This article is part of the CitySparks series sponsored by Verisign.
The mention of Dharavi tends to evoke images of tightly-packed shanty dwellings in one of the largest slums in the world. Immortalised by both Bollywood and Hollywood, Dharavi has always been the home of the protagonist who rises above the squalor and goes on to achieve great things. What you never get to see is the thriving informal economy, estimated to be over $500 million wherein residents are employed in small-scale businesses that manufacture leather goods, textiles, and pottery, most of which is exported all over the world.
Megha Gupta, one-time journalist and later an urbanologist, experienced this bustling economy when she was working on a project to research how people living in slums commuted to work. For six months, she spent up to 18 hours a day in Dharavi, observing and understanding local manufacturing activities and the lifestyle of the people who lived there. She says, “I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of activity and enterprise among the residents of Dharavi.”
That led to her wanting to do something for the craftsmen and workers who created an amazing range of goods but were very often short-changed because of the middle-men involved. The best way to help them, she figured, would be to set up a platform that would help Dharavi’s manufacturers and craftsmen directly reach a larger customer base. Megha wanted craftsmen to be paid well for their workmanship while keeping the prices affordable. That’s what her venture, DharaviMarket.com, aims to do. It’s a marketplace for manufacturers of leather goods, pottery, shoes, and accessories who want to sell their merchandise to a global customer base.
A market for everyone
“People from the low-income segment generally do not have access to laptops, but most of them do have smart phones,” says Megha. Traders and businessmen in Dharavi were comfortable using WhatsApp to take photos of their products and share these. So she decided to develop a mobile app, along with the e-commerce platform, that would allow craftsmen to upload images and a description of their products onto the platform. Dharavimarket.com was launched in August 2014 with an initial investment of Rs. 5 lakh. The business is still bootstrapped, but Megha has begun considering additional sources of funding.
What’s in store?
DharaviMarket.com covers a wide range of merchandise, including leather products like bags, wallets, shoes, and belts in addition to terracotta, apparel, and corporate gifts. DharaviMarket also has an outlet in Mumbai’s Inorbit Mall at Malad.
Today, DharaviMarket.com has 280 registered craftsmen selling around 2,000 SKUs. They ship to five continents and products take a maximum of 10 days to reach the customer. Megha has also increased her focus on wholesale orders for corporate clients such as Lupin, Venvetcase.com, IE Singapore, Zee World, and Param Capital.
The website and social media presence
Presently, there are a total of five people in her team who take care of website maintenance, orders, and accounts. Megha was keen to register a .com domain name since it is the easiest to recall. In addition to being an e-commerce marketplace, the website also has a social development angle as it profiles the life and problems faced by Dharavi’s residents. Megha says, “I also aim to clear misunderstandings about life in slums through our website. Slum dwellers are not criminals or beggars. They too have skills, dreams, and ambitions.” Dharavimarket.com was also recently chosen as a winner of the 'Manthan Digital Innovation Award 2015' in the Business and Inclusion category.
Encouraged by the success of DharaviMarket.com, Megha is launching a new brand, Dhama, on the website in the next six months. The brand, ‘Dhama’ is a portmanteau of Dharavi and Market and also means shelter in Sanskrit. Dhama will feature an exclusive range of products in faux leather, felt, jute, cotton, and earthenware by different designers. The product range will be made of non-leather and eco-friendly material with superior design and quality. The craftsmen will get a chance to work on contemporary designs with many upcoming designers and enhance their skills and knowledge. The prices of all the merchandise will be very affordable, she promises.
Register your .com at www.gobigwith.com