Lilorosh is the brainchild of product designer Lilia Jose and animated film maker and artist Roshan Kurichiyanil. With their combined skills they hope to successfully take what started as a garage- brand out into the larger world.
Roshan, what took you from journalism to art?
I grew up in a village in Kerala, living pretty close to nature and doing most of my education in local government schools. This provided a very relaxed and non-competitive environment for the development of my creative side. During the weekends my parents would drop me at a place called Malayala Kalagramam, where I got to be around amazing artists like M.V Devan, Artist Namboothiri, etc. and even though I was too young to understand the deeper meaning of their work or methods, looking at them create art left an immense impact on me and my later work. Another huge inspiration was my uncle who, at the time, was a student at the fine arts college of Baroda.
When I finished my pre-degree I tried applying for a course in the Fine Arts College in Trivandrum but was rejected as they didn’t find my drawing skills good enough. This came as so much of a disappointment that I said yes when mom pointed out there was a seat open for BA English and Journalism at the local college. The course really gave me a lot of time to explore literary works from the college library, which I believe really helped to form the thought process behind my art.
I learned about animation later and the idea of telling a story through drawings intrigued me. All of a sudden, this was all that I wanted to do. I joined an eight- month course at Toonz Animations, one of the top animation companies in India at that time. I started my career as a 3D animator working on a TV series on Winnie the Pooh, one of my favorite Disney characters. From there, I moved on to making comics and then came back to animation as an Art Director. In 2016, I quit my job and moved into freelancing full time and decided to invest more time on Lilorosh. I had been directing and co-directing animation projects with a team of freelancers, but the latest passion, however, is comics. I have been working with writers and other creators and publishing internationally for the last couple of years. There are a few personal projects under development including animated shorts and comic books. I hope to soon take a year off and start looking for the right crew to make these stories come to life.
Which have been your most memorable projects so far?
I like work that gives me a lot of freedom right from the scripting phase.
My first attempt at directing an animation short was in 2014 and the opportunity came from the acclaimed director Prakash Varma. I used to do storyboards for him and when he asked me if I could create a logo-film for his production company, I was over the moon. He gave me a lot of freedom with the story line, styling and even sound design and with immense support from my crew at the studio, we ended up with a beautiful film that I will cherish forever.
Other memorable works include the 10-minute prologue we did for the film Gangster, directed by Aashiq Abu on which I was the Art Director for animation. The signature film for Kochi Muziris Biennale, for which I did animation and art direction, is also something I am proud of. I got to direct the end credit sequence for Mani Ratnam’s O K Kanmani. The end credit sequence of Solo by Bejoy Nambiyar is also a project I loved working on with team Plexus Motion– it was later nominated for the South by Southwest film (SXSW) festival in the best title design category. In comics, I would say the anthology Black Mumba was a turning point for me. Right now I am working on a title called Ruin of Thieves as the colorist and this is one of the books I will proudly show to the world.
Lilia, tell us about your journey in design.
My parents were interior designers, and I spent most of my childhood immersed in their work. Their workshop was adjacent to our house. On days when our help was on leave, my parents would pick me up after school and take me directly to their project sites. The years spent with them, before I was sent to boarding school, awakened a passion for design and inculcated in me strong values of esthetics, quality, form and function. When you go to design college, one of the first things they teach you is that design is ‘problem- solving’ and this was something I saw and learnt firsthand from my parents. My parents were sticklers for quality and that left a lasting impression on me. Watching the carpenters and painters and listening to their stories are among my fondest memories from that period! So, I always knew that I wanted to be a creative entrepreneur.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was shopping for upholstery with my parents. I was very much in love with fabrics and clothes fascinated me! I decided to study Fashion and Apparel Design at JD Institute of Fashion Technology, Bangalore. College introduced me to a lot of different aspects of the fashion business. After college, I dabbled in merchandising, assisting designers, working as a stylist and even running an art cafe before I began making bags. Surprisingly, bag making was something that we never learnt in college!
The years I spent studying and working in fashion made me disillusioned with mainstream fashion. I hated the idea of ‘seasonal fashion’. The idea of overworked, underpaid factory workers slaving away in sweatshops to make cheap products that people could afford to throw away every season was despicable! I knew what I wanted to build our brand with a focus on fair-trade and sustainable practices.
What is the story behind Lilorosh?
A year into our marriage, Rosh was working as the creative director at an animation studio in Bangalore and I was running an art cafe that belonged to the studio. Unfortunately, in 2014, it was decided to move the Studio to Kerala. I chose to leave behind my job and to move along with Rosh. We realized that the time was ripe to start something of my own.
I was always fascinated by bags and I used to be extremely picky while choosing a bag for myself. However, I had absolutely no clue how to make them. I remember my roommate buying a book on bag making and trying her hand at making one. I thought it was way too complicated and never bothered with it. But here I was, a few years later, itching to make bags! So, I poured over blogs and tutorials, learning how to make bags. It was all learnt online and with a million trials, redos and improvising. While going through the tutorials, I realized that my background in apparel designing provided me with a very strong sense of quality and finish. Rosh was my personal cheerleader and very involved in the process. We decided that we wanted the quality and fine workmanship to be the USP of our bags; the insides of our bags will be as good as the exterior. A week before we moved out of Bangalore, with around 50 simple tote bags, we nervously put up our very first stall at the Sunday Soul Sante. It was a sell out and we were over the moon!
