TABLE MATTERS: Janaki Kirloskar

BY NAMITA GUPTA

Not one to rest on her family laurels, the young, charming and affable Janaki Kirloskar decided to plunge into entrepreneurship with KIKA Tableware and has been adding oomph to many luxurious homes. An engineer with an innate business sense, she inherited the ability to envision new opportunities from her parents, Vijay and Meena Kirloskar.

Janaki is the fourth generation of a 130-year-old business family, Kirloskar, one of India’s premier engineering and manufacturing powerhouses. After working with her father for over a decade, Janaki decided to step out into the entrepreneurial world with her own business venture, KIKA Tableware that offers innovative and modern designed premium quality tableware at an easy-on-the-pocket price. The name was an amalgamation of the two most significant forces in her life – her two daughters, Devaki and Mihika. The founder and CEO, KIKA Tableware who is as beautiful and elegant as her exquisite tableware, lets us in on her ‘plate’ful journey from Malaysia to Malleswaram.

Where did you study and how did the transition from working in your family business to starting out on your own happen?
I completed my industrial engineering in the US and joined my dad in the family business at Kirloskar Electric Company Ltd. I worked there for 12 years, but somewhere down the line I got into an entrepreneurial mode. I had designed tableware for my mother as a Diwali gift that she loved and she suggested this business idea, as I was good at it. I realised that tableware was something close to my heart as I always enjoyed a beautiful home and entertaining guests. While doing my research before starting out, I found that there were either very expensive brands or very basic brands. I wanted to fill that gap and create something that’s a piece of art on your table, but at the same time, keeping the price tag affordable.

Are you hands on with the entire process? What are the challenges you had to face?
I collaborate with graphic designers from different cities in India and New York and I’m completely involved in the entire design and manufacturing process. I came from a structured business background and having worked for a business that’s been set up for over 100 years I was suddenly going out and starting on my own without a manual, figuring out what to achieve and how. Also, how you want to place your brand can be challenging. Today’s businesses are mostly online, but still there’s a relationship building that happens at the end of it, where one has to invest. If you’re stuck somewhere, you just have to brainstorm on your own and come out of it as there’s no tried and tested formula. But on the brighter side, it’s a clean slate and you go about it the way you want to and develop your brand and business at your pace.

How much family backing did you have and how did it help?
My family has always been very supportive and helpful. I have two CEOs (she laughs), my mum and my dad, who I still report to in different ways and they’re fully involved with the design and creative aspect. Also, my sister Rukmini is deeply involved in the business as well on the advisory board as she lives in Dubai. My daughters are my biggest critics. They see me design on my computers and suddenly they see them on the mugs and they tell me – Not bad Mama, but I think you could have probably done it this way.

Did your dinner table conversations always revolve around business?
Yes, it’s always been work that we discuss at home, at lunch, at dinner and were always groomed and have grown up to know that we make a great career and name for ourselves. But at the same time, my family plays an important role and it’s about striking a good balance at home and work. That business and entrepreneurial streak and the urge to do something more was always there. I guess it runs in our blood. My mum started Ravindu Toyota when she was 45 without an automotive background and she has eight branches across Bengaluru. It’s about pushing yourself and doing your best. I gather a lot of strength from my mum, sister, daughters, girlfriends and all the women in my life. I take off two weeks for myself for family holidays; where besides relaxing we also do a lot of outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, biking etc. I’m personally a lot into fitness – I enjoy running, have done a half marathon, going to the gym regularly and in KL there’s a lot of trail running and hiking. I also do yoga.

What’s special about KIKA?
It is luxurious tableware with 24k gold and platinum designs at affordable prices. A variety of products are offered in the tableware range which include dinner plates, quarter plates, serving platters, serving bowls, mugs and tea sets. The current collections include Modern Paisley, Vibrant Aztec, Royal Heritage, Lotus Pond, Gilded Graphic and Tropical Paradise Collection. These are made from premium quality bone china finished in 24k gold or platinum detailing and everything is individually priced, based on your budget or whatever your budget is to gift someone. We’re also coming out with accessories for dinnerware soon – like charger plates, flatware, cutlery and also Kids Kikaware. In India, there’s a lack of tableware for kids and again my kids have been my biggest critics here. I also wanted to do eco-friendly tableware, so I’m developing a new range of tableware in bamboo fibreware and rice husk that gives it the strength.

Do you travel for design inspirations?
I love to travel and travel is always so inspiring. I’m working on my next collection that is a Spanish themed collection and it was inspired by my trip to Spain, the colours and the patterns. Also sometimes I like to follow global trends, besides of course what will appeal.

Where’s KIKA Tableware available?
The initial stages were spent on building my brand and in Bengaluru we’re available at RainTree, opposite ITC Windsor. We have partnered with an online all India retail website and soon all our tableware will be available online. I shuttle between Kuala Lumpur, Bengaluru and other cities. Although now my home is in Malaysia, I’m in Bengaluru every two weeks. It’s my home. When I’m here I’m on work mode during the days, and evenings are for family and friends. I have customers all across India, UK, US, Singapore and Malaysia.