BENGALURU: On weekdays, Kalyani Shahi is a finance specialist at Accenture. On weekends, she turns entrepreneur with her e-commerce venture Chakori Ethnic, which sells textile handicrafts made by 25-odd woman artisans from villages around Jamalpur in Bihar. They are paid Rs 1,000 plus per garment, depending on the complexity of the design.
Working with local nonprofits, Shahi also trains women from slums around Koramangala to weave bags out of recycled clothes and create jewellery. Not only does the 30-year-old use technology to help artisans access a diversified audience, she also showcases their work in exhibitions across major cities.
Techies and working professionals in Bengaluru are going beyond their day jobs to launch ventures that hail India’s handmade sector. They are balancing their careers to help local artisans find value in and for their skills. “It’s been three years since I launched my venture but we haven’t broken even. I invest money from my IT job to keep the business afloat,” said Shahi, whose artisans weave about 20 cotton and 20 tussar sarees per month, apart from making accessories. “I continue to do this to raise awareness about locally-produced products and empower rural women who do not have access to metro markets.”
Karnataka’s toy town Channapatna has been seeing a revival with ventures led by people including Karthik Vaidyanathan (Varnam Craft Collective), Ally Mathan (Areev) and designer Atul Johri. Going a step further, Bengalureans are taking products designed by rural artisans across India to the virtual space in order to aid demand-creation in the traditional handicrafts industry, which is growing at approximately 10-15% every year.
Business analyst Poonam Gupta Maheshwari sources handcrafted wood, metal, leather and iron artefacts, jewellery and pottery works from 15 artisans across Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Her micro-enterprise Paakhee, which earlier sold through a website and social media accounts, recently ventured into three offline Organic World outlets (owned by Infosys cofounder SD Shibulal). “Our functional skill sets of customer targeting, digital marketing and analytics can be applied to target the right audience and expand to newer markets,” she said.
Business consultant Mala Dhawan, through her nonprofit A Hundred Hands, uses her experience in branding to ensure that the younger handicraft artisans take the legacies of their ancestors forward through contemporary design.
“They must understand the power of creating their own brand and reducing dependency on middlemen who sell for a huge margin but pay them very little,” said Dhawan, who works with 150 artisan groups across India. Correct pricing, she explained, is important for handicraft revival, but lack of rebates or service tax exemptions from the government limits bandwidth. “There is no clarity on how to apply for government assistance and no hand-holding on-ground.”