Imagine a dinner table decorated with vibrant tableware, handmade in different parts of India – Gujarati Suf embroidery on kala cotton tablecloth, bowls made from Rajasthani black clay pottery, serving spoons done in wooden and metal work from Uttar Pradesh and ball clay plates created from studio pottery in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Bringing together these various crafts under one platform is Ikai Asai, a young, homegrown brand that specialises in making premium homeware. It uses India’s local and rare crafts techniques to make everyday decorative objects into art – from tall terracotta vases and ceramic teapots to crystal-clear wine glasses. The overall colour palette of the pieces is dominated by warm yet vibrant hues, enhanced with textural forms, which strike harmony with lovers of understated luxury.
Ikai Asai launched last year in January with a showcase at Maison et Objet in Paris, a major French home and interior trade fair. But the brand’s subsequent launch in India was put on hold due to the unforeseen lockdown. After many hiccups, the brand finally started its online retail in October 2020.
A brainchild of singer and entrepreneur Ananya Birla, Ikai Asai is spearheaded by CEO Kanupriya Verma, who is equally passionate about Indian crafts and aims to empower crafts communities and build a portfolio of premium décor that caters to consumers worldwide. “I think it’s crucial to have launched Ikai Asai during this time (of the pandemic). In the last few months, a conversation has started in the craft ecosystem. The thought of promoting concepts of collaboration, sustainability and creativity that the industry has had for many years, is now taking shape because the world really needs collective values like these,” Verma says.
Ikai Asai’s offering centers around tables – from dinnerware, drinkware and barware to serveware and table linen. As each piece is handcrafted and hand-painted, all the collections are developed in limited units. Ikai Asai has four collections currently, Deva, Lila, Kama and Junoon, each made in collaboration with leading artists and designers.
Renowned furniture designer, Ayush Kasliwal, co-designed Kama, underlined with the beauty of the purple amethyst. Some of its standout pieces include wine glasses, decanter and colour-blocked bottles. Architect and designer Ashiesh Shah worked on Junoon, which features patterned table covers and artsy, white ceramic-textured vases, bringing to life the toy craft of Channapatna from South India.
Architect Dharmesh Jadeja collaborated for Deva, which focuses on the Longpi pottery from North-East India and the ancient Kansa (bronze) craft from Odisha and Gujarat. Rustic yet extremely chic pieces include black clay snack bowls, stoneware teapots and terracotta vase. Fashion designer Rina Singh of Eka envisioned Lila, featuring delicate dessert plates, uneven stoneware bowls and tumblers glazed with bright watercolour textures.
Travelling the lengths and breadths of India
To build Ikai Asai’s collection, Verma travelled to various remote places in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Karnataka, where she discovered these fascinating craft forms. “The focus for us has always been to source, create and consume locally through sustainable and inclusive collaborations.” Naturally, the brand name too, is a testament to these travels and the aim to unify the diversity of the country. Verma explains, “Ikai is Punjabi for ‘one’ and Asai means ‘desire’ in Tamil. With time, our team discovered several craft clusters, techniques and traditions that until recently remained relatively unknown.”
Ikai Asai’s target consumer base is very diverse. It aims to cater to like-minded people who seek to celebrate functional, handcrafted homeware and make it a part of their lifestyle. Also, a huge part of the brand’s clientele is a community of renowned architects, hospitality groups, artists and designers, including The Leela Hotel’s Aishwarya Nair, restaurateur Gauri Devidayal and chef Bani Nanda.
“We hope to expand our product offerings beyond the table into broader collections this year. We are also working towards the launch of the Ikai Asai Foundation, which will support and promote the artisans and their crafts across India,” says Verma. The brand is also trying to incorporate micro-financing in the local craft sector, to build a robust, durable supply chain to support the livelihood of craftsmen and workers for a long term. Micro-financing helps low-income groups in the rural areas to access basic financial services like opening saving accounts, insurance, loan and money transfer options.