When Mysore silk bridal sarees priced at Rs 1.5 lakh apiece hit the market last year, affluent Bangaloreans grabbed them. They did not crib about the price. A Mysore Silk saree, after all, does not fade with time, instead, runs through generations. The oldest saree in use was woven in 1948. But the story of the company making it, the state-owned Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation (KSIC), was not as glorious. It turned chronically sick within five years of its launch in 1980 and showed major Nine signs of recovery only in 2005-06 when it reported a profit of Rs 1.73 crore. After a profitable last year, the PSU hopes to end this year with a profit in excess of Rs 3 crore. “We are now a lean organisation and our products are trendy,” says P. Vijayan, Chairman & Managing Director, KSIC.For more than two decades, KSIC withered under the weight of a bloated workforce, production-sale mismatch, and non-remunerative prices, among other things. A series of recent initiatives, including downsizing and ramp up in production and marketing has paid off. Between 2004-05 and now, KSIC sales have doubled to touch Rs 46 crore. That was an incredible turnaround for a PSU that everyone thought was headed for closure. “We have increased production with our existing looms and produce according to the market requirement,” Vijayan says.
The 12 Mysore Silk showrooms, including one each in Hyderabad, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram, sell close to four lakh metres of fabric a year. The KSIC produced 80,000 sarees last year, and almost all the stock was sold. The sarees are available in the price range of Rs 3,350 to Rs 1.52 lakh. The price depends on the gold thread content, popularly called zari, and the cheapest zari saree is priced Rs 5,200.
The KSIC has gone trendy, too. According to Vijayan, earlier KSIC did not have wedding collections, but now it has them in an “awesome range”. “We have also a range of women’s wear like silk tops, salwar suits, kurtis, etc.” The brand, by the way, is available only in KSIC showrooms and its franchisee shops in Mumbai and Delhi. “We cancelled private dealerships in April 2004 after they were found to be misusing our brand. Many were cheating customers by selling them cheaper quality sarees as Mysore Silk,” says Vijayan. He should know. His wife once ended up with a spurious saree from a dealer.
The KSIC sarees are known for their colour and zari quality. Explains dyeing master M. R. Krishnakumar: “Our saree colour does not fade because, unlike others, we dye the yarn, not the fabric.” As for zari, KSIC vouches for highest content of gold and silver—0.65 per cent gold, 65 per cent silver and 34.35 per cent silk. KSIC’s exclusive print collections are due for launch next month. The sarees, which sport designs drawn mainly from Karnataka’s heritage, including temple architecture, may put some more wind behind KSIC’s sail.
— K. R. Balasubramanyam