Focusing on sari pinning rather than being stuck at home

The sari collection by Navam Collections on their Instagram Page. Uma Arum/Courtesy

The pandemic has made it difficult to socialize and encouraged people to become homebodies, missing out on celebrating holidays and special occasions. However, six women at Navam Collections have changed that by encouraging people to dress up and wear their custom clothing and jewelry from the comfort of their home, and enjoying having an ancient decor product line.

Uma Arum and her daughter Varshita are the founders of Navam Collections, a company that sells Indian fashion, jewelry and clothing. They began as a wardrobe based brand in 2017, and have since expanded to include other companies under the name that sell jewelry, decor and artifacts. The key takeaway from this clothing store is family because everything is family owned and everyone is from different families. 

Uma Arum came up with the idea of starting the company when she was sitting on her couch watching television and the annoyance of becoming a homebody began to haunt her. After some time, her daughter, Varshita Arum brought a younger-generation touch and pursued her interest in fashion by collaborating with her mom.

“COVID gave me all the more inspiration to start it,” Uma Arum, the founder of Navam Collections said. “Everyone’s at home but we have hundreds of Indian holidays and people think they don’t have excuses to get dressed up. Navam questions that mindset and proves being at home is a better reason to dress like you’re going for a wedding in India.”

There are many auspicious holidays that the Indian community dresses up for, and since the start of COVID-19, people have had to resort to staying home instead of going to the banquet halls. Many have lost the enthusiasm to spend two to three hours pinning a saree or deciding what lehenga to wear. The company Navam can be compared to drinking a RedBull and gives people the energy to spend the two hours getting dressed, even if they are staying at home.

“You don’t have to be Indian to know that Indians dress up like there is no tomorrow,” Varshita Arum, cofounder of Navam Collections said. “In fact, so many designers take inspiration from Indian clothing, just type it on the internet and you’ll see. So our audience is anyone who wants to dress up for that magazine-cover ready-photoshoot at home.”

Varshita Arum at fifteen years old never expected to be sitting behind a sewing machine, but quarantine left her no choice.

“I’ve been stuck at home with nothing better to do,” Varshita Arum said. “I’m kidding, to be honest this quarantine has almost been for a year and if you look at our Indian calendar at least 30 Indian holidays flew by, that’s ridiculous.” 

In fact, it was the long holidays that the Indian saints created that gave Varshita the inspiration to become a part of her mother’s new business.

“That’s why I partnered with my mom,” Varshita Arum said. “I want Navam to be the reason people get out of this COVID depression and start dressing up for Diwali like how you are supposed to.”

In India, religious holidays are celebrated to honor the Gods. Indians get dressed in their best clothes to appease the Gods and themselves. However, since COVID-19 started individuals have been dressing in the simplest, most convenient outfit they could find because it didn’t seem to matter.

Navam Collections was formed to change this type of thinking. They believe that the change of environment should not affect how you practice your religion. If anything, the best way to pass time during the quarantine is to keep your mind off of being a homebody and enjoy dressing up in the comfort of your home.

“We are neither a company nor a brand,” Uma Arum said. “And I know everybody will come attacking me, but companies and brands look for money, of course, but money is not our goal, we are more of an influence. We want to influence these sudden homebodies to get up, apply kajal and a bindi, put the full set of jewelry and strut in your backyard in that silk sari.” 

Navam originally started with sarees for women, now the brand has expanded to include a wide selection of products for men and women of all ages.

“When we first started out, it was just silk saris,” Uma Arum said. “Now we have expanded to banarasi saris, cotton, fake silk, salwars, kurtas, chudidhars, ghagras, you name it. We have now expanded Navam so much that we have jewelry and artifacts and decor inclusions, we have it all.” 

Uma Arum gets the products from sources around the world. Arum’s mother in Chennai, India. She supplies all the material they use to make the clothing showcased on social media.

“My amma sends me the material to make the clothes, we want to make our customers know that what they receive is authentic,” Uma Arum said.  “After we receive the material, which normally takes some days to weeks, I stitch them myself on a sewing machine and hand embroider any designs for beadwork. I recently taught Priya everything I know so now we have four hands, it may not sound like a lot but you would be surprised at how much we can accomplish.”

As a family run business, Uma Arum wanted to get other families to become involved. The Navam brand expanded to include other products and other families. 

The first to become involved were Anshu and her daughter Anju Suresh who founded Navam Collections’ jewelry line.

“I always made jewelry since sixth grade but it was out of beads and things,” said Anju Suresh. “I took a sculpting course and entrepreneurship course in my first year of college and from there I took it professionally. I always loved Indian jewelry too, it is the most intricate and detail oriented in my opinion.”

For almost two years now, the Suresh’s have been designing and creating unique pieces of jewelry that are now part of the Navam brand. 

“We make tikkas, earrings of all shapes and sizes, necklaces, you name it,” Anshu Suresh said. “We get our inspiration by looking through my old Indian comic books. From there we look through what all the princesses and queens are wearing as jewelry or look at how the animals and plants and the jewelry pieces are designed.”

