Archana Nandal

Founder Cult Modern

Fort Kochi, Kerala

I first connected with Archana when I was launching Love Goa. At the time she headed up retail for FabIndia in a number of states, including Goa. I was thrilled to hear of her decision to channel her twenty plus years of design and fashion experience into her own venture, a high-end concept store, Cult Modern. Located in the hip heritage precinct of Fort Kochi, the space,carrying an extensive and eclectic range of Indian design, opened in October 2018. Archana’s curating of fashion, jewellery and homewares (including the Love Travel Guides) results not only in one of the best boutiques in Kochi, but one of the best shopping experiences in India.

Our conversation took place in July 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

What were you just thinking of?
I was having some random thoughts…our dinner menu, my son Neeil’s upcoming school results, some mails to send to my shop, and some such. No sales at the shop and Neeil’s college education are constant nags that never go away…

What are you doing for the rest of today?
It’s a Saturday and there is a sense of a rhythmic winding-down. Although frankly, on many days I have had to make a conscious effort to know which day of the week this is. Thankfully, since I’ve reopened my shop and the local governance mandates that Sundays be fully closed, we have a compass there. We’ve opened, more right now in spirit and as a deliberate (and of course, careful) step towards reclaiming life. We want to be normal and reopening my business has brought that routine and purpose back in our lives. Then, I have a team of three to support too. It was important for them to get back to work. We are a small tightly knit team and being back at work is an emotionally secure umbrella under which we all hold each other’s hands. So many reasons to re-start. No sales at the moment though and I pray every day that this will soon change. It has to. How? I don’t yet know…

Fort Cochin is so deserted, not one traveller/tourist in sight. Rains have set in fully and that has brought in some good cheer. All lush and green everywhere, all the ancient Raintrees in Fort Cochin are washed clean and are a delight to watch. Domestic flights have opened, and we all hope and believe that the monsoon/Ayurveda season will bring in health-travellers from other parts of India here.

I’ve sort-of settled into a slower routine and in a way am loving it, barring the missing bustle at the shop of course. Good quality time at home with my entire family all-together – a rarity otherwise, has been a blessing. My husband, Sanjay, who’s a commercial pilot, has been at home too and has only just begun his flying routine. There’s been a lot of time to think …what now…about the shop…how to get things going...exploring other means and ways of reaching our customers…and then about our son’s impending college education, which sadly has been derailed at least for this year, and that triggers a whole parallel line of thought on what alternatively he should do now. We’re trying to see over the horizon every single day.

How ‘real’ does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know anyone personally who has contracted the virus?
Yes, the threat is very real! Even though and thankfully so, I don’t have anyone I know personally who has contracted the virus, but we came pretty close. A pilot colleague of Sanjay, my husband, who had flown one of the repatriation flights into Cochin from the UAE, tested positive for the virus.

If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what then is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
The pandemic has altered each and every aspect of our lives, emotionally, psychologically, physically, but the greatest really has been financial. We’re in the 4th month of seriously dropped earnings. The cost of living has also been higher and that doubles the impact. We’re somehow holding on in a state of suspension. The idea is not to give up but to nudge forward, a step at a time and reach where we were last year some time.

What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
Carefree dining out for sure! And travel – we were poised to travel to Portugal this summer, which we hope to do soon… and I’m so looking forward to getting the bustle back at my shop.

Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
Yes, there is. I’ve always been an empath and this highly challenging time has increased my compassion receptors many folds I feel. This ‘whole world-as-one’ phenomenon is unique and unprecedented, and I feel so empowered that I can actually understand and feel for someone in another corner of the world whom I have never met and send a small good wish their way.

Locally, I rose to the occasion and we began offering our social media platform promoting small businesses here, those who we loved and knew were doing their businesses the good way. Overall too I see that people all over are coming across as more compassionate and kinder. I hope that this doesn’t change once the pandemic is behind us.

Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with? Have you made any changes or thought of any that you will implement going forward?
In science, I love the way laboratories across the world are co-working and collaborating towards developing the Covid vaccine. In education, it is streaming online – am not sure if it will be good or bad in the long run, but for now it’s great that this has ensured continuity.

In media, there have been many amazing webinars that we, as a family, have attended, such great content, luminaries and academicians from across disciplines bringing astute insights and wisdom right into our homes and at no cost. In the pre-Covid world this would not have been possible. And then of course, we’ve discovered (a tad late though!) Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar and many such. Some super entertainment.
In businesses, I see a number of them going online. Fashion pop-ups are happening online. Even food deliveries are creating online sales channels and that’s good. I’m happy about that and sad in some way too. I’ve been old school here, had always thought there is magic in brick-and-mortar for which online is no match at all. Physical spaces make cities vibrant and beautiful. Our cities would die without such spaces. So online businesses may be good for financial survival, but as things get to normal, we absolutely must reclaim and support brick-and-mortar spaces to keep our cities alive.

What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
An awesome monsoon has set in here and Kerala is beautiful right now. A dash to Munnar, my favourite hill town close to Cochin may be possible soon. Apart from that, for domestic and international travel, we’re waiting for conducive environments in home cities and destination cities both, to be able to begin making any plans.

What are you finding inspiring now?
I read a couple of chapters of a book each night, a kind of a sleeping ritual that has stayed with me for more than two decades. I’m presently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The book’s been on my bookshelf for some years. That I chose it to read at this time was purely accidental. Or intuitive maybe? It’s a fascinating narrative that dives deep into the biological and cultural evolution of human species and humankind. What we were and how we came to be here. And along the way what all have we usurped from and of other species. Unwittingly (the book was first published in 2011) the writer gives us an explanatory backdrop on our tribulations of today - the pandemic and other disturbances that we are in the midst of.

What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
Freddy Birdy’s Instagram posts @freddy_birdy

If a reader would like to make a contribution, can you recommend a specific organization/ initiative that could do with the support?
The Raksha Society. This is a non-profit comprehensive special needs rehabilitation service centre base in Kochi. They focus on the needs of children and young adults with neuro-developmental disorders; Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disability, Autism and multiple disabilities through community – based programs. Raksha has grown from being a special school to a multi-faceted, multidisciplinary organisation. It is best to contact Mrs. Ragini Menon via email or by phone: +91 484 222 7707 or + 91 484 222 3920


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If you would like to buy directly from Archana at Cult Modern, please take my reference, and contact Archana via email or via WhatsApp+91 93491 56499. Courier and postal services are working within India and internationally, just allow a little more time.

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