Sujata Keshavan is an Indian entrepreneur, graphic designer and fashion designer, who is famous for her iconic sense of design, aesthetics and culture. She co-founded Ray + Keshavan and is a creative director and co-founder of a sustainable luxury fashion brand, Varana. Sujata Keshavan is the wife of Ramachandra Guha and her name is imprinted with leading firms like Mckinsey & Company, Bharti Airtel, Wipro, Reliance, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Dabur, etc., for her branding and advertising skills. Applauded twice with the Graphic Designer of the Year Award (at the annual A & M Awards), Sujata Keshavan is the only Indian woman to have it received two times.
Sujata Keshavan was born in 1961 (age 63 years; as of 2024). She grew up in Bombay and Bangalore due to her father’s transferable job. Her secondary schooling was done in science subjects; however, her exposure to art at home through her parents confused her, and she finally pursued a bachelor’s degree at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad in 1984. She pursued a Master of Fine Arts in graphic design at Yale University, United States, where she got the opportunity to work with famous designers like Mathew Carter, Paul Rand, and Armin Hofman. Their ancestral bungalow, ‘Tanqueray’ is in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India, which she considers her favourite place to relax, where she spends her summer holidays.
Height (approx.): 5′ 7″
Hair Colour: Salt & Pepper
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
Sujata Keshavan was born to a Tamil family. Her father, Narasimha Keshavan, was an engineer, closet architect, and designer, who worked at Burmah-Shell. Her mother, Shanti Chari, was a painter and an intellectual, who enjoyed reading and writing. Sujata’s mother graduated as a student of philosophy and literature from St. John’s College, Agra, India, where she won the college’s inaugural Drew-Sully Prize for philosophy.
She has a sister named Soumya, who is an interior designer and founder of Souk and has been on AD100 (India’s list of most influential designers) for the years 2014, 2021 and 2022.
Husband & Children
Sujata Keshavan is married to Ramachandra Guha.
The couple gave birth to two children – a son, Keshava Guha, who is a novelist and has launched his debut novel, ‘Accidental Magic,’- and a daughter, Ira Guha, who is an entrepreneur and founder of ‘Asan,’ a sustainable menstrual cup brand to help eradicate period poverty.
Foundation of Ray + Keshavan
In 1989, Sujata Keshavan founded the Ray + Keshavan design company in partnership with Ram Ray, her boss and co-worker at an advertising company, Response, where, in 1985, she worked for 6 months. This company became one of the iconic brands in the world of design branding, where Sujata with her team worked on brand transformation projects of Bharati Airtel, Reliance, Kotak Mahindra, Infosys, Hindustan Lever, ITC, Max Group, Dr. Reddy’s, TVS, etc., and gave a successful brand identity in the international market. She was also part of designing the logos of some universities like Nalanda University and Ashoka University, and in 2000, her work outshined after giving Himalaya Drug Company a makeover to ‘Himalaya’ as seen today. After 25 years of dedication at Ray + Keshavan, Sujata sold the company to WPP Group, a British conglomerate and the world’s largest advertising agency to begin her new startup as a fashion designer.
Foundation of Varana
Sujata Keshavan co-founded Varana in 2017 along with her partner Ravi Prasad with a vision to combine Indian artisanal with international luxurious fashion clothing. Her dream is to make Varana an international fashion label, where clothes, as well as clothing items, are weaved and designed using Indian hand skills. The brand aims to reinterpret India’s heritage through modern design and runs on values of sustainable living.
In the 1990s, Sujata Keshavan Guha, along with Nikhil Arni, started a culture club named ‘Design Friday,’ where all who were working or had an interest in the field of visual arts and design would come together for an informal interaction to expand the knowledge base. Events were organised on Fridays in Bangalore and each event used to host a renowned speaker from the world of design. An invitation card was sent to the members who were a part of this club. After the speaker finished the talk about his/her working styles and experiences, an informal interactive conversation between all the members followed to interpret, exchange and explore new design ideas. Sujata organized Design Friday for 17 years.
Awards, Honors & Positions held
- Twice awarded with Graphic Designer of the Year award by the annual Advertising and Marketing(A & M) awards.
- Eastern Press Award
- Schickle–Collingwood Prize
- Outstanding Woman Professional of the Year Award by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)
- Honoured with Design Icons 2019 Awards in Graphic and communication design, by India Design Forum
- Sujata Keshavan was on the list of India’s 30 most powerful women for the year 2006 by India Today
- She was listed in 18th position on Fortune India’s list of most powerful women in business for the year 2011
- She is a serving member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Design & Innovation
- She is a serving member of the Governing Council at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
- She has been invited as a host speaker at many international conferences like the International Design Center in Japan and Nagoya and Design Indaba in South Africa.
- She was among the jury members of design at Cannes Lions 2009 and has been a jury in various other design award ceremonies.
- Colour(s): Black and White
- Wine: White wine
- Subjects: Mathematics, Literature, and Arts
- Holiday Destination: Italy
- Sujata Keshavan is an avid reader and loves to drive. She inherited this love from her father who would take the entire family on drives to their ancestral house in Coonoor in her summer holidays. This house is full of books, as everyone in their family enjoys reading.
- She is the first Indian woman to get a master’s degree in design from Yale University.
- As a schoolgirl, she was one of the youngest members of the Bangalore Art Club, which ran for three days a week at a church building on Saint Mark’s Road, where she was engaged in drawing and painting.
- When asked in an interview about her alternative career option, Sujata said that she would want to be a driver for famous personalities like Bill Gates, who has a fabulous collection of cars and interesting stories to share.
- Sujata thought of becoming a doctor in school; however, she turned to the field of design as she grew up in an environment of art and literature. Every single thing in their house was designed by her father, who would take things like a baby cot and recycle it into a sofa. Her mother would paint, read, and write.
- Sujata Keshavan left Ray + Keshavan when it was at its peak of success to begin a new journey for her startup, Varana.
- The brand name Varana and its logo tell the story of the origin of its idea. Varana is a fusion of the Varuna and Asi rivers, which are the tributaries of the Ganges. Sujata Keshavan got the idea of Varana while looking at the point of confluence of these rivers at Varanasi, where she went for a family trip.
- She got a sense of aesthetics and design from her father and mother, who would take a keen interest in designing all their homes. Her mother had a keen knowledge of horticulture.
- Sujata Keshavan, in 2017, donated 5 million to the National Institute of Design, which is used to award 3 prizes worth 100 thousand rupees each annually to honour outstanding work in 3 categories – communication design, industrial design, and textile and Apparel design. The prize is named The Shanta Keshavan and N. Keshavan Prize in remembrance of Sujata’s parents. This was a lifelong philanthropic dream of Sujata and her husband.