Checkered Past: Introducing The Original Madras Trading Company

Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summer and the wearing of one of its signature fabrics. And so Ivy Style is pleased to introduce The Original Madras Trading Company, a third-generation maker and weaver with offices in New York and Chennai, India, the city formerly known as Madras that gave the distinctive checked fabric its name. 

OMTC, as it’s known, uses all traditional garment-dye techniques and is carried at such haute-fashion places as Bergdorf Goodman, as well as independent trad shops such as H. Stockton in Atlanta. The following is their story in the words of Prasan Shah, grandson of the founder.

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The true definition of madras check is a pure cotton yarn-dyed plain-weave cloth with a minimum two-color irregular pattern, and, most importantly, woven in Madras with pure Indian cotton. Originally and to this day the best madras is woven by hand in South India. Our founder, and my grandfather, often joked that he did not need to go to Oxford to make the best oxford, but that you need to go to Madras to make the best madras.

All clothing carrying the Original Madras Trading Company yellow selvage label is made by us in-house using proprietary single-weaver cloth handwoven on one of our handlooms in Madras, which is now known as Chennai. Single-weaver cloth means fabric that is woven by one individual weaver from start to finish using a completely manual handloom to interlace two sets of individual yarns, one set being the warp or length of the cloth, and the other set being the weft or width of the cloth. 

Original Madras Trading Company was established by my grandfather when he arrived in New York City in the early 1970s with a trunk full of madras. The swatches were well received and he was soon supplying fabric to many of the most renowned American clothing companies from our office on 38th Street in the Garment District, where we still trade from today. For three generations the business has been involved with many of the key brands that have been integral in fomenting the veneration of madras check and its role in Ivy League style.

My father and grandfather recognized that handwoven madras is an exceptional product, and all together we have made an unqualified commitment to continue to produce and promote it, driven by a desire to see beautiful things made and a tradition continue and thrive. Each weft in handloom cloth is like a ring in a tree trunk: it marks a precise moment in time and it is a real pleasure to recognize that when you are wearing handwoven madras.

Due to the nature of being handmade, no two lengths of handwoven cloth are identical. We do not see the job of the handloom weaver as that of mimicking a machine. Instead, our weavers focus on achieving beautiful craftsmanship rather than machine-like uniformity. In today’s age of high-tech mass production, sophisticated customers no longer confuse perfection with absolute uniformity, and instead value the beauty of singularity and idiosyncrasy. Our Manhattan office and our Chennai premises both contain a vast archive of madras designs going back 50 years, and provide a rich source of inspiration for our looms, the advantage of being both a weaver and maker with a checkered past.

To locate our stockists and for further details about our origin story, or to learn more about the tradition of handwoven madras, please visit us at omtcnyc.com. Inquiries may be sent to info@omtcnyc.com.

5 Comments on "Checkered Past: Introducing The Original Madras Trading Company"

  1. elder prep | May 31, 2021 at 9:45 pm |

    In the photo showing several spools of thread, the colors are so pleasing to the eye and it is what makes madras so visually distinctive.

  2. Umang Hutheesing | May 31, 2021 at 11:45 pm |

    Superb – very smart – everyone must have a few of these to welcome the summer ???

  3. Old School Tie | June 1, 2021 at 4:19 am |

    I’m no businessman but the website does not instill much confidence. If you are going to make it under current circumstances then you need to be selling your product online, especially if just starting out. It really is that simple. Then there is the product imagery – all well and good showing spools of thread but where are the images of that iconic and all important “Authentic Madras” label? Details. They have missed way too many tricks to be viable, imho.

  4. Rohan Patel | June 1, 2021 at 8:33 am |

    The pursuit of perfection through imperfection with no two pieces being the exact same is the beautiful selling point of an incredible company. Best of luck, looking forward to the summer line for purchase just as I was the fall.

  5. Charlottesville | June 1, 2021 at 2:53 pm |

    The fabrics are quite beautiful and I wish the company well. I would love to see some of the more muted tans, greens and darker shades made up into sport coats. It seems that most madras sport coats (including mine from J. Press circa late 90s) tend to lean toward brighter colors that are more or less GTH. However, I have seen, in secondhand shops and pictures, 50s and 60s versions in darker blues, grays, greens, burgundies and tans that would not be out of place even in the office on a Friday, although that probably have been unthinkable in the heyday. Maybe someone will take up the challenge.

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