Museum in Lalbaug, Ahmedabad, is awash with blue. Fine-cotton fabrics dyed in multiple hues of blue hang like prayer flags amid the stately colonial white pillars in the former ancestral home of the Lalbhai family, promoters of textile manufacturer Arvind group.
The visual marvel is an art installation by French-African textile designer Aboubakar Fofana. It uses fabric panels dyed with natural indigo at the company’s manufacturing facilities. It is also Arvind Chairman and MD Sanjay Lalbhai’s salute to indigo, the dye that has worked wonders for him and the company.
The company brought denim production to India in 1987 and reinvented its product mix. Today, the group is the world’s largest producer of the fabric and a supplier to the world’s top retailers and fashion labels. When visualising the group’s corporate museum, Lalbhai’s natural choice was to use indigo — the most common choice for denim jeans — as the theme. The installations use indigo dyes of various genres and material for a visual display of creative expressions by master craftsmen, artists and designers from India and abroad.
“The DNA of Arvind as a brand is about innovation and out-of-the-box thinking and it is also about sustainable development,” Lalbhai tells ET Magazine. “By providing a platform for artisans, designers and craftspeople to use the medium of indigo and showcase contemporary design as well as traditional Indian crafts, we hope to highlight both.” Lalbhai points out that indigo is a natural and environment-friendly dye. “The museum is part of the brand extension that we envisage for the company,” Lalbhai says. He envisages a 50,000 sq ft permanent museum with works of top artists and designers.
The Arvind Indigo Museum will be housed at the company’s manufacturing unit in Naroda Road, Ahmedabad. “We are putting in place a funding structure to back up the museum project with a strong platform.” Arvind chairman hits a nail on its head when he calls the museum an extension of its brand. Corporate museums, galleries and visitor-experience centres are a part of brand extensions of corporations in the US, Europe and Japan.
Iconic corporate museums that are a big draw for visitors include Cadbury World by the chocolate major in the UK; World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, USA; Shiseido Corporate Museum in Japan by the cosmetics company, and the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart by the German auto major. Such institutions showcase the long history and the achievements of the companies concerned, adding to the allure of the brand. It also helps employees understand their employer better and develop a sense of pride in their workplace.
Realising the advantages of adding brand value by educating people, companies in India have also started paying attention to this mode of recording their presence in history. The Tata group, for instance, has invested multi-million dollars in creating the Tata Experience Center (TXC) at the iconic Bombay House, which was reopened after renovation in July. TXC tells the story of the 150-year-old heritage of the company and also showcases future direction.
Iconic artefacts include the Bharat Ratna medal awarded to former chairman JRD Tata in 1992; a Taj hotel menu card from 1950, when a food ration policy was in force; a soda and crushed ice machine from 1914 used to dispense water to workers at the steel plant in Jamshedpur, and the Commonwealth Games Queen’s baton designed by group company Titan in 2010, apart from installations that use immersive technologies to tell the group’s story. “We combined the concept of heritage museums and hi-tech experience centres to tell our stories in engaging new ways,” says Pradipta Bagchi, group chief communications officer, who conceptualised and helmed the project. “There are 700 pieces of content, spread over 1600 minutes drawn out from repositories all across the organisation and external archives. We worked with different group companies, including Tata Elxsi, TCS and Tata Interactive (now MPS Limited), to create an immersive experience for the visitors.”
The result is palpable: A digital tweak has enhanced the experience of observing a letter from former prime minister Indira Gandhi to JRD Tata thanking him for a gift of perfumes from Lakme, the first Indian cosmetics brand. Headphones give a visitor a well-modulated audio version of the contents of the letter.
Millennial visitors, who don’t fancy reading too much text, are being wooed with features like Hypeboxes — interactive display screens with images and videos showcasing marquee products of group companies. One such product is the goddess necklace worn by actor Deepika Padukone in the film Padmavati, which was designed by group company Tanishq. Another is an animation of Tata Motors’ concept car Evision, an electric sedan.
The advantages of sharing the company’s heritage with employees and the public catalysed DCM Shriram Limited to set up a heritage gallery at Kota in Rajasthan last year. “We wanted to share the story of our founder Sir Shri Ram’s contribution to nation building,” says Ajay S Shriram, chairman & senior managing director. “He started as a humble worker and went on to establish one of India’s largest business houses, DCM Group. The gallery generates a sense of belonging and pride for new and old employees.”
Research scholars and journalists looking for reference material also visit the DCM Shriram Heritage Gallery in Kota. The DCM gallery and TXC — which has hosted around 1,000 visitors, including international delegations and government dignitaries — are also working on plans to reach out to school and college students. Back to the Future — Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co’s exhibition at its sprawling premises at Vikhroli, Mumbai — already attracts scholars, business researchers, economists as well as students. The group, which started operations in 1897, set up an archive council in 2006. This helped it preserve documents, photos, memorabilia and audio-visual material created from oral histories.
The group has had temporary exhibitions but the permanent facility was set up last year. “A visit here is part of the induction programme for all new employees, vendors and overseas delegations to understand the heritage of the company that started with Ardeshir Godrej’s vision of Swadeshi manufacturing and continued with Pirojsha Godrej’s efforts in setting up some of the first Indian manufacturing facilities,” says Vrunda Sunil Pathare, chief archivist, Godrej Archives.
More than 200 have visited the gallery in the past couple of months to see fascinating memorabilia such as India’s first ballot box, made by the company in 1952, and the first patent received by the company’s locks division in 1908. A fading yellowish poster showing Bollywood heartthrob from yesteryears Madhubala endorsing Godrej soaps is a favourite among the older crowd.
Glitter and glamour are in abundance at the museum of traditional jewellery set up by Amrapali Jewels. Gasps and shrieks from visitors are common at the gallery, situated at the corporate headquarters in Jaipur. “Over the years, Amrapali Jewels has used its collections to inspire its modern offerings. However, we felt we could do more by sharing what we have with scholars, students, connoisseurs and visitors to Jaipur, as well as by highlighting the traditional silver artworks of India,” says Rajiv Arora, one of the founders of the company.
The museum, set up last year at a budget of Rs 1.25 crore, is spread over two floors and has silver and gold jewellery from all regions in India. It highlights how artisans transform everyday objects into dazzling works of art. The entire collection is of over 4,000 pieces. About 800 are on physical display and the rest are displayed on a screen.
Another treasure trove of corporate history can be found at the museum of Dharampal Satyapal group- the maker of Pulse candies, and Catch salt, among others. But the facility at its corporate office in Noida, open since 2014, is not open to public. “This is a decision we made as it is within our corporate office. But on request, we do organise shows for students, corporate houses, business associates and people who are genuinely interested in seeing our museum,” says Rajiv Kumar, vicechairman, DS group. Set up at an initial cost of Rs 17 crore, the museum relied heavily on technology, including VFX and holographic projections, to showcase the entrepreneurial journey of its founder Lala Dharampal, which began in 1929.
Looking back for the future seems to be India Inc’s new mantra.
Global Corporate Museums
Shiseido Corporate Museum, Shizuoka, Japan Founded in 1992
World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, USA Originally opened in 1990, moved to present destination in 2007
Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany Set up in 2006 Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland Set up in 2000
The Gucci Museum, Florence, Italy Inaugurated in 2011
Philips Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands Set up in 1993 at the old factory where Gerard Philips and father Frederik made their first incandescent lamp in 1891
The Hershey Story, Hershey, USA Opened in 2009
AT&T Science & Technology Innovation Center, AT&T Labs, Middletown, USA Opened in 2018