Why this woman entrepreneur left a decade-long job at IBM to help revive the handicrafts sector

Ila Kapoor Chaddah left a cushy corporate career, her last stint being at IBM, to start Ziba by Hand, a digital platform that aims to promote everything handmade.

Ila Kapoor Chaddah, the Founder of Ziba by Hand, always had a desire to do something truly impactful, especially in the field of arts and crafts.

“I was personally very fond of everything handmade, handlooms and sustainable. I noticed how fast fashion and related lifestyles were destroying our environment. At the same time, there were grassroot artisans and fashion designers who were trying to reinvent not just crafts but creating new sustainable fabrics from material like hemp,” she says.

This prompted her to start Ziba by Hand – a digital platform that aims at promoting everything handmade along with sustainability in everyday lifestyle choices.

After completing her bachelor’s and master’s from Delhi University, Ila put in a couple of internship stints at Big 4 companies like KMPG, E&Y, and PwC, and went on to start a career as an econometrician at American Express followed by a decade of management consulting in IBM.

“My consulting years focused strongly on analytics, digital marketing, and design thinking. This is where I realised that these can be very strong empowering tools for small creative entrepreneurs, small artisans, and homegrown India brands,” says Ila on the idea behind starting Ziba by Hand.

Beautiful and handmade

‘Ziba’ in Persian, Ila explains means beautiful and, therefore, she believes everything handmade is beautiful – the makers, craft, and the heritage behind it are just as beautiful as the product itself, and these stories need to be told.

Ziba by Hand curates homegrown designers and craftsmen who use traditional Indian craft and textile in a modern way, creating sustainable fashion and decor while bringing back the rich heritage of Indian art and handloom. It also explores how traditional techniques are finding expression in cross-cultural contemporary aesthetic. To this end, Ila partners with a careful selection of designers and artisans to ensure they are provided a fair platform to help them grow their web stores as well as participate in its pop-ups and events

“Over the years our online platform has presented entrepreneurial slow design studios, independent designers, sustainable design companies, ethnic art & craft clusters, artists, food artisans, and art & craft businesses from all across India,” she adds.

Challenges in the handicrafts sector

According to Ziba, the Indian handicrafts sector employs over seven million people directly and indirectly, including a large number of women and those from the weaker sections of society. But it is still plagued by different challenges.

“Access to the right markets is still a problem. Digital India has given a huge boost to even the smallest of entrepreneurs but they still lack training and the right skill set to use the digital medium in the most effective ways. Taxation laws too need more reforms as they are still not as supportive for small businesses including artisans and small designers,” she elaborates.

Therefore, any creative small business owner can take the help of Ziba by Hand to further its business.

The company has held six events so far and garnered a great response.

“It’s rare to find similar curations in India that sell everything “handmade”. We consciously try to stay away from the tag of a craft bazaar. All the brands that work with us are ethical and sustainable and create some beautiful awe-inspiring products whether its saree or stationery,” she says of Ziba by Hand’s USP.

Online and offline support

Ila with the artists

Ila works with designers, artisans, and makers from all over India and a few South Asian countries as well. These designers in turn work extensively with ground level artisans trying to revive some old traditional Indian crafts, whether its kantha, chikankari, kutch work or Kashmiri embroidery.

“I have met the most amazing and creative people through this platform and discovered some cool new creative makers and creative souls every day. I have also realised that creative entrepreneurs and small businesses run by women need a voice and a platform to find genuine customers who appreciate their work. Ziba by Hand creates that platform both online and offline.”

The company is currently bootstrapped with a majority of revenue coming from the events organised, where brands pay a specific amount to participate. Apart from this, it also offers workshops and consulting for brands.

While its biggest success has been impacting the lives of a number of people, it has faced a challenge in getting the right set of people to be a “part of a team that is as passionate about what they are doing”.

The company’s future plans including taking its pop-ups and events to more cities in India.

“We have done Chandigarh, Delhi, Gurugram, and Bengaluru. We want to explore more in Mumbai and Tier-II cities in India. Hence the team would also be expanded, especially in business development and designing. We also want to focus more on our digital consulting arm and conduct workshops for small creative businesses. With the team’s strong background in analytics, design thinking, and digital marketing – we believe these areas can be strong empowering tools for small businesses,” says Ila.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)


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