The company that shaped the world as we know it is back and set to conquer once more
When Sanjiv Mehta bought up all the shares in The East India Company in 2005, he took his time relaunching one of the greatest brands the world has ever known.
Before opening the doors of the new flagship store on London’s Conduit Street in August 2010, Mehta spent six years travelling the globe, going to every single country where the brand had a presence. Along the way, he visited museums containing company artefacts and spoke to curators as well as archivists to understand fully The East India Company’s impact on the world.
It certainly kept him busy. After all, The East India Company is a business like no other. Linked with discovery and world trade, it was created on New Year’s Eve 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter to over 100 English merchants, obtaining them the right to trade exclusively east of Cape Town. By granting the charter, she also limited their liability, making The East India Company the world’s first limited liability corporation.
The merchants, sailors and explorers of The East India Company found uncharted trading territory in order to escape the Dutch stronghold on the spice trade. In the process, the company not only introduced commodities and goods such as tea and coffee, but also established important trading posts like Hong Kong, Singapore and Mumbai, which would become burgeoning cities.
When the company was dissolved in 1874, it left Britain with an Empire, which included the subcontinent of India. This part of the world had been opened for trade by the company, from Chinese tea planted in the uplands of Darjeeling to chintzes in the Bay of Bengal, and further shaped the world as we know it.
This incredible legacy is the driving force behind the brand today. Not many companies have the ability to connect with so many cultures, places, ingredients, materials and products. ‘One can have products inspired by the Victorian, Georgian and Art Deco era, presented alongside rattan furniture from Indonesia, Japanese lacquer and Chippendale from England, and still retain the authenticity of the world,’ states Sanjiv Mehta.
Today, The East India Company celebrates the various origins of its speciality and luxury products, be it the precious teas from the slopes of Assam, the spring pick of Darjeeling’s first flush or Napoleon Bonaparte’s beloved coffee beans from Saint Helena, which the company first imported to the island from Yemen in the 18th century. Not forgetting the company’s shipment of cacao beans to 17th-century London, which drew members of high society into coffee houses for hot chocolate and gossip when they were first introduced to the capital – a fad that is documented in the poetry of Alexander Pope and his contemporaries. All products sold by The East India Company tell a story from every corner of the globe, whether it’s a delicate biscuit, a jam or chutney, an exquisite silver-plated tea strainer or bone china tea and coffee cups.
The East India Company’s pioneering spirit and sense of adventure is set to culminate in café, restaurant and hotel openings, as well as fashion and jewellery collection launches. New books on the company’s rich history and its impact on the financial markets mark a new chapter for The East India Company’s publishing arm too. What else? Honouring its historic right to mint its own currency, the brand is issuing Mohur and Guinea limited-edition, proof-quality coins for collectors, further supporting The East India Company legacy in the precious metals world.
All of these ventures are part of The East India Company’s greater aim to bring together the best our world has to offer. As Sanjiv Mehta is keen to point out, the company will always be greater than any one individual or singular product. ‘I have not created this brand; history has created it,’ he says. ‘I am just the curator of it, a custodian, if you like.’
THE EAST INDIA COMPANY 7–8 CONDUIT STREET, LONDON W1S 2XF +44 (0)20 3205 3380