To dhoti or not to dhoti?

Aug 04 2014, 01:01 IST
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SummaryHow KR Nagaraj, the founder of Ramraj Cotton, turned the dhoti from a poor mans attire to the one worn even by the fashion-conscious young men.

The refusal of entry to a dhoti-clad judge of the Madras High Court at a club in Chennai erupted into a major controversy with every political party jumping into the issue to protect the honour of Tamils. To dhoti or not to dhoti, was discussed for hours in the Tamil Nadu assembly with the chief minister, J Jayalalithaa, thundering against the sartorial despotism of the clubs. DMK leader M Karunanidhi, not to be outdone, said the veshti (dhoti) was a symbol of Tamil culture and it was condemnable that one was barred entry at a public function for wearing the traditional attire. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president BS Gnanadesikan wanted the government to step in to remove any kind of dress code in public functions.

Dhotis are big business in Tamil Nadu. Although dhotis are woven and mill-made in the other southern states as well, they remain small in operation compared to what they are in Tamil Nadu. Dhotis have always found a market in the South. People wear it at home, at religious functions and at traditional occasions. Dhotis are also seen as a poor mans attire as one can buy dhotis for as low as R50. So one enterprising young man, who grew up in a village near Coimbatore, decided that it was time to make the dhoti a fashion garment. In fact, he has actually managed to sell the dhoti to even the fashion-conscious young men. All his products are pure white including accessories like shirts, undergarments, handkerchiefs, belts and even cell phone cases. He makes sure they all maintain high quality. From politicians to bridegrooms, everybody wears his veshtis.

KR Nagaraj, the founder of Ramraj Cotton, comes from an agricultural family and he had to work on the farm after school. When he was still in school, he saw a well-dressed man in an Ambassador car wearing a white shirt and dhoti. He found that the man owned a textile business. It made an impression on him. Nagaraj decided he could travel in a car if he entered the textile business!

Nagaraj had to work very hard to make that a reality. In 1976, he started working in a small shop, selling dhotis. Soon, he started his own dhoti business with three friends. He could raise only R15,000 towards his share of R25,000 after getting some money from family. The total capital was R1 lakh. Another R10,000 came

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