By Maya Lalchandani
Even though fashion has been paramount in Kaveri Lalchand’s life, it has never been the sum total of who she is. A free soul who is comfortable in her own skin, Kaveri conquered her fears one by one and drew her fashion sensibility from her own personality and past experiences as poet, publisher, theatre actor and designer.
Having watched too many women fidgeting with discomfort at parties, unhappy with their body shapes, Kaveri made it her mission to design comfortable yet fashionable clothes that empower women with ‘real’ bodies. Her Chennai-based eponymous label Kaveri goes with the tagline ‘Everyday Beautiful’, and now has flagship stores in Chennai, Kochi and Mumbai, with markets in Europe and around the world.
Kaveri has developed what she calls ‘happy sizes’, clothes that flatter a woman’s natural curves. She uses linen, which is hand-woven in Kolkata from yarn imported from Belgium, and has made it her signature textile.
But before fashion, style and design, Kaveri had already indulged her very intellectual side in publishing and theatre. She was the co-founder of Blaft Publications, which was known for popular fiction from different local Indian languages translated into English.
She also ran a cultural centre called The Madras Terrace House, an amalgamation of a boutique space, a gallery and event venue, café and a community centre. Essentially, all of Kaveri in one place.
All along, Kaveri patched, reworked and created her own fashion designs from whatever she could all of the time. Today her designs are made for the contemporary woman who prefers easy-to-wear, flowy and accentuated clothing. She infuses different cultures into her designs inspired from her travels and experiences – from dragonflies to Mayan symbols and exotic stories woven into pastel shades. There’s a story in everything.
Her latest entry into Lakme Fashion Week featured feted actor Shabana Azmi as showstopper donning a Kaveri ensemble in black and grey. Kaveri’s collection was an ode to the thinking woman, and carried in it a strong body-positive message.
Indeed, body positivity is a subject very close to her heart, a social movement built on the premise that all of us have a right to love ourselves the way we are. Of course, it can be a challenge for those who do not fit into the social parameters of beauty.
Kaveri has accepted the dreaded ‘F’ word with all her dignity. She battled being fat all her life, she says. “It’s just an adjective; why does it have to be an insult?” she points out.
In her childhood and teens, Kaveri had to deal with weight issues that translated into not feeling good enough. It was tough then and it has been since, but she came to terms with it at the right time and has not let the size of her body hinder what she can do in life.
Being a theatre artist, she stands fearlessly in front of thousands of people and loves public speaking. Acceptance is the key, says the 46-year-old. Negative media has to be shunned.
Going to designers and getting clothes to fit her body type was traumatic for Kaveri. That’s when the germ of an idea arose. She decided that she would beat the prototype of being an exclusive brand and present something that was inclusive.
She travelled the length and breadth of India with her trunk shows, collecting the stories and experiences of the wonderful women she met, which further fuelled her designs.
And she hasn’t just stopped at women’s clothing; she has also created a men’s line called Biografie and a line for children, Baby-K. Her line is stocked in stores across India, France, England, Portugal, Lebanon, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
Not one to fall into the traps of societal norms, happily single and striving, Kaveri is definitely a woman to reckon with. Keeping herself rooted to the ground with hard work and compassion, while helping women accept themselves, she’s surely aiming for the stars.
Maya Lalchandani is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, writer and the author of Paiso (Penguin Random House). First published in eShe’s November 2019 issue