"it also exposed me to the home decor space"
Keerthi Tummala has taken Indian handicrafts and popularised them for the home decor space.
She has subsequently created Sage Living, a company that specialises in home decor products.
However, her journey to that point was filled with obstacles.
As a student in Andhra Pradesh, Keerthi wished to study fashion and textile design in Milan.
She recalled: “In 2004, choosing a career in fashion was unthinkable in my town.
“If you were not opting for engineering or medicine, you were off the charts.
“But my mother’s support pulled me through and I moved to Milan in 2005.”
A graduate from Instituto Europeo di Design, Keerthi had several design internships in Italy before moving to Delhi in 2010.
In India, she worked for the likes of Ralph Lauren, where she forecast trends and developed seasonal collections, and travelled the world to discover fabric innovations and for research.
In the early 2010s, global brands were beginning to look at traditional Indian handicrafts, sourcing unique prints from Jaipur and linens from India that went on to feature on many furniture and home decor items.
Keerthi told YourStory: “Although I was working in the textile industry, it also exposed me to the home decor space during that time.”
Her passion for interior design increased as she helped friends and family design their homes.
“Through these small projects, I saw that Indian retailers of home decor products were heavily dependent on imports from Italy and other Southeast Asian countries like China, Vietnam, and Japan.”
Indian manufacturers only exported to large global brands and did not care for small retailers.
On the other hand, domestic retailers were not only reluctant to design the products but also opposed to placing orders for bigger quantities.
Therefore, the easier way out for them was to order from other countries that sold readymade home decor items at any quantity the retailers want.
Keerthi spotted an opportunity to design products as well as cater to Indian and global retailers by working as a wholesale distributor as well.
This was the start for Sage Living in 2018.
After travelling to more than 11 countries to study their market appeal, Keerthi decided to take advantage of India’s strengths by creating handcrafted designer products.
However, there were obstacles and dealing with manufacturers was the first.
“They treat you with respect while representing the big buying agencies.
“It is a different ball game altogether when you are an individual with a business plan.”
“The factories do not welcome you, especially when you are a woman visiting the manufacturing facilities.”
After reaching out to 150 manufacturing units, Keerthi managed to get 38 on board.
Sage Living is based in Hyderabad and it specialises in furniture, lighting and mirrors that cater to upper middle-class populations around the world.
Keerthi started with an initial investment of Rs. 3 Crore (£290,000) in 2018 but the brand was officially launched in March 2020.
It prioritises its R&D process and constructing prototypes before supplying to manufacturers where it must place at least 30 to 50 quantities of a design.
Sage Living has an 18-member team at its studio but it has also worked with around 300 freelance artisans.
It is currently available in India and the US.
According to Keerthi, when it comes to designing, one must be mindful of regional geography, culture and architecture.
“This varies even within India. For instance, households in Mumbai are smaller and it would be better to make small size furniture to fit the space and not a 42-inch coffee table.
“One must think of all aspects where the catalogue consists of a mix of everything for retailers across India and globally.”
All products are priced between Rs. 15,500 (£150) and Rs. 8 Lakh (£7,700).
For the future, Keerthi hopes for the brand to be present in 50 countries and amass revenues worth Rs. 100 Crore (£9.7 million) by 2025.