A few weeks later, we were settling into our lives in Trivandrum, when Rosh told me about an ‘art bag’ he had tried making with the help of his uncle. Unfortunately, Rosh’s dream bag resembled a dead rat (in his own words) in two days! We decided to give it another shot, and designed a new bag that would efficiently store and display all of Rosh’s art essentials, ready for him to grab and go when sketching away from his table. It was difficult but we managed to finish the bag and were quite proud of the results. Rosh took it to the office and his colleagues loved it and Rosh came back with two orders! We were ecstatic! After we delivered those bags, orders started trickling in through word of mouth. We had no stock bags; they were all custom-made according to the client’s requirement. In just a couple of months we had more orders than we could handle, mainly because I used to take forever to stitch each bag! In spite of being new to stitching and bag making, I had very high standards for myself. There were days when no matter how much I tried, I wouldn’t be happy with the results! It took a whole lot of practice and tears before I became confident of my bag making abilities. The design and the features of the bag changed, and became what is now known as the ‘Artie’. We decided to go public with
it. We started a Facebook page and named it ‘Lilia and Rosh’ (which later became Lilorosh), uploaded pictures of the Arties, and shared it with our friends. Reaching a whole new audience, getting to know their opinions and getting orders from strangers made us giddy with nervousness and excitement!
What are your roles in the business?
We believe what makes it work is having our separate areas of expertise. Disagreements are fewer and less intense as we let the partner with more expertise in the particular area take the final call. I handle client interaction and bag-making, whereas Rosh takes care of marketing and all the artwork for our various products. Though we both have well defined roles at Lilorosh, we constantly take feedback from each other. We are both well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses; it helps to keep duties and expectations more realistic and at the same time, push each other to do better. Being in this together makes the challenges we face seem less daunting, and the victories more exhilarating.
How do you market and distribute your products?
Initially, it was just Lilia stitching and so there was a limit to the number of bags we could produce. We didn’t really have the need to market. Having a presence on Instagram and Facebook was sufficient. Having moved three cities since its inception, it was still at a garage-brand stage. So, when Aaron Blaise, the legendary Disney animator and co-director of the Oscar nominated movie Brother Bear, expressed interest in the Arties, we were beyond stunned! He was the most amazing thing to happen to us! He has bought three custom-made Arties over the years and has been very generously promoting us through his posts and videos!
He opened up a whole new market for us, and with it, a whole new perspective. Only then did we realize the potential of our little garage brand. Registering the business and setting up exporting proved to be extremely challenging. Lilia’s parents, who had bought and moved to a farm close to Mysore, offered to help us set up the business there. We had barely settled in Mysore when we unexpectedly landed a project to make 1,000 bags for a Bangalore based educational institution with branches across the world. We hardly had a month to design and deliver the bags, but we didn’t want to let go of the opportunity. Luckily, our registration came through almost at the very last moment and we ended up delivering the bags just in time!
What are your plans for Lilorosh?
It was always our dream to build a community with our brand, by training and employing women from the rural area and helping them become independent. We are now in the process of setting up our main production unit at our farm in Kollegal. We have two ladies who have joined us, plus with Lilia’s parents helping us run the business, it is all looking up!
As a small business, we love the fact that we get to closely interact with each and every client. Getting to meet new artists and making new friends from all over the world has been a highlight. We now look forward to working with a team, having more time to spend on R&D and adding more to our repertoire. We have just launched our website as a result.
Printing and developing our own fabrics is a major goal and we are fervently working towards it. We would love the dying and printing to happen in-house. Another, slightly longer-term plan we have for our workshop/farm is to open it to out to children and adults, as a creative retreat where they can come and experience the joy of creative pursuits like making art, dying and printing fabrics, learn organic farming, food processing – all that amidst the peace and tranquility of the trees, birds and hills. Increasing our sustainability index as we grow and evolve is a core area of focus.
What would you advise aspiring creative entrepreneurs?
For creative entrepreneurs like us, mastering the business side can prove quite challenging. If you can afford to hire help to handle it, the whole process will be much easier, but maybe less exhilarating. Choose your Chartered Accountant very carefully – he can make a world of difference, especially for an atypical start-up.
Running a business brings constant challenges. At times, it will feel like nothing is going your way and you might want to retreat back into your shell, curl up and just make art. Instead, stay put, be confident and face your challenges. It might take you some time to get there, but there is always a solution and a way forward. Also, it is natural to make mistakes, but as long as you are ready to take responsibility for it and work at fixing it, there will be no stopping you. We believe that if you have a passion for what you are doing, a purpose and vision, you are golden. And, above all, make sure you enjoy the journey.
This article was originally published in POOL 96.
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