These e-commerce platforms empower rural artisans by helping them earn better

19th Jul 2018
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Whether it is having a larger reach for their creations or demanding a better price for their crafts, these online platforms help gifted rural artisans continue their livelihood.

Estimates suggest that India has over nine million artisans. Although many of them are set up as cooperatives and community-based organisations, they have limited reach. Moreover, these artisans are exploited by middlemen and traders, resulting in their wares going for low prices.

In fact, every year, thousands of traditional artisans migrate to the city in search of daily-wage labour so that they can feed their families. With that migration, centuries-old knowledge that has been passed down generations dies in the squalor of an urban slum.

Technology, too, has provided cheaper, cookie-cutter substitutes that have further contributed to the decline of this traditional craftsmanship. It was to combat this slow extinction and bring these dying arts back into the limelight that a few entrepreneurs have embraced ecommerce.

Ecommerce titans Amazon and Flipkart provide a platform for artisans under the handicrafts category. But the limited real estate on these websites – which lakhs of seller are competing for – restricts opportunities for the artisans who cannot afford to advertise.

A bunch of startups have taken up this challenge. Their efforts are not just limited to empowering rural artisans. Many are dedicated to upskilling tribal women, and giving them the confidence to earn by their own initiative, which is no easy job. The following startups have gone a few extra miles to establish themselves.

GoCoop: This online social marketplace for cooperatives and community-based enterprises works with more than 70,000 weavers and artisans. Six-year-old GoCoop, founded by Andhra Pradesh–based Siva Devireddy, has won National Award for eMarketing by the Union Ministry of Textiles. It raised Series-A funding in 2016 from Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, Saha Fund, Unitus Seed Fund and Indian Angel Network. It claims to provide a fair price for artisans from over 250 cooperatives. With an inventory-less model and cluster-based approach, GoCoop has less than one percent product returns.

Aparna Challu, Founder and CEO, CraftsBazaar

Craftsbazaar: To enable skilled artisans to sell directly to Indian and global consumers and earn better, Kashmiri girl Aparna Challu launched CraftsBazaar in 2016 in Bengaluru. Encouraging direct sourcing, bootstrapped CraftsBazaar eliminates middlemen and thus increases income for artisans. As a social impact venture, CraftsBazaar also provides a strong supply chain and consumer-centric marketing. It takes care of the entire process for artisans, from the setting up of a store to delivery in India and abroad. CraftsBazaar crossed Rs 1 crore in revenue in its first year.

Gaatha: Ahmedabad-based Gaatha started as a project by NID (National Institute of Design) students Sumiran Pandey, Shivani Dhar and Himanshu Khar in 2009. While documenting how Indian craft heritage is experiencing rapid erosion, they decided that research alone wouldn’t help. They needed commercial opportunity in their ecosystem. In August 2013, Gaatha became an ecommerce portal. Today, their products include apparels, paintings, and stationery from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Kashmir. Materials used include wood, leather, fibre, bamboo, grass, and even urban waste.

A collection from Festivya's jewellery.

Festivya: Launched in May 2016 by Suresh Radhakrishnan Nair, Mathew Abraham Roy, Rahul R, and Nickey Joseph, this online platform for artisan jewellery lets artisans showcase their products. The bootstrapped startup manages the sales, fulfillment, SEO, marketing etc, thereby facilitating the sale of their products for a fair price. Based in Ahmedabad, Festivya has already expanded its operations to the US, Asia, and Europe too. Festivya sources the products from artisans across India including the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan, Karnataka, West Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra, and Delhi.

Okhai: What began as a small self-help group with a bunch of women from the Rabari tribe of Mithapur district of Gujarat is now an apparel enterprise. The local women were skilled at making handicrafts and clothes with different ornamental needlework, kathi designs, heer bharat, and beadwork. They were brought together by Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) in 1996. In 2014, Okhai was launched as an ecommerce portal. It now offers handcrafted apparel and lifestyle products created by 500 rural artisans.

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