If you happen to find yourself in Kadavanthara, you cannot miss the vibrant shop that oozes Malayali essence. ViaKerala, the local design shop inspired by everything in Kerala, is a tribute to Keralam. Founded by Theresa, a typographer and graphic designer, this sustainable local business is her way of paying an ode to the Malayalam script. The store offers an array of products, right from vintage coin collections, cushion covers to magnets and tote bags.
What’s Theresa’s Story?
Theresa trained in Fine Arts from Chennai and then worked for a design firm in Mumbai. She returned to her hometown Kochi after a couple of years and began to work as a freelance designer while also applying for her Master’s degree. Theresa shared, “I did not make it to the final round for my college of choice and decided to focus on building my portfolio. I quickly realised the need to start a professional graphic design firm to associate with bigger clients and make this my career path. Thought Factory Design was set up in 2003 and there was no looking back!”
She further added, “Not making it to the final shortlist for my master’s degree was the turning point in my ambition to learn and become a design leader. Throughout my career, I have had masterclasses from local printers, typesetters, sign painters, photographers, photoshop geniuses and many more whom I encountered. Needless to say, there’s always something new to learn each day in this fast-changing field!”
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How was ViaKerala Born?
While Thresa is a native of Kochi, she did her schooling in Tamil Nadu. She did not have Malayalam as part of her curriculum. Her work at Thought Factory Design, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by English/ Latin script. Therefore, she was not confident of the Malayalam script as she was not a native reader. However, she strongly felt the need to start using it in her work and create layouts that used Malayalam and English script on the same layout. Just the way we use English and Malayalam words in the same sentence.
She commented, “Over the years, a lot of questions popped up regarding our community representation in local design culture. I started thinking about myself, my peers and the generation I represent as a visual designer. What is the visual we use to convey our identity? What do we associate with culturally? Questions like these persisted; I worked with designers and interns in the Thought Factory team to explore these ideas for almost a year, and then in 2012, ViaKerala was born.”
As the name suggests, everything they do is ‘via’ Kerala.
Theresa shared, “All the inspiration, the heavy influence of Malayalam script in the design motif, the modernity of some of the material used was all reflective of the modern Malayali – rooted in Kerala, intimate with Malayalam language and yet, international in aspiration.”
ViaKerala soon explored the identity of ‘Made in Kerala’. Theresa found it right to collaborate with small independent businesses and women’s self-help groups to create handmade products. ViaKerala sources their handloom fabric from local cooperatives, terracotta from studio potters, bind their notebooks at the local bookbinder and even set up a screen printing studio for handmade products.
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She enthusiastically commented, “On a personal level, I resigned to the fact that I will never be able to read like a native Malayalam language reader, but I can build a team that includes one or many Malayalam experts! Collaboration has become centric to the idea of ViaKerala.”
She further added, “ViaKerala became a culture disruptor in the local graphic design field. My own clients started referring to work that ViaKerala was publishing and requested to add Malayalam in their layouts. My peers and other Kerala design firms started making the shift as well. On a global scale, the question of local identity was gaining momentum and brands started demanding that level of uniqueness to be added to communication design.”
Why You Should Check Out ViaKerala?
Most of us have had a tough time embracing the Malayali within us. And here, we have a social entrepreneur who takes pride in being a Malayali despite having different cultural influences. Theresa was able to take that energy and invest it in creating sustainable products that are inspired by Kerala. Most of ViaKerala’s products have the Malayalam script as a big part of the design.
T-shirts, wooden letters, ceramic magnets with individual kootaksharams, stationery, toys, bags and more. You name it, they have it all. The entire collection has been divided into culture related products and awareness related products. Apart from local motifs and the script (lipi), the focus areas are on the biodiversity of Kerala and the Western Ghats, in particular. There are rave reviews about their elephant product line that comes in various designs. In fact, the flying elephant logo represents ViaKerala but it is also a symbol of the modern Malayali.
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Pro-tip: Kerala Kutty is their most popular product. Socially, the name ‘Kutty’ in Kerala is the most common postfix to a person’s name. Some famous examples are Thomas Kutty, Madhavi Kutty, Kunhali Kutty etc. This naming tradition crosses over boundaries of religion, caste, age and even sex. Another translation of Kutty is ‘young one’ in Malayalam and is applicable to all children. This address has a subtone of love and closeness.
Don’t forget to check out ViaKerala’s upcoming event, happening right before Onam. They are participating online on South Side Story – a culture pop up of products from South India, hosted by Red FM for the South Indian market in the country. So stay tuned!
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