In an unexpected explosion of chemistry and creative energy, Canada and Kerala collided in Jaipur one day in 1984. “It was like a lightning bolt,” says Andrée Pouliot of meeting her husband Radhakrishnan Nair in a garments factory. From that union emerged the home furnishings, apparel and accessories brand Soma (Somashop.com), known for its vivid prints married to value- for-money quality. Pouliot scoured Jaipur’s gallis for fabrics and printers for her mother’s successful string of boutiques in Canada; Nair was a production manager. What started as a cottage industry with “one sewing machine, one tailor and one errand boy on a bicycle” is a growth story that borders on the heroic: Soma today has half a dozen outlets across the country (Jaipur, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad), flourishing online sales, and employs several hundred across its production units.
Pouliot and Nair’s parallel life work has been the painstaking restoration of Ninder Mahal—more a fort, less a haveli—on Jaipur’s outskirts. “It was a mound of collapsed rubble when we found it.” Superbly resurrected, it is now their home and retreat. Even after all these years, Pouliot, uent in Hindi and exacting about design and durability standards, says, “Every skill I need is here. I don’t need to go anywhere but Jaipur.”