The mother and daughter pair spend more than 24 hours making just one set of jewelry. Many of the pieces are designed to look like lions, the sun, ferns or just a pretty mandala design. The theme is to be very naturesque and is different from a typical Indian jewelry line. 

Some of the pieces are designed from real silver, the others are made out of either bronze or metal alloys. Collaborating with Navam Collections was one of the best decisions the Suresh’s have made.

“Camaraderie is big in my life,” Anshu Suresh said. “I feel the best work is shown out of love and it is nice to keep in touch with my roots. Everyone can start their own business but in a time where everyone should come together, togethership is most needed and I think by joining with Navam we are becoming small symbols of that.”

The Suresh’s continue to produce antique pieces of jewelry that anyone can wear. However, like the Raj’s, their main target are also the people who have become too familiar with sweats and bare ears. 

“Even if it’s just for two minutes, put that enormous pair of chandelier earrings,” Anju Suresh said. “Sure it’s COVID but then why just wear one pair, wear all of your collection and get new collections and pose for different pictures. In my opinion, quarantine is just a permanent fashion show and that’s how I want people to feel when buying our jewelry.”

Another mother daughter duo decided to collaborate with Navam Collection and bring a line of furniture and decor to the brand. Instead of finding ways to fight COVID-19 blues of staying home, they encourage their customers to stay home and enjoy their products.

“We want to make hoarders out of our customers,” Deepa Gopal, founder of Navam’s artifacts and decor line said. “We want to tickle the collector’s brain of every potential buyer for our line of products. Invest in a whole collection of brass decor, you’re stuck at home all day and we deliver, what’s stopping you.”

The Gopal’s goal is to bring the collector out of their clients and provide a sense of peace in their homes.

“India brings a feeling of auspiciousness and peace to everyone, no matter where you are from,” Deepa Gopal said. “And COVID has brought such a period of unrest and uneasiness and we want to soothe it. By owning a piece of India and a piece of auspiciousness, it will give you a sense of zen and that is what Navam and we are about.”

Gods and their figures are always the factor that defines Indian culture. Idols are always present in almost any and all kinds of clothing, artifacts or jewelry. Many take it upon themselves to make sure some form of God is incorporated in their household. 

 “There is something peaceful about staring into the eyes of a celestial being,” Deepa Gopal said. “Just that feeling of knowing a heavenly being is watching over you. It brings calmness and a sense of serenity, all that is needed during this time period.”

The Gopal’s partnered with Navam to be a contributing factor to the peace that needs to enter every household during this stay at home period. Navam was founded on changing the COVID-19 stigma, the Gopal’s plan on soothing the stigma. 

“We are the brownest pair of hippies you will ever meet,” Meenakshi Gopal said. “We are all about bringing peace and cleansing the bad aura from the room. We are trying to cleanse the COVID slump from your soul and your room, that is the true aim of our products: to give you peace.”

The artifact and decor line contains a range of handcrafted items from idols to pillowcases. Mother and daughter make all the items by hand, either by sculpting or embroidering. 

“Nothing you see on Navam Collections’ artifact page is something you can see on Amazon or if you google Hindu Idols,” Meenakshi Gopal said. “My grandpa was a sculptor and visiting India one day my mom and I wanted to learn. I ask anyone who is reading this, go type Hindu stone God idols and they will understand what intricate means.”

Scrolling through pages of the intricate work and after watching their relative sculpt at ease from a block of stone gave all the more of a push to the mother and daughter. They had to share their creations with the world, the uniqueness and feeling it brought, was something the two felt was needed during this period.

The Gopal’s make a majority of the idols from stone or iron. They are able to get their materials from connections they have in Chennai and Hyderabad, India. Deepa Gopal’s ships the brass and more extravagant artifacts from India.

“Nothing on Navam’s artifact page can be found anywhere else,” Deepa Gopal said. “Everything is handmade by the two of us. People appreciate things they can’t find anywhere else because it drives the collector inside them and that is our goal, to give what you can’t find.”

They design many artifacts like bowls, God idols, trays and also embroider pillows as well- the list is never ending. Though the pieces are inspired from Hindu religion, they are not meant to appeal to just Hindus. 

“Our religion or any religion for that matter, does not say everyone cannot enjoy and appreciate it,” Meenakshi Gopal said. “If you have an appreciation for art and the history and significance behind it, then you are more than welcome to purchase it. There is no discrimination or target audience, we have open arms for everyone.”

It takes the mother and daughter about a day to complete the process of making the decor or artifacts. However, the slower process makes them feel productive about the end result, slow and steady wins the race at the end of the day.

The trio of lines for Navam are complementary and support the popularity of the brand and the mission of the company. Their continued growth is due to the many customers who proudly own and wear their products.

“You can wear so many brand name items or decorate your home with them because they look good but what is the use,” Ranjani Metha, a loyal customer of Navam Collections said. “I like to own things that stem from a purpose. Not to say I am holier-than-thou, but I think that mindset needs to be embedded in everyone’s mind.”

Each day, Navam Collections proves to be a company not only with a purpose but also with a goal of managing COVID-19 from a soulful standpoint.