How Lavanya Nalli gave a modern twist to Nalli’s nine-decade legacy

“I want to make Nalli the number one sari destination in the world. And I think I can.” Call it her aim, dream or belief, but this is what Lavanya Nalli, the 34-year old scion of the Nalli Group of Companies, is working towards each day. She is the first woman to join the nine-decade old family business and has already added several feathers to her cap. She is the brain behind the company’s Nalli Next format, which took the brand where the new age customer is – into malls through smaller formats as opposed to large standalone stores. She has also been the driving force behind the brand diversifying its product portfolio, launching a private label, Etnische, and strengthening its ecommerce channel. While the classic, exquisite Kanjeevaram sarees still adore the store shelves, it has also introduced kurtis, salwar sets, jackets and bottoms.

Consequently, not only has the brand been able to break into new price categories, but has also been able to pander to the needs of a wider age-group of women. And Lavanya tells us that this is just the beginning. “I took up the stewardship of this business to grow it in my capacity and pass it on to the next generation. We have a responsibility to recognise the larger impact it has on the ecosystem of salespeople, artisans and weavers,” says Lavanya, who holds a degree in bachelor’s in science from Anna University and joined the business in 2005. She then went on to pursue her MBA at Harvard Business School in 2009 and worked with McKinsey & Company and Myntra, before re-joining Nalli as the vice-chairman in 2015.

The Nalli heiress believes that a strong understanding of the business and compassion towards all stakeholders comes from the long hours she would spend on the shop floor as a child. Her family stayed above Nalli’s flagship store (opened in 1928), opposite Panagal Park, and Lavanya was used to seeing an organic interplay between “work and family”. From her father, Ramnath Nalli, and her grandfather, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, Lavanya picked up several lessons that she says come in handy in the way she runs the business, the most important being “customer comes first”.

With the same value system and a contemporary approach, Lavanya is now looking at expanding the brand’s footprint globally and in India. Over the past year, they have opened stores in New Jearsey, California and are set to open stores in Dallas, Chicago, Toronto. They also plan to double the store count to 74 stores in the country in the next three years. Clearly, a lot is on Lavanya’s plate, including devoting time to her 18-month old son Rudra and spouse, Abhay Gothari. Striking the right balance may seem difficult, but as she puts it, ‘If you put your mind to it, you can’t do everything but you can do almost anything.’

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