Their objective was to bring into prominence the artisans who lived in anonymity for decades but continued to hold on to India’s rich traditional art. It was this unique venture that made Rare Indian Arts, a website formed by the joint venture of Kavita Neelakantan & Surajit Ray, a platform to preserve and support the talented artists. Falling demand in the market for the beautiful crafts have forced many artists to give up their vocation because in spite their oceanic skills, the rural artisans are not privileged enough to promote their work in the international forum. Surajit and Kavita’s website is an effort to address to their grievances
by providing detailed information to the interested consumers about the arts and crafts, it historic significance and the artisan who made it. The most unique aspect of the site is its system to rate the art works put up on display on the basis of their aesthetic beauty, its history, the amount of skill involved and the material used for making it.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur and not pursue a regular job?
Surajit: The decision to take up entrepreneurship was a choice we made to follow a particular way of life. I have worked with Schlumberger and HLS Asia, which essentially relates to the oil exploration and drilling industry. But I was an artist myself, and having travelled extensively across rural India, I was deeply motivated to do something that could make a worthwhile difference to the lives of rural artisans and craftsmen. And out of this came the idea of having a portal that can serves as a platform to showcase the consummate skills rural artisans who go unrecognised despite their overpowering craftsmanship.
Kavita: I have worked for a various sectors like healthcare (Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices), education (IIM, Ahmedabad) and corporate training (iDiscoveri Pvt Ltd). But the work of SEWA’s founder Ela Bhatt influenced me in a big way and motivated me to help people create a self-sustaining livelihood.
To add to this both of them believed that education is a liberating force that helps people think radically and not one that constrains you to a given career. And this is why in spite of their IIT and IIM degrees, they ventured into something entirely different, something close to their hearts. So, needless to say, the idea of doing a regular job did not excite them enough. They preferred living with uncertainties that would constantly keeps them on the edge and yet stimulate them to pursue their own interest.
Can you tell us what kind of challenges you faced during the initial years?
We are still facing a number of challenges. None of us come from a business background so we lack proficiency in dealing with hard-nosed and shrewd businessmen. Besides, we don’t feel comfortable treating this venture as business; it is more like trying to make an idea work.
Apart from the scepticism of the people who thought that quitting our jobs and undertaking this venture was very risky, we also faced the difficulty of starting everything from scratch. From doing the rounds of government offices to get our logo and brand name trademarked to scouting the country to find craftsmen and designing and programming of our website, we did everything ourselves and learnt from the mistakes we made.
The challenge that faces us now is of attracting people who are inspired by the cause itself and not by the financial rewards. We want people who are willing to drive the wheel for taking this project further.
What was the turning point in your career?
The most crucial point, so far, has been to get our website completed and functional. Although, it is yet to yield significant outcomes in terms of business, for us it is a major milestone and the fructification of our idea to create a platform for promoting Indian arts and crafts.
Did you, at any point, feel like giving up on your venture?
We have faced very difficult moments. There were times when nothing seemed to go our way, and we will only be lying if we say we did not think of giving it up. But those feelings haven’t lasted long and we got back to work without any qualms.
What drives you?
Surajit: When we began working on this idea, my main driving force was to create something that would help the rural artist. We therefore came up with the idea of setting up an infrastructure to support our project.
Kavita: What inspired me was the ideas of helping rural artisans create a self-sustaining livelihood. In addition, the desire to learn from having a whole rage of experiences is also one of the factors that helped me move on.
Could you please elaborate on your business model?
Rare India Art is a project that takes Indian arts and crafts to the widest possible audience through the online medium. Since we are rapidly moving towards a more mechanised way of life, things that are handcrafted, involving an expression of creativity will become more valuable. Indian artisans have been handcrafting beautiful art for centuries and our effort is primarily to support these skilled people in becoming capable of taking their creativity to an appreciative audience.
We don’t just sell handicrafts online; we aim to create awareness about the importance of these arts and crafts, which is why we have a rating system on our site. We intend to bridge the gap between the urban buyer and the rural craftsmen in terms of making them understand each other’s needs. Our intension to customise art is only a way forward to give maximum benefit to both the parties.
Our future plan is to publicise the website, enter into tie-ups with hotels and to showcase Indian art and craft through tourism. We also plan to tap companies that are potential buyers of handcrafted corporate gifts, hold exhibitions with rural artisans and leasing art pieces to corporate clients. We have special offers such as free shipping within India and discounts to members.
Some of the arts and crafts we promote are:
- Warli paintings from Maharashtra, Madhubani paintings from Bihar, Saura paintings on silk from Orissa, Patachitra and Talachitra paintings from Orissa and Gond paintings from Madhya Prasdesh
- Handicrafts in Shell, Terracotta, Wood, Metal, Cane, Bamboo, Leather, Paper-mache from regions like West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Kashmir, Karnataka and others.
- Hand crafted greeting cards and hand-made stationery such as folders, address books, bookmarks, greeting cards and cardholders, which can also be custom designed for corporate gifting purposes.
- Hand painted apparel like Indian saris, stoles, scarves
What are the growth drivers / vision for your enterprise?
By 2010, we plan to establish Rare Indian Art as a premier resource on Indian art and craft, as a site that caters to people providing them with excellent samples of Indian art and craft and information about the artists and their works.
We gradually hope to create and support a wide network of artists for restoring the importance of crafted arts in today’s world.
Can you give some tips to budding entrepreneurs?
We would love to but we are learners ourselves J