Saree brand Nalli beats Covid hurdle to UK-India trade

Saree brand Nalli beats Covid hurdle to UK-India trade

Chennai-headquartered Nalli Silks setting up shop in London amid the many pandemic constraints is being held up as the latest success story on the road to a UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership.

Chennai-headquartered Nalli Silks has become the latest iconic Indian retail brand to expand to Britain, with the enthusiastic backing of the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT). The popular Indian saree brand's initial £300,000 investment, to appeal to the estimated 1.5-million Indian diaspora in the UK and beyond, is expected to expand further as it sets up more stores around other diaspora hubs of Britain. For the DIT, it is just the kind of success story it was on the lookout for as it provided a tailored approach for the company amid the travel constraints of the Covid19 pandemic to make their UK expansion a reality. It follows other DIT-supported Indian retail investments into the UK, including Dehli-based heritage occasion wear retailer Frontier Raas, and Mumbai-based luxury fashion house Purple Style Labs.

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Vibrant cadre

Nalli Silks has opened its first UK store in London to meet an expected high demand ahead of a busy wedding and festive Diwali season.

The company′s initial UK investment includes up to eight members of staff at a 2,500 square feet store at Wembley in north London. The firm, which has a history of appealing to British royalty with sarees gifted to King George V and Queen Elizabeth II, says it has plans to open more stores in London and Birmingham.

UK Investment Minister Gerry Grimstone said: “I am delighted to welcome Nalli Silks to the vibrant cadre of many Indian companies present in the UK, which support jobs in this country across all sectors.

“As both the Indian and UK economies recover from the impact of Covid-19, increasing investment in each other's markets is more important than ever. Brands like Nalli Silk are sterling examples of the opportunities available to Indian businesses if they wish to sell high-quality goods to a strong base of customers in the UK, including an Indian diaspora of 1.5 million people.”

Birmingham next

With a worldwide presence in the US, Singapore and Canada, the company said it began searching for opportunities to expand to the UK prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. DIT said its officials in Chennai and London have been working with Nalli over the past 18 months to help facilitate site visits in the UK, introductions to key accounting and tax services.

They also provided updates on Covid-19 related support measures, including the Retail Bounce Back scheme announced by UK Exports Minister Graham Stuart in September to boost trade with targeted measures for the retail industry, including specialists to provide advice on online retail and international marketplaces.

Nalli Silks Vice-Chairman Ramnath Nalli said: “Our South Asian customers living in the UK are some of our most vocal and passionate patrons. When our friendly skies were still friendly, almost every week we would greet a few UK customers at our flagship stores in India, requesting for a Nalli store nearby.

“Soon we started receiving social media requests from non-Indian brides asking advice on saris for their bridesmaids (or themselves) as more and more people go in for themed Indian weddings held in their own locales, or as a destination wedding. We're very happy on this joyous occasion to finally be coming to the UK - London first, and then Birmingham soon after.”

The company chief said his team would bring their “very best, hand selected pieces” just for the UK market.

Historic brand

Nalli Silk's initial £300,000 investment into the UK market is expected to expand further as it sets up more stores around other diaspora hubs of Britain.
Nalli Silk's initial £300,000 investment into the UK market is expected to expand further as it sets up more stores around other diaspora hubs of Britain.

Established in Chennai in 1928, Nalli is a textile brand which prides itself as being steeped in tradition. Its British connection goes back to the colonial era when King George V visited India in 1911 and the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu gifted the king a hand-crafted Kanchipuram Silk Saree from the company as a souvenir. As this was the year of the King's coronation, Nalli wove a rich silk saree with a special coronation-themed border to mark the occasion. Similarly, post-independence, Queen Elizabeth II was gifted with a Nalli Silk saree by Tamil Nadu for her coronation in 1954.

Nalli′s first UK store has been hailed by the DIT as symbolic of growing trade between the UK and India, which increased by 10 per cent from the previous year to £24 billion in 2019. At this year's Joint Economic Trade Committee (JETCO), the UK and India agreed to deliver an “Enhanced Trade Partnership” to deepen the trade relationship against the backdrop of ongoing talks for a wider post-Brexit free trade agreement (FTA).

“India has been in discussions with the EU for well over a decade in pursuit of an FTA. There is no reason why this won't work out now that the UK has left the European Union,” said Lord Karan Bilimoria, President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), on the sidelines of the CBI's virtual summit this week.

“In all my discussions, it is clear that India is seen as an absolute priority country for future trade deals,” he said.

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