s peculiar success is that a big part of its market is actually outside Spain. Consider the irony: a Spanish design brand that works with Indian craftspeople for a non-Spanish market.
India has plenty of design suppliers and skill exporters, including several successful handicraft NGOs who supply to international buyers. And we have many Indian designers who sell in international stores — Nanimarquina also stocks scarves by Neeru Kumar. But when are we going to see more independent Indian design brands that can successfully market our own crafts internationally? Hidesign has shown a way for the leather industry, but India’s biggest strengths, and arguably her greatest and most evolved craft expressions, are in textiles. I refuse to believe that we are incapable of building the design-and-craft synergy that can put a design store in New York, and shame the mediocre jetsam that passes for Indian crafts here. Nowadays, every time I encounter a mirror-work cushion cover that sells for over $100, this is the hope that I console myself with.