A Humble Beginning
It is the era of 1990s in Lucknow. The royal city of its rather eclectic Nawabs is being charmed by a new wave of liberalization. While Anurag leverages his acumen in business to sell computers, his wife Smita is managing their household and, as time permits, nurturing her flair in design.
Fond of creating dresses for their three daughters, Smita opens up a small boutique for little girls’ dresses and soon, they begin to explore the possibility of setting up a garment business for Chikankari in Lucknow. Realizing the demand for a contemporary take on the traditional craft, they go on to co-found a manufacturing business for the same.
Characteristic of homegrown ventures from the time, their work is built from the ground up - with Anurag establishing a network of artisans to streamline the largely untapped, albeit disorganized craft potential of the city. While he optimized for quality and tangible results, Smita invested in the designs - experimenting with motifs and fabrics, making small reinventions and preserving the traditional with a love for its artistry.
Branching Out & Going Digital
Anurag and Smita started with a small, intimate team of around ten artisans in the city. The idea was to create an affordable, authentic range of Chikankari clothing - which has traditionally been an exquisite, hand embroidered - and therefore expensive - affair of the royals.
The challenge was to bring down the costs without compromising on design and quality - as is commonly observed in the city’s local markets - and to preserve the subtleties of a garment made by hand.
Starting out, they decided to establish the venture by pivoting around an emerging, organized retail sector in India. Creating high, affordable, but quality volumes of Chikankari garments helped test their vision, gain experience and uniquely position themselves in a new market.
Today, Akheri is both a natural evolution and a return to the first dream - of creating an affordable and quality range of delicate Chikankari wear in India. It is also a digital reimagining, helmed by their eldest, Apoorva.
Now reaching directly to customers from its e-commerce platform, Akheri speaks to the urban woman to embrace her own heartfelt style, and to go ahead and flaunt it with an everyday collection - one of exquisite designs, contemporary cuts, heritage and affordability.
Our aim is to establish Akheri as a trustworthy name for authentic Chikankari clothing in India. We strive to speak to the urban Indian woman - the office goer who doubles up as a homemaker, the busy mother, the one looking to make a statement or express herself through design in her daily life - and would love easy, affordable choices that enable her to do so.
In the near future, we aim to diversify our product line to include quality Chikankari clothing for men, as well as exquisite Chikankari home furnishings. With its muted hues and solid blocks, fine embroidery and breathable fabrics, our collection invites one to choose from a range of everyday wears, or pick one for a special occasion.
As a brand, we are committed to the preservation and revival of handicrafts in the country. We believe in the beauty of garments made by hand - each weave lending the fabric a unique character. In making it more contemporary and affordable, we hope to expand our reach and sustain the craft.
Our team has grown from a collective of about ten craftspeople working out of a single room in the house, to a diverse team of designers, merchandisers and artisans in and around Lucknow. The choice against any use of modern, machine-led imitations is not only to preserve the unique aesthetics of a Chikankari motif, but to also sustain employment opportunities for artisans who have taken pride in this craft for generations.
For a number of our craftspeople, Chikankari has been the sole employable skill in the family. With slight reinventions, we aim to popularize the craft and bring their labour and expertise the recognition it deserves.
Most of the artisans involved in Chikankari embroidery today are women. By supporting Akheri, you contribute to the empowerment of a number of women artisans working from their homes, helping them secure a dignified living, with financial independence for themselves and their families.