Devarajan (Dev), Managing Director of the family-run business, URC Construction Private Ltd., grew up close to the small village of Chennimalai in Tamil Nadu. Chennimalai has for many years, been a well-known center for handloom weaving. Throughout his childhood, Dev grew up with the familiar, rhythmic ‘click-clack’ sound of the handlooms. These rhythms and sounds were the pulse of the village and are embedded in Dev’s psyche.
With its strong textile heritage, Chennimalai was once a flourishing village, producing some of the finest handloom sheeting in jacquard, dobby and plain weaves. But today, with the influx of power looms and the threat of commercialization, it presents a different scenario. Only a handful of artisans remain here, devoted to their art. With the realization that generations of weavers, their invaluable skills, knowledge and entire way of life is now rapidly in decline and on the verge of extinction, Dev decided that he had to do something to help.
And so in 2012 Dev began a fruitful business collaboration with his colleague and friend, Consultant Manager, Sampath Kasirajan (Sam), after a heartfelt and serendipitous conversation. Sam, who had also grown up in South India, equally compelled to protect the declining heritage of villages alongside caring for the environment by launching ethical and strategic business practices.
Having worked together on previous projects, it quickly became apparent that Dev and Sam were both passionate about creating a holistic, socio-economically conscious and eco-friendly venture that would preserve heritage skills, alleviate poverty and to give back to the community a sustainable way of living.
Thereafter, a case study of Chennimalai, funded by URC Constructions Ltd, was undertaken by Sam to assess the ground realities. Countless trips were made to the village. The weavers were naturally skeptical but over a period of time Sam earned their trust and the weavers’ lives and hopes for their future slowly unfolded. It was a sad and desperate situation as weaving families leading a humble existence were barely living above the poverty line. And as the cost of living escalated, their children were naturally attracted to the salaries offered by the IT companies in the cities. “Why should our children continue to weave when the pay and conditions are so poor?” was a question often posed by the weavers. And so the essence of this case study made it clear that Dev and Sam had to focus on finding ways to protect, preserve and promote the heritage skills of Chennimalai. Equally, this new initiative had to be sustainable at every level, economically, financially, socially and environmentally so that it could allow the present and next generation of weavers to continue to work with dignity and pride. And so the long-term goals were posterity and prosperity. Hence the name Five P.
With this clear vision, Five P now needed an extra ingredient to push the possibilities of its flagship project on handloom weaving to the next level. That ingredient was contemporary design. Sam approached the Australian design fraternity, attracting a new generation of fashion and textile specialists. In addition, Sam and Dev recognized that these designers needed a technical expert on the ground in Tamil Nadu, to oversee production and someone who could work with the local weavers. Enter Ponnusami, a technical expert in textile production who calmly and effortlessly achieves perfection in everything he does. And it just so happened that he is Sam’s trusted business partner and a longstanding friend.
In 2013 the Australian designers developed new woven designs for the fashion sector. Ponnusami sourced the raw materials and worked with Chennimalai weavers to produce trial samples to exacting standards. These samples were a great success. With Ponnusami’s expertise and insight, new and exciting print and weave possibilities were explored.
Now confident in the vision and future prospects of Five P Venture, a Prototype Development Centre was built, containing frame looms and a jacquard loom. The Centre aimed to showcase not just the wealth and wisdom of the weavers from Chennimalai but also to explore the adaptation of traditional weaving skills to explore new design potential and produce contemporary textiles. With the return of the Australian designers, a new indigo dyed denim collection was launched and Five P Ventures India was open for business.
In 2014 Ponnusami had a further insight of developing the handloom-weaving project at Five P so that a complete garment or textile product could be hand woven, dyed, stitched and embellished on one site. This not only offered designers an opportunity to see their creations take form from yarn to finished product but also allowed the flexibility to produce short runs and fine-tune their designs along the way.
The Prototype Development Centre of Five P has by now produced hand woven, hand crafted and hand finished samples of fashion garments and textiles for home furnishings, for the Australian, American, New Zealand and UK markets.
Five P is now housed in a 12-acre site in Erode, Tamil Nadu and has 54 looms ready for weaving production. The facility is Green Building certified.
We are incredibly excited about the future of handloom weaving in Chennimalai and confident that this business model can be replicated in future to help other communities. What started as a meeting of two minds, to produce a business initiative based on a holistic model, will transform lives and transform villages.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES FIVE P FROM OTHER MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS
- We are a highly ESG – (Environmental, Social and Governance) compliant facility
- We have adopted an economic format that makes its business sustainable. The economic reward is central to the idea of its first 3 Ps- Protect, Preserve and Promote. In other words, for the first 3Ps to remain a sustainable proposition the last 2 Ps (Prosperity & Posterity) have to remain economically rewarding at any point in time in its life
- The idea of Five P is not to be private and exclusive; it is rather to be public and inclusive. It is designed to support proliferation of its ideas across a larger audience that are passionate about their heritage skills
- We use the principle of “complementing partnerships” instead of “competitive aggressions” to achieve economic growth and social progress for the community it serves
- Five P’s wealth creation follows a format that returns a significant part of the value it generates back to the artisans via salary, dividend and market capitalization