Cane furniture has mostly been dismissed as something cheaper and meant, at the best, exclusively for outdoor purposes. However, the segment has witnessed metamorphosis of late and has managed to create a niche market for itself, competing with stylish Italian furniture.
If you are a Delhiite, your perception of cane furniture would be of the vendors selling them by the roadside in Noida, on Jail Road, or at Panchkuyian road outlets. It would be the same in Mumbai, with just a difference in the name of the locales – Bandra, Borivali or Andheri.
The cane furniture market works roughly on three planes. At the lowest rung are those who help form the above perception. They sell their products at anything between Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 depending on whom they get as their customers, and how long the customers are ready to negotiate. At the intermediate level, come the small furniture stores, who sell the products at anything between Rs 9,000 to Rs 15,000, and at times even at Rs 20,000. At the top of the pyramid are the fancy stores that employ designers, and come up with cane products looking as gorgeous as affluent Indians would want in their drawing rooms. They import cane materials like rattan and other wickers from countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. These are then designed and conceived into good-looking products. These stores, through their well-designed products, have managed to turn cane products into an integral part of the interiors of a sophisticated house.
Cane furniture has, in other words, managed to create a niche market for itself, thanks to the efforts put in by some of the big stores like Cane Boutique (Bangalore), Cane-line (Mumbai), The Next Shop (Delhi) and others. It is no surprise that these big cane furniture stores manage to sell their products for anything from Rs 35,000 to several lakhs of rupees.
A fourth dimension has been added to the market with the emergence of imported products from China and, to some extent, from Malaysia. They have often better finishing than what vendors sell on the streets. However, they have not yet managed to make a distinct mark for themselves in the market.
The metamorphosis of cane from an exterior furniture item, used mostly in gardens, to a product adorning lavish bedrooms and posh living rooms has opened new avenues for entrepreneurs. India does not produce rattan, which is normally imported, but the north-east produces a number of plants that yield natural canes. Bamboo is also used to extract cane. Not much effort has been done to explore these in the past, apart from some encouragement programs run by the central and the state governments. With the rising popularity of cane among the affluent class, one can expect entrepreneurs would turn their attention to bolster supplies from the north-eastern states.
Another new trend that has set in, albeit slowly, is that of cane getting blended with metal bases like aluminum or steel to produce durable and trendy furniture items.
Cane sources and manufacturing
Plants of the reed family are used for sourcing cane. India has rich reserves of such plants in the north-eastern states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and others. Generally, three species of cane are exploited in commercial quantities—jati (calamus tenuis), tita (calamus leptesadix) and lejai (calamus floribundus). Some lesser known qualities, like sundi (calamus garuba) and raidang (calamus flagellum), are also extracted. The cane and bamboo products used for domestic purposes are prepared in every nook and corner of these states, out of split bamboo and fine flexible cane strips.
The manufacture of cane furniture, however, calls for a high degree of skill on the part of the workers. Such skill is found to be traditional. Cachar district of Assam, for instance, has ample number of skilled artisans specialising in the manufacture of cane furniture.
The process of manufacturing of cane furniture starts with making bamboo slips of various diameters. Different bamboo parts are then joined with the help of nails and a rough structure of furniture is thus being crafted. When it comes to round cone furniture, thin iron rods are used to get the round cane bend. Actual weaving of the structure so made is done with fine slips of flexible cane. Skill of artisans determine how fine slips can be used in coiling and plaiting.
Internationally, rattan is the most common source of cane. It is native to tropical regions of Asia, Africa and Australia, though found in abundance in Indonesia, Cambodia, and the Philippines. It is superficially similar to bamboos, but differs from them in that its stems are solid, rather than hollow. Rattan needs support of some sort, unlike bamboos, which can grow on their own. Rattan is used to manufacture furniture and baskets and other furniture by cutting it into sections.
Rattan is being imported into India as well. Cane Boutique, for instance, imports it to make different types of furniture.
Cane in niche market
Cane had traditionally been used with wooden bases to make furniture for outdoors. Unorganized players, mainly the not-so-educated ones, used to be the main drivers of the sector. With globalization and better exposure, cane furniture is now being looked upon as something niche.
Ritu Todi of Cane Boutique, a Bangalore-based cane furniture store, says, “It (cane) was never neglected. It was always used for outdoor furniture. You can say it was never in the niche market.”
A member of the Planning Commission had once described cane furniture as voluminous and cumbersome, making it uneconomical to transport. This is why the north-eastern states producing cane products of various kinds could never catch fancy of the well-to-do. Margins on which unorganized players often sell their products used to be quite low. All these had hampered the growth of the cane industry and its reachability. Ritu says that cane furniture is now coming into focus for interior furniture also. People want to move beyond Italian furniture, which is much costlier than cane items, she says.
