16 May 2020 18:31 IST

A story tucked away in a cupboard

The sturdy Godrej steel almirah, a 97-year-old brand, is still a feature in many Indian homes

Ardeshir Burjorji Sorabji Godrej was a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur and a strong believer in indigenously-manufactured products, long before swadeshi became a byword. After a failed venture in surgical instruments, he started a lock company in 1897. The success he achieved in the locks business encouraged him to enter other varied fields like (the world’s first) vegetable soap, safes and steel almirahs.

The last-mentioned product was introduced in 1923. Till then, wooden almirahs, sturdy but prone to dust, pests etc. and needing careful maintenance, were the norm. The ‘patent safe cabinets’ advertised by Godrej were not just weather and termite proof, they were also claimed to be ‘burglary proof’ due to the strength of the steel and the locks and bolts used in the products.

‘The Godrej’ as it was then called sold well with the wealthy taking to it first as a ‘safe box’ for valuables. In those days it came in just one colour – a dull grey (reportedly called the Tata Atomic Energy Grey) – and even the colour came to be identified with it. The sheer weight, durability and solid appearance of the product, combined with the gentle clanging noise made when it was opened, became its USPs.

Dependable and theft-proof

Originally the repository of silk sarees, jewellery, important documents and deeds etc., the original Godrej came with five adjustable shelves and a safe. (Sometimes another, more important safe would be discreetly concealed within this). The dependability and theft-proof nature of the product was reassuring in a land where gold and diamond jewellery was always kept in the house. The Godrej soon became one of the few mandatory streedhan requirements the parents of the bride gladly gave, as it meant that their daughter had a safe ‘space’ of her own for storing her jewels and silks in the new home.

Interestingly, those days, the person who had the keys to the Godrej was seen as the power centre of the house!

The Godrej was later rebranded as the Godrej Storwel and continued to top customer preferences in the 1960s and 1970s. There was even a waiting list for buying a Godrej almirah — and sometimes the product would be available only 2-3 months after booking, especially during the busy wedding season.

Often described as an ‘over-large safe with an extraordinarily strong lock’, the Godrej almirah advertisements in the 1980s focussed on the safety features and the ‘my space’ concept with the ‘Hum kuch aur jagah banaayein’ (let us make some more space) tagline.

Part of bridal trousseau

Literary references to the Godrej almirah abound, with even Satyajit Ray referring to it in his Adventures of Feluda as a safe place to keep a ring.

The Godrej Group went on to storm several other bastions — safes, typewriters, refrigerators, and mosquito repellents, to name a few; but in the customer’s mind, the name is even now, almost always, synonymous with its steel almirahs. At its peak, if someone said, ‘I am going to buy a Godrej,’ the response would be ‘Is your daughter getting married?’. Such was the image the brand had built up!

 

The Godrej Storwel later became part of Godrej Interio, formed in 2006. It became just one of the products offered in the home furnishing line that covered almirahs and wardrobes, bean bags and pouffes, beds, chairs, chest of drawers etc. (A wooden wardrobe section titled ‘Kalista’ was introduced in 2010. ‘Kreation’, a modular metal range — a wardrobe that a buyer can customise in whatever way needed, including size and extension – came later.)

The weight of the product was also reduced over the years as joint families started splitting up and travel and posting in other cities became more frequent: the 60-80 kg Godrej gave way to the new, lighter Slimline range. Other features like an almirah that could be assembled upon delivery, colours that would make steel look like wood, more elegant and contemporary designs, and additional safety features were added.

Timely makeover

With modern living spaces coming with in-built wardrobes, the need for a Godrej to deposit valuables in is not so great any longer. For this reason, Godrej is redesigning the almirah to fit in with the modern lifestyle, with deeper storage spaces, taller cabinets, and plastic sliding doors inside. The dull but easily identifiable grey is now just one of the colours jostling for one’s attention: deep blue, maroon, magenta, purple etc., now adorn the almirah range.

 

From two-door to three-door and four-door, with colours and designs to satisfy all age groups of customers, Godrej has reinvented itself to stay contemporary, even as a generation of older customers cling to their cherished almirahs out of nostalgia.

Godrej Interio has manufacturing units at Maharashtra (Mumbai, Khalapur and Shirwal) and Uttarakhand (Haridwar and Bhagwanpur) and a strong distributor network. It has launched an e-commerce platform and is also active on sites like Pepperfry. Future plans include greater focus on social office spaces.

The Godrej Group has always believed in philanthropy. In education, Godrej is associated with the Godrej Udayachal Schools (since 1955) and Teach for India; and in health, the Godrej Memorial Hospital (since 2004) contributes its mite.

Godrej also supports the World Wildlife Fund in India and owns and cares for a belt of mangroves in Mumbai.

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