TORONTO: Ambi Kalra, president of Classique Canada that supplies garments with art and insignia printed in them, has a bee in his bonnet.
Seen with a replica painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s throne above, Kalra says he wants to bring `live’ the cultural and artistic heritage of the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the contemporary world through a special line of clothing.
“My goal is to create a replica of the Sikh empire’s art treasure on my garments. Yes, my Classique Canada supplies licensed NBA Raptors sportswear and RCMP apparel and `Canadiana’ designer fragrance line of colognes and perfumes to retailers. But I am creating an additional clothing line with Sikh emblems as a hobby. This clothing line is called Spirit Born (basically aimed at reviving the spirit of the artistic glory of Sikhs) and sold only online,’’ says Kalra who has been involved in brand building for major Canadian institutions such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Hockey Canada, Trans Canada Trail and the Canadian Olympics Association.
He says he got obsessed with this idea when the famous Sikh art exhibition came to Toronto in 1999 on the tercentenary of the Khalsa or the initiation of the baptism ceremony in Sikhism.
“I am crazy about emblems and insignia, and the 1999 exhibition showed me that Sikh art and heritage, particularly that from the period of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, is full of insignia, emblems and coats of arms. And I could see that just like Scottish tribes, each Sikh clan had a coat of arms and a tartan. I thought if the Scottish people are proud of their heritage, why the Sikhs can’t be proud of their similar past. Spirit Born is aimed at awakening that pride,’’ says Kalra.
According to him, the European influence is very obvious in the Sikh art from the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
“The lavish British and French style of coat of arms is reflected in the Maharaja’s coat of arms as he had many Europeans employed in his durbar and was constantly in touch with Napoleon and the British because it was a time of great political intrigues,’’ explains Kalra, showing replicas of various emblems from that period.
To promote his mission, he says he is in the process of creating the Spirit Born Foundation in the GTA.
“The main goal of the Spirit Born Foundation will be to have a Sikh heritage centre in the Toronto area to promote awareness about their past, art and heritage. The foundation will organize activities round the year, including shows and exhibitions by artists, talks, seminars, etc.
“Then people in the West need to be made aware about the contribution of the Sikhs in two World Wars. I held an exhibition in 2009 in the Canadian parliament to highlight the contribution of Sikhs to the two World Wars and to the Canadian armed forces. How many people know that Sikh-Canadian soldier Buckam Singh fought at Flanders Fields and died at the age of 25 in 1919? His grave is in the Kitchener cemetery,’’ he explains.
Kalra, who came to Canada in the early 1970s, entered the world of emblems and insignia when he joined Toronto-based Grant Emblems Ltd, the world’s largest insignia company, in 1978.
“I bought them the licence for Olympic insignia for the the 1984 Los Angeles Games. From 1978 to 1988, I travelled all the over the world and established them in the US, the UK, Australia, India, etc., and made them an international company,’’ he claims.
He left the company in 1988 to start his own Kalson Group Limited.
“Grant Emblems Ltd wanted to remain only an insignia company, but I wanted to be both an insignia and a garment company.’’
There has been no looking back for him since then.
After 21 years under the Kalson brand, he opened Classique Canada Inc. in 2009.
“Our clothing line includes Impact Golf, Neck Pillows, RCMP Classics, Canadiana Apparel, Charles Patcher, and Canadiana Fragrances. In fact, we are the first in the world to offer perfumes as souvenirs,’’ he says.His clients include airports, Nicholby’s, Two Rivers, Souvenir Mart, Most Wanted Gifts, Niagara Falls, and Souvenir Club.
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