She adds, “The latest trend is that many hotels, resorts and homes have a section where only cane furniture is displayed.”
How cane furniture has gone trendy is evident from the price range of the interior and exterior furniture sold at some of the niche stores like Cane Line (Mumbai) or Cane Boutique. Interior furniture, for instance in Cane Boutique, starts at over Rs 50,000, and goes up to a few lakh rupees. At Cane Line, a leading European manufacture of wicker furniture, chairs start at Rs 20,000 while two-seater sofas cost you as much as Rs 40,000. Cane-based elements can now be found in trolleys, side-tables, centerpieces, and stools as well. Delhi-based store, The Next Shop, also showcases various accessories in cane such as candle holders, dinner sets and colored trays. The range of cane products has expanded to include lounge chairs, classy dining chairs, and stylish sofas. One can also come across various funky accessories in these stores. From the earlier perception of being voluminous and cumbersome, cane furniture has turned sleeker and trendier. It has also shed its wood’s-poor-cousin image in terms of durability and resistance to the elements. The outdoor Cane Line collection, for instance, is reportedly UV resistant, and waterproof. The company claims it can easily bear the different variations in temperature.
“Gone are the days when people used to be happy with spending Rs 5,000-10,000 on outdoor furniture. Exterior furniture has taken a complete takeover,” Ritu says.
She sells exterior furniture for more than Rs 35,000 in her store.
Unorganized sector and small stores
Roadside vendors are generally those who have been into this business for a long time. They are traditional craftsmen who find it hard to evolve with time. Demand for their products has almost disappeared from the countryside, and the middle class does not perceive cane furniture as something that deserves huge expenditure. Some of these vendors have always been vying to turn into organized players by owning or renting small stores. They have mostly been unsuccessful due to the high rentals of these stores and have been forced to turn into traders of cane furniture rather than remain manufacturers. They do not have space to put together even the smallest of manufacturing units. A number of small time manufacturers have sprung into action to fill this space, and most of these unorganized players buy from these units. In north India, areas around Bareilly have emerged as the hub of such small time manufacturers. Some of these manufacturers have, however, left behind the tag of being ‘small’. They have even started exporting cane items to different countries. One such big regional manufacturer is Bhatia Cane.
Smaller units are also working in Shahadra and Noida. They are backed by small stores in Noida, New Delhi and areas in the National Capital Region. These small stores are quite secretive about their functioning. One such New Delhi-based store owner, when contacted, simply refused to divulge any details. He admitted, however, they get their furniture manufactured in Shahadra.
He said, “Bigger stores on Jail Road or Panchkuiyan Road may give you more details, but we won’t.”
Some of the cane furniture is imported from China, and they are quite cheap – much cheaper than what Indian unorganized players sell on the streets of Mumbai or Delhi.
Cane furniture is also imported from a number of other places. Not many in the trade are willing to reveal from where these are imported and at what cost. Those on sale at the lower end are imported mostly from Indonesia, Thailand and China. However, cane imported from countries like Italy, UK, Indonesia and Australia end up in niche stores selling at premium prices. They are mostly designed by good designers, and their finishing is better than those on sale by the unorganized players.
Ritu, who herself designs furniture for her store, imports cane raw materials from countries like Indonesia and Thailand.
She says, “They (cane furniture) are easy to design, and looks are trendier. They are lighter and cheaper than Italian furniture.”
|Latest trend is that many hotels, resorts and homes have |
a section where only cane furniture is displayed.
Cane furniture has got a future for sure. It is a very versatile natural material used in various home accessories. It can be used to make candle stands on one hand, and on the other hand, can be used to make furniture such as chairs and coffee tables. Cane can be painted in different colors according to one’s taste. One can decide to have an ethnic feel by leaving it uncolored as well. The mindset about cane furniture is changing. A few entrepreneurs like Ritu Todi did realize the potentials of cane as a furniture base material. They, however, have chosen to stick with the niche market, for this ensures a better margin to them. People in the niche segment are open to newer faces of cane to give a difference to their interior and exterior décor and they are prepared to spend hefty sums for this. Since fashion percolates down from the niche, it is just a matter of time when the middle class will start buying these. This makes it mandatory to change the model of business. Unorganized players need to be organized through various means of entrepreneurship. They should not remain under-prepared for a boom in the segment. And, if they are caught unawares, imported cane furniture will occupy the space in no time.
Are entrepreneurs listening?
written by Lifestyle Chair Gallery Pvt. Ltd. , August 22, 2011
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