About Us

Varnam (meaning ‘colours’) is a multi-award winning social enterprise that has been working with artisans in Channapatna, Karnataka, for over 4 years. The toy town or 'Gombegala ooru' is primarily known for Channapatna toys. However few have explored the true potential of the very versatile channapatna toy craft.

We have produced a series of designs interpreting the 200-year-old channapatna toy-making craft in the home and lifestyle, women’s accessories space, giving tradition a contemporary twist. Using the traditional lac-turnery method popularised by the traditional channapatna toys range, we have produced home and lifestyle products, toys and jewelry.

Varnam closely trains and employs male and women artisans of Channapatna. In an industry where more than 90% of the artisans are men, many of Varnam’s products have been handcrafted by women artisans.Proceeds from the sale of Varnam products go into the design and production of more innovative products while striving to keep the craftswomen employed. 

A recipient of the Kyoorius Design Awards 2013 in Design Craft and Packaging, and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Design Excellence award for its ‘Oinkston tableware’ series 2013 and the CII Design Excellence award for visual communication and packaging 2014, Varnam also trains and works with interns of well-known design institutes.

Each product in the ‘Stories from Channapatna’ series has been painstakingly handcrafted by an artisan from Channapatna, Karnataka using the age-old tradition of lac-turnery. Traditionally used to make toys, this craft requires tremendous skill and precision. CHANNAPATNA, a small town on the outskirts of Bangalore, is popular for its wooden toys and lac-ware. As a result of the popularity of these toys, Channapatna is also known as Gombegala Ooru (toy-town) of Karnataka. Its traditional craft is protected as a geographical indication (GI) under the World Trade Organization, administered by the Government of Karnataka. The origin of these toys can be traced to the reign of 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan who invited artisans from Persia to train the local artisans in the making of wooden toys.

 

In recent times though, this craft has been dying a slow death. The major factors have been the lack of innovation in terms of design and the Chinese invasion of mass-manufactured, cheaper look alikes. Also, while there have been design interventions in the past, few have ensured sustainable work for these craftspeople. The fact that this craft was primarily used for making toys added to its woes. 

It was in this context, that VARNAM started its work over two years ago. The attempt has been to reorient this craft to the modern context by ensuring that each design has a utilitarian value and an aesthetic that is current. The result is a series of products in the home and lifestyle space that has showcased the adaptability of this traditional toy-craft and widened its appeal. Transformed as cute-sensible products, the glossy toys of Channapatna had now crawled out of the nursery to perk up kitchens & living spaces!

Most Crafts in India continue to remain fragmented and have little focus on building a strong brand or consistent imaging. We at VARNAM believe that a strong communication and product design in the crafts sector hence assumes an even more significant role. It enables these traditional-crafted products to be showcased on par with the contemporary-created products of today in lifestyle stores and not be limited to the craft-fairs alone.

Varnam’s Craft Philosophy - VARNAM (colours) is an ode to colourful India. Our attempt has been to bring our own aesthetic sensibilities and design philosophy to traditional crafts. The idea is to reorient our crafts to the modern context by ensuring that each design has a utilitarian value and thereby relevant today. There is a constant dialogue with our artisans on current market trends in terms of finish, utilitarian value, attention to detail, etc.  In doing so, we hope to enhance the sense of pride amongst our master crafts-people for their skill and ensure that these crafts continue to thrive.