The Good Earth journey


The Good Earth journey

Simran Lal, who will undoubtedly be termed by future chroniclers of Indian design as the second-generation torchbearer of Good Earth, is passionate and proud of her work in amusingly disproportionate measures. These competitive yet complementary virtues make Lal, the chief executive officer, the best spokesperson for the design and lifestyle brand.

When Good Earth was founded by her mother Anita Lal in 1996, India was stumbling through a yet unrealized luxury consciousness. The Maruti 800 car was being replaced by the bigger Maruti Suzuki Esteem (also a strong metaphor) and the Indian consumer was looking away from ordinary goods towards positional ones. Anita arrived as a purveyor of taste and quality through the first Good Earth offerings, mostly crockery and select décor items—one of the first servings in the Indian luxury market. She enabled a significant de-coupling between the fine and the “imported”. Here was an Indian brand with the qualities of imported luxury in the way it was curated, envisioned, manufactured and displayed. It heightened anticipation and curiosity.

At a time when Good Earth is celebrating 20 years of its existence, India has come to mean many things for those who buy from or make here. So has Good Earth. Everything you can get in this store is available outside in some form or the other. Yet nothing is quite the same. The finesse, the thought, the ongoing storytelling of the country’s artisanal legacy through crockery, clothes, spa products, décor and lifestyle items satisfy a deeper need. That, says Simran, is the sole aim of the brand. To create a pehchaan (identity). Here, she talks about the milestones of the last two decades while adding that in the next 20 years, Good Earth’s growth will come from business beyond the borders. Edited excerpts from an interview:

There may be some ambiguity in the mind of the Indian consumer about Good Earth as a luxury brand—how would you address that?

Luxury by definition is subjective; it is what one perceives as having great value. For us, it is thoughtful design and refined artisanal skills and great retail experience. Good Earth defines everyday luxury by offering products that enhance one’s feeling of well-being, that are created through a personal prism of intense connection to nature, history and heritage. We draw from tradition to create a new vocabulary of luxury that is Indian and sustainable.

How do you define sustainable luxury?

Sustainable luxury is about discernment and responsible choices. We created the pehchaan series of craft films to share this idea. The Mughals epitomized this “pehchaan”. They could discern the subtle difference between an indifferently made product and one made with care and understanding. Our films offer insights into various handicraft traditions and what distinguishes them. Our first film about the pehchaan of a Jaipuri hand block-printed razai (quilt) went viral with almost two million views and 30,000 shares on our website. We are also working towards sustainability with less carbon footprint, reflecting current concerns. Sustainability for us simply means a mindful world view. It is, intrinsically, an Eastern approach.

At 20 years, what all would you count as Good Earth’s outstanding milestones?

What Good Earth has achieved as a brand over 20 years is to celebrate Indian pride in a way that feels neither kitsch nor ethnic. The journey has had many milestones. Moving into a 20,000 sq. ft defunct textile repository in Raghuvanshi Mills in Mumbai in 2005 became a game changer, for instance—the scale and grandness of the location necessitated a relook at our product offering. We began working with annual themes expressed in seasonal collections and grew into many new categories, including interiors, kids, clothes, and India’s first wine bar. Moving into Khan Market in Delhi in 2007 made us scale up to bigger volumes of refined, unique and decorative designs. In 10 years, we grew from a turnover of around Rs.5 crore in 2001 to over Rs.100 crore in 2011, and now we are at nearly Rs.150 crore in 2016. Known for our complex decorations on fine bone china, we decided to invest in training women to hand-decorate our crockery. We import the top-tier international china brands, and require quality checks to maintain high international standards. In 2013, we launched the Web Boutique, ushering us into the digital age. In 2015, we sponsored The Fabric Of India exhibition at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum in London. This included retailing some contemporary craft designs in their gift shops and collaborating on a range of licensed designs. The response, especially to our scarves, resulted, we are told, in unprecedented high sales at the V&A shop.

There is a reassuring consistency about your brand. How does it then capture change?

Good Earth started off by focusing on surface design and patterns but over time we were exposed to many different languishing crafts, and became conscious of the need for more sustainable work, to bring traditional craft into a contemporary lifestyle. Now we want to work even more closely with handlooms, especially Khadi. We are working with and supporting various crafts legacies—Malkha, Maheshwari, papier mâché. For us, Khadi is not a seasonal fad. Through its symbolism, economics and aesthetics, the story of Khadi is the story of India. When we launched apparel, the first thought was, let’s make it all in pre-shrunk, well-finished Khadi with simple comfortable silhouettes for all body types. We developed yarn-dyed Khadi using natural dyes in real indigo blues, madder reds, tobacco brown and charcoal. This forms our basic collection, available through the year. Last year, we bought 33,000m of Khadi.

What are Good Earth’s best-selling products?

Inspired by its namesake magical lake in Kerala, Periyar has been a best-seller for 16 years, and is growing stronger. It is our most iconic design story that has graced the coffee tables of celebrated global design enthusiasts, even a couple of heads of state, and mugs from the Periyar range were included in the celebrity gift bags at the 2015 Oscars. We have sold almost 100,000 Periyar hand-decorated fine bone china mugs. We recently won a Periyar copyright infringement judgement in a landmark IPR (intellectual property rights) case. Although the justice system still makes accountability and restitution a highly bureaucratic process, the judge’s support gave me hope that we are slowly moving closer to a design-friendly business environment. For us, this will be a key measure of the success of the Make In India campaign. Then there is Dhuna, an ancient temple tradition of purifying spaces with wafting incense. The product has been very popular since we introduced it almost a decade ago. In apparel, the Romani collection launched recently, inspired by the spirit of troubadour tribes in Central Asia, with prints, patterns and layered silhouettes, just flew off the racks.

How will you strategize your international presence?

We expect much of our growth in the next 20 years to come from beyond the borders. We want to work with partners who have a strong retail experience and infrastructure, just passion and love of our designs is not enough. We have found partners in Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul) and in China. In China, our partnership is with a women-led cult brand we love that has an annual turnover of $20 million (around Rs.133 crore).