The Wicker Story founded by Priyanka Narula works with traditional craftsmen on making unique products made of cane.
“The Wicker Story pays homage to the traditions of weaving in India through the mediums of clothing, furniture and objects. It is an attempt to connect traditional design methods of the past to new thought processes in the design,” says Priyanka Narula, founder of The Wicker Story, which was founded in October 2018 and based in Hyderabad.
Born and brought up in Kanpur, Priyanka says that she grew up in a conservative household. “While I did have aspirations to study a lot, I was not entirely sure of what I wanted to do in life. I did however want to stay clear of studying engineering. In the process of avoiding engineering I stumbled upon architecture and the rest as they say is history,” Priyanka tells The Better India.
Over time, as Priyanka studied architecture, she says, “I realised how much I loved designing, meeting people and understanding their personalities and then customising designs.”
Given that at The Wicker Story rattan is used as a primary material in designing the furniture pieces, Priyanka says, “Ratan/Cane seamlessly blends in and enhances the interiors of any kind of space. Rattan furniture has a rather unique way of blending into any space that it is placed in.” Given its neutral colour and texture, it is easy to use this material universally.
“It is one material that I feel will never go out of style. So much can be done with it,” adds Priyanka. The 100 per cent sustainable products that offer a zero-waste production methodology have also found takers in London.
A Homage to Traditional Indian Weaving
“When I started working in this space I realised that a lot of the new age manufacturing systems were technology-based. There seemed to be a gap between the existing construction market in India. Given how rich our culture and vernacular architecture is, we wanted to bring that into our design aesthetics,” she says.
After a lot of 3D printing and complex manufacturing system experiments through different machines, while working with one of our craftsmen we found the novelty of working with skills that they possess. “In fact, it was merging technology with the age-old practices and skill that our craftsmen have that led to the first product being launched – IMLI (a bench shaped like a tamarind pod),” she says.
Speaking about the product, Priyanka says, “The inspiration for IMLI comes from all things that evoke nostalgia. The fruit reminds us of mom’s food and the cane chairs we grew up around. The intent was to make a fluid, soft furniture piece that is both artistic and functional at the same time. The technique of cane weaving used for making the bench is traditional to most parts of India. The aim was to adapt the local technique to designs that were complex and new from global market standards. Our methodology gives us an opportunity to create a seamless design with zero material wastage. The surface is further finished in Linseed oil.”
Our experiments yielded a product that was jointless, minimal in material use and lightweight, yet strong.
This inspired us to explore the idea further, and several other products like the lifafa chair, bloom bench and coral lamp came into being.
Priyanka mentions that there are perhaps only a handful of design houses working exclusively with experimental Ratan. “Honestly, when we started, there was trepidation and we weren’t sure how the Indian market would take to such experimental rattan products. It was a gamble that we willingly undertook.” For almost one and a half years, Priyanka says that the design house was in the market with only two products.
What worked in their favour was how well the Indian market took to these products. “We started exhibiting at various avenues across the country. That brought us a lot of visibility. In 2019, one of our furniture products won an award at the ELLE DECO International Design Awards (EDIDA), India and subsequently we bagged the Trends Design awards in 2020 and the Lexus Design awards in 2022 as well,” she says.
“These awards and recognitions gave our idea the much-needed impetus. It was validation to continue along the same path,” she says.
Today, the brand employs over 25 people.
Ahsan bhai, one of the craftsmen associated with The Wicker Story says, “Ab main idhar he set ho rahan hoon (Now I have settled into this role). I have opened a bank account; my children have been enrolled in a good school. Also, since the work we do is so unique and different, my interest in learning and continuing here remains. I also feel that I am less stressed about work now. In all of India, our work is being recognised and appreciated. What work can I ask for.”
Adding to this, Priyanka says, “I now see each craftsman taking pride in the work they are doing. This was a dying art form and to see the younger generation show such keen interest in taking it forward is something that I feel happy about.”
Right Place, Right Time
“We grew through the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. During this time, we also saw the entire Indian furniture market starting to look inwards rather than outwards. People started noticing homegrown brands. We happened to be at the right place at the right time,” she says. The Wicker Story was providing unique design solutions and a very interesting manufacturing methodology.
While the designs that The Wicker Story produces are all contemporary, the manufacturing was all using the traditional methods. “Going back to our roots and working with the craftsmen was a huge plus for us. A majority of our craftsmen are based in the old city of Hyderabad. We were able to connect our products with those who chose to take them home,” says Priyanka.
At The Wicker Story, Priyanka says that the plan is to make available various products made from rattan. “Accessories, tableware, furniture, molded interior spaces (installations) and even larger outdoor installations are what we are looking to launch,” she says.
Since most of the products are customised as per the requirement of the interior designer or architect, Priyanka says that they could be slotted as being expensive.
IMLI, for instance, costs Rs 42,000. The rest of their pieces cost anything upwards of Rs 18,000. “We are not mass producing and every piece that we produce is different and unique. It is a slow and skilled process, which requires the input of senior weavers,” she adds.
Sharing her experience of getting a furniture piece customised from the Wicker Story, Sangeeta Mallpani, says, “When my kids were interviewed by the architects I didn’t really think they’d be able to achieve their fantasies of monkeying around the house. However, I saw how they translated their thoughts into a design that Priyanka so impeccably achieved and turned into a piece of art. This piece has now become the most extraordinary piece in our house and the first thing that anyone notices. We cannot be thankful enough for this gift.”
Having worked with over 100 clients so far, Priyanka says that their products have a pan-India reach while they plan to supply their products to a global audience.
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(Edited by Yoshita Rao)