Start-up Ca’lyah aims to add social and environmental impact to the design industry
Founder Nigel Majakari presents debut line by award-winning designer Boris Berlin — aiming to create jobs where they’re needed the most.
7 Sep 2021

The brand name, founder Nigel Majakari explains, is made up of two root words in ancient Sanskrit that relate to the ideas of ”giftedness” and the ”performance” of the gift or talent.

— These words, he tells, were used in the context of traditional artisans working with stone and wood crafts, as well as musical and dance performances connected to religious traditions. My idea for the company was inspired by my experiences in the small rural workshops and family homes of Tamil wood furniture and stone carving artisans. With our name, I wanted to embed the value of artisanal craft in our DNA, but also a way to give a voice and tell their story as Ca’lyah evolves and grows in different cities across the globe.

The entrepreneur grew up in North West England to English and Finnish parents. He’s spent 25 years mainly bringing people and organisations together to create positive social and economic change first in a multi-cultural inner-London low-income community and then across the world. 

— The last 15 years, I’ve been integrating business objectives with social and environmental impact, he says.

His new brand Ca’lyah brings together award-winning designers with skilled artisans from other parts of the world — all rooted in Nordic sensibilities.

— With each collection, we want to create space for a cultural dialogue to evolve and story to emerge. As a lifestyle design brand, we create products that make a statement about human-centered values and offer the opportunity to become part of a change process. The most visible example of this is that 5% of our sales revenue with the first line is dedicated to establishing a Next-Generation Craft and Design Lab for rural young people and women in India. Another example is the gender equality theme we work with.

The debut collection, The Tranquebar Edition, uses two production clusters with solid wood and stone craft partners — in Tamil Nadu, South India, and in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

— We seek out skilled artisans and SME [Small and medium-sized enterprises, Ed’s note] production partners in underserved communities with the view that a successful collaboration with us will help create new jobs, improve livelihoods, and lead to concrete social and environmental benefits. Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge facing humanity, but for the majority of the world’s population, how to feed their family at the end of the day is the most pressing issue. Therefore, for change to be real and long-term, it takes intentionality and journey of small steps. For example, our work with our partners in Tamil Nadu, before the impact of the global pandemic kicked in, focused on new skill development and training, tells Majakari, continuing,

— One of the initiatives involved organising workshops with highly skilled cabinet maker Anna Sofie Juul from renowned Danish furniture maker PP Møbler. The workshops involved exposing our group of craftsmen in India to new carpentry techniques and expanding their understanding of sustainable use of wood and the importance of wood seasoning. This was the first time any of the Indian carpenters had worked with a skilled female carpenter and to their knowledge the first-ever in India to be working side by side. In the context of collaboration and skill development, we were also able to begin breaking down barriers and stereotypes.  

Tell us more about The Tranquebar Edition and your work with designer Boris Berlin.

— It’s inspired by his experiences from, and our journeys together, in South India visiting traditional wood and stone craftsmen along the Coromandel coast and rural areas. The first pieces in the edition consist of Tranquebar Chair and the Tranquebar Stool and a series of hand-carved black granite tables, the Tranquebar Coffee Table, Console Table, and Dining Table. A key design principle we focus on is longevity, which means we use traditional handcraft methods and select solid wood materials in oak, ash, walnut, and teak from FSC certified forests, and black granite stone which is sourced near to our artisan’s workshop. One of the extraordinary features is the detailed hand carving on the granite table bases. The upholstery for the chair and stools is a natural cotton velvet from Kvadrat. The Harald 3 fabric by Raf Simons adds a vibrancy to the chairs and stools and is offered in a mix of 9 colours. The fabric is quilted with the Tranquebar motif pattern that Boris Berlin created for the edition. 

Later this fall sees the launch of a new line — Versus by Margrethe Odgaard.

— The first pieces in the edition are the Versus tapestries — 4 beautiful colour field combinations that highlight the interplay between wool, silk, and light. This is a collaboration with a traditional hand weaving collective in Nepal specialising in the Tibetan knot technique.