“I dream of talking to my customers in English when they come meet us in our village,” says 28-year-old Shanti, hailing from Manpura village in Rajasthan. And 22-year-old Pooja Devi of Rajasthan dreams of becoming a trainer after completing her studies, and wants to remove caste discrimination from her village.
For close to two years now, Shanti and Pooja have been working at Jaipur Rugs. Their dreams of a better quality of life and education are being fulfilled by the company, a global brand of handmade rugs based out of Rajasthan.
Established in 1978 by Nand Kishore Chaudhary, the company has been working for over three decades now with village artisans and has a presence in over 45 countries.
The journey of Jaipur Rugs began in small village Churu in Rajasthan. Nand Kishore had just finished his college and had started working in his father’s shoe shop in Churu.
“In 1978, Churu was a small town without much purchasing power. I realised that there wasn’t a lot of potential in the shoe business,” reminisces the 63-year-old.
Today, working directly with artisans and empowering them and their communities with sustainable livelihood, Jaipur Rugs claims to have worked with over 50,000 artisans from rural India, who work on 7,000 looms across 600 villages.
Though he was offered a job as a cashier, Nand Kishore knew he wasn’t looking at a cushy government job. He wanted to start something on his own, something big. At the same time a friend also happened to tell him that the hand-knotted rugs industry was in huge demand.
“I travelled to Jaipur and studied the industry, I visited the carpet looms and saw how carpets were being made,” says Nand Kishore. Looking at how the looms worked and wanting to work directly with the aritisans, Nand Kishore borrowed Rs 5,000 from his father and bought two looms.
“I hired eight weavers of what was then considered as 'lower castes' and a master weaver. For me the societal stigma didn’t matter, and two years later, an article written by Ilay Cooper in Inside Outside magazine featured a photo of the first carpet and highlighted the bright future of the handmade carpet industry,” Nand Kishore says, of the initial days.
It was during these days that Nand Kishore would spend as much time as possible with the weavers, and developed a love for weaving and would even eat lunch sitting by the looms.
In two years, he scaled up his home-based carpet factory to six looms. He started taking on small projects for exporters, but realised he would have to look for other ways of expanding soon.
There were a few small villages close by and he wanted to install two-three looms in each. That was the first step in the creation of his network of weavers. Soon he expanded his reach to Jodhpur. And, within eight years, Nand Kishore covered almost all of Rajasthan.
“I soon learnt that the government was keen to promote carpet weaving in the tribal belts of Gujarat and was training tribals. I decided to leave for Jhalod, a small town in the tribal belt of Gujarat,” says Nand Kishore.
To take care of weaving activities in Rajasthan, he appointed area commanders to oversee it. Recollecting the time, Nand Kishore says:
We had 200 looms in Rajasthan by then and wherever we had a concentration of 50 looms, we would depute an area commander to monitor them. Staying in the tribal areas wasn’t easy. The tribals weren’t friendly towards outsiders, it took me three years to gain their trust.
In the eight years he spent in Gujarat, Nand Kishore soon ended up building a network of 10,000 weavers.
He then came back to Jaipur in 1999 and formally started Jaipur Rugs (then known as Jaipur Carpets). Having had worked with his brother, he unfortunately had to divide the business.
After parting ways with his brother, he had just 100 looms left in Rajasthan, while in Gujarat he had 10,000 looms. If the state of the business was one challenge hovering over him, the other challenge was Nand Kishore lacking the skills that a businessman ought to have.
In the first team he hired, he realised some were not efficient while others tried to dupe him. “I had to replace a lot of people. My children also saw the troubles I was facing and starting in 2005, one by one they started joining me to help me out,” he adds.
Today, Nand Kishore adds that Jaipur Rugs is a family business that combines the pursuit of profit with the spreading of kindness in a way that benefits all of its stakeholders: its consumers and their families, the artisans and their families, its employees, its suppliers, the buyers and channels they work with.
While the first year was good, the business soon went into losses soon. It was then he realised that he needed to learn basic organisational skills. “I started attending lectures and seminars. I would listen to talks delivered by successful people,” he recounts.
In 2006, there was major restructuring in the organisation and the company was changed from Jaipur Carpets to Jaipur Rugs.
The company has now transformed into Jaipur Rugs Group with a US arm and a foundation of its own. The US arm is called Jaipur Living (formerly known as Jaipur Rugs Incorporated), is based out of Atlanta and is run by Asha Chaudhary.
Jaipur Rugs Foundation was established in 2004 to reach out to remote rural areas and establish bonds with the village communities, enabling them to start weaving not just rugs but also their own lives.
Through the rug manufacturing and partner non-profit entity Jaipur Rugs Foundation, Jaipur Rugs claims to provide training, healthcare and education and also create economic opportunities to the unemployed and underemployed in rural areas of India.
Jaipur Rugs works by making skilled weavers out of rural poor, through skill training and community mobilisation. The artisans are given training at their doorsteps, once the rugs are made, and they are taken to different global markets. The team has raised funding from Grassroot Business Fund.
Nand Kishore adds that quality supervisors regularly travel to inspect the looms in order to ensure consistent output while tracking progress. The supervisors ensure that the artisans are not interrupted by a shortage of yarn or any other such disruptions to their earning capacity.
They also make payments to the weavers every month at their looms. When completed, the rug is picked up at the doorstep of the weavers and passed on to the next stage of the rug-making progress. The team follows a socio-economic business model.
Prem, quality supervisor, from Bunkar Sakhi Aaspura, who has been part of Jaipur Rugs for seven years now, says,
Working with Jaipur Rugs has changed the course of my life. From someone (an artisan) who hesitated to consciously get out of her house, to visiting every loom in the village every day, I feel empowered. Nothing seems impossible.
The company has claimed to have grown at over 300 percent in the past decade. Nand Kishore claims that over 2,000 women artisans benefitted from Alternative Education Programme, a part of the Jaipur Rugs Foundations that ensures that women get educated.
They also claim that 14,000 lives benefitted through rural health camps, 4,000 artisans secured the entitlements of artisan cards, 3,000 artisan families enjoying the benefits of financial inclusion, 1,000 artisans covered under life insurance and their wards getting scholarship for their secondary education, and 617 villages benefitting in Six states covering a wide network of more than 40,000 artisans.
Nand Kishore aims to bring an emotional connection between the end-users of the rugs and those who actually make them and have a lakh people working with Jaipur Rugs by 2020.
“Going forward, Jaipur Rugs would like to enable the weavers to secure a greater share of the wealth that they produce by making them stakeholders in the enterprise,” he says.
The company plans to penetrate deeply in the Indian home décor segment with its premium rugs. For this, a retail store has been recently opened in Delhi. Jaipur Rugs also aims to reach end customers of rugs worldwide with its online store launched last November.