Monday, December 07, 2015

Soothing To The Skin

The Niramaaya store in Fort Kochi has an unique concept: the clothes are made with a mix of herbs and plants 

Photo of Tresella Agnes by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One sunny day, in November, David Timbs was wandering around Fort Kochi, when he came across the Niramaaya store. The nature therapist from Gisborne, New Zealand, was immediately interested. Niramaaya sold clothes which are made with plants and herbs. “Wearing clothes that potentially has a therapeutic effect is like killing two birds with one stone: looking good in fashionable clothing, and getting a herbal treatment at the same time,” he says.

Owner Tresella Agnes smiles when she hears this. The shop is cosy and warm. There are wooden benches to sit upon. At one side, there are flowering plants. And on wooden shelves, there are all types of items: shirts, pyjamas, t-shirts, dupattas, churidars, bedsheets, towels, mats and eye masks.

The eye masks are soft and soothing when placed over the eyelids. “It consists of flax seeds,” says Tresella. And soon, you can get a herbal smell. “That is aloe vera and vettiver,” she says. (Incidentally, Niramaaya is a Sanskrit word which means free from illness).

Interestingly, the most popular items are T-shirts and mats. “These are used by people who are into meditation and yoga,” says Tresella. “Our mats are soft and chemical-free. But we have an underlying layer of rubber, so it does not move around on smooth floors,” she says. Her customers are mostly from Europe, USA and Japan.

In fact, one regular client is the Tokyo-based yoga teacher Kyuko Tajima. “She takes about 120 mats every month,” says Tresella, who sends the material by Fed Ex. The prices of the products range from Rs 400 to Rs 2600.

So what is the process of making them? With the help of her husband Mathew Joseph, a chemist in a public-sector company, they buy organic yarn from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh and Erode, Tamil Nadu. Later, at their workshop, workers boil the plants and the herbs. The extract is then placed in a tub, mixed with water. Thereafter the yarn is put in.

To get the colour brown, they have to use myrobalan, aloe vera, and pomegranate. For yellow, it is different types of turmeric. And for grey it is triphala, vetiver and catechu. “We use anywhere between 12 to 14 herbs for each item,” says Tresella.

When the yarn is taken out, it is dried in the shade, and sent to a weavers' society at Kannur, 270 kms away. The workers then make the ready-to-wear products. “To make a yoga mat of 6 x 2.3 ft, they take one-and-a-half days,” says Tresella.

Asked the source of the herbs and plants, Tresella says that they buy it from the nearby town of Mattancherry. There is a place where organic produce is sold. Many of the sellers just collect the plants from ponds, streams and forests.

The one drawback of this method is that you don't get very bright colours, which is favoured by Indians. The range is blue, green, yellow, mauve, pink, grey, off-white and beige. “But in the bright sunlight of India, the colours don't last for long,” says Tresella. “They fade away, after a few months. However, in the temperate climates of the West, it remains for much longer.”

In fact, recently, a Dutchman dropped into the shop, pointed at the beige T-shirt he was wearing, and told an astonished Tresella, “I bought this from your shop last year.”

There are other fans, too. The Toronto-based Devan Nambiar says, “The clothes are beautifully-crafted and aesthetically-pleasing. It is also holistic, therapeutic, and environmentally-conscious.” Maivor Stigengreen from Sweden says, “What a joy to know that Tresella and Mathew are doing their bit to sustain life.” Adds Liz Cluskey of Leicester, UK: “The clothes are wonderful. This is an unique idea. We have not seen such a concept anywhere else.” 

But the couple are not basking in the praise. In fact, Mathew is now trying to figure out a way to make the colours last a long time. “Both of us feel that the big market in future is going to be within India,” says Tresella. “So, Mathew is doing a lot of experimentation in his spare time.”

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