[Startup Bharat] This home décor startup is keeping Indian handicrafts alive by working with artisans from remote parts of India
India is home to many different traditional handicrafts and skilled craftsmen found in hundreds of pockets all over the country. The Indian handicraft sector is the second largest employment market after agriculture.
Having grown up in Jammu, Nitika Gupta was aware of the state’s varied crafts. However, over the years, she also witnessed the slow decline of some of Jammu's crafts — as artisans started looking at other roles to make more money.
A love affair with Jammu’s handicrafts inspired Nitika to start.
The year-old, Delhi-headquartered craft-based home decor startup employs artisans from different parts of India, including the North East region, Himachal Pradesh, and the Jammu region.
“Most of our products are my ground-up work. I had sketched these designs on paper and sat with the artisans, and we made prototypes. We then saw what cost we were getting out of this, and the price we can demand,” says Nitika.
Last year, the bootstrapped startup clocked a turnover of Rs 9 lakh. Pine Cone has a community of over 5,000 Instagram followers, of which 250 are the startup’s repeat customers.
“We make connections with people who are contributing to our journey by buying from us,” says Nitika, adding, “I have special connections with each one of them. If you name a customer of ours, I can tell you where they are from and what they do!"
At Pine Cone, Nitika designs the products and the artisans work alongside her to bring these designs to life and target customers who believe in a sustainable lifestyle.
“When I was doing my home, I realised this sort of farmhouse decor was very appealing. It reflects the idea of slow sustainable life and promotes the idea of using the products over and over again,” says Nitika.
She continues, “The kind of decor we create, reflects the idea of not indulging in too many things, and of simple living.”
The NIFT graduate and IIM, Calcutta alumnus has spent the last 12 years in corporate organisations in multiple roles, including the last nine years at Timex Group. Nitika saw herself as an entrepreneur, but a few more years down the line, she tells YourStory. However, the pandemic made her prepone her plans.
“This is not just about making money. The pandemic made people realise what is of actual value,” she says.
“The idea of a slow and sustainable life came into existence as people spent more time at home, and it reflected very quickly on brands and businesses. This gave me a cue to prepone my idea of working with crafts in India,” she adds.
At present, Pine Cone operates as a Direct-To-Consumer (D2C) business, mainly through its Instagram store. The startup also sells through some offline stores in Delhi and Hyderabad.
Besides, Pine Cone is involved in brand collaborations, where Nitika gives them exclusive product designs based on the brief provided by the brand and the artisans help create them. In fact, some brands also purchase existing designs.
“Before we completed a year, we even received a big order from a startup, backed by one of the big business houses in the country. Orders like these give you an idea of the scope of a concept like this and if it's going to be in the running for a long time,” says Nitika.
Working with artisans
Pine Cone has artisans in Assam, Manipur, parts of Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu, who specialise in the traditional arts of these areas. Applying their knowledge and skills, they create home decor pieces.
Almost 90 percent of the artisans employed by Pine Cone are women in remote parts of India.
“We have close to 15 to 18 artisans who work under us directly. These artisans are part of clusters in the villages that train together and work together. So, we have access to many more artisans,” Nitika explains.
Presently, Pine Cone has four clusters of artisans — two in Assam, one in Manipur, and one in Himachal. Some of these artisans are employed on a salary basis, while others are on a work-wage basis.
“The clusters in Assam, Manipur, and Himachal are running continuously, but the cluster in Jammu is still developing and is not getting any orders as of now,” she highlights.
The products designed by Nitika for Pine Cone are often a fusion of two different forms of craftsmanship. For instance, some of the products are a mix of basketry and macrame art.
However, these artisans do not make products in bulk because Pine Cone's products are made to order as the startup promotes thoughtful purchasing habits.
Presently an Instagram store, Pine Cone will launch its website by the end of January 2022. The startup envisions 3X growth by 2022 end and expects 10X growth by the end of 2025.