Meet four women entrepreneurs helping women up their saree game
Saree is perhaps one piece of clothing that bears the heaviest of emotions. Delicately handcrafted and embroidered by weavers and artisans it travels from clusters and communities from rural parts of India to the market to a wardrobe , and then gets passed down from generation to generation.
Several entrepreneurs note that what was once considered too bulky for workwear is now making inroads as everyday wear for working women in urban India. Many are designing sarees with a touch of modernity to catch up with contemporary trends.
As more Indians engage with the nine yards, it has also created job opportunities to dying clusters of weavers and artisans across India.
Here are four women entrepreneurs who are bringing various weaves, colours, and patterns of sarees to the Indian and international market.
Mrinalini Shastry, Six Yards Plus
When draping a saree to work made her feel powerful, Mrinalini Shastry decided to start a brand that catered to urban working women in 2017.
The Indian School of Business alumna had worked with NGOs and social enterprises in the development sector 16 years and tapped into a network spanning different rural areas to source authentic sarees from across 20 states of India.
With a starting price of Rs 950, it offers a range of weaves including Godavari, Ikkat, Gamcha, Shibori, Kalamkari, Kota, Maheshwari, Phulla, Ponduru, Jamdani, among others.
They are available on its website, a flagship store in Hyderabad, and at Project Eve stores in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Mrinalini plans on expanding her retail business as well as entering the international market as well.
Started with an initial investment of Rs 11,000, Six Yards Plus’ revenues have grown 6x since inception and is on track to clock Rs 1 crore this year.
Sujata and Taniya Biswas, Suta
Sisters Sujata and Taniya Biswas have translated their emotions towards the saree into a profitable business with more than 1,400 artisans and weavers in the background.
The duo’s entrepreneurial journey involved extensive travel to villages of Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Varanasi, and West Bengal. They believe that despite their immense talent, the clusters of artisans and weavers are exploited by middlemen and have poor livelihoods.
In addition to their admiration for traditional drapes and entrepreneurial passion, empowering artisans has also been a key factor to start Suta in 2017. Notably, when the weaver and artisan communities were left without work during the nationwide lockdown, the startup continued to pay them salaries.
Based in Mumbai, Suta’s sarees feature a rich variety of weaves including jamdani, malmal, malkesh, and banarasi among others, catering to both domestic and international markets.
The brand recorded substantial growth with 228 percent sales growth in FY 2017-18, and 203 percent and 188 percent in the years 2018-19, and 2019-20, respectively.
Pallavi Mohadikar Patwari, Karagiri
Beginning with five weavers to now having 1,500 weavers on board whom entrepreneur Pallavi Mohadikar calls ‘magicians’, Karagiri provides a range of exclusive handcrafted sarees.
Granddaughter of a silk saree weaver, the IIM Lucknow alumna quit corporate jobs to travel and learn more about various weaves in India. In 2017, she launched Karagiri with her husband and the business tasted immediate success.
Started with an investment of Rs 3 lakh with 400 SKUs, it offers 10,000 SKUs catering to Indian as well as international customers from Singapore, the US, the UK, Dubai, Australia, Canada, and Malaysia, among others.
The startup recorded Rs 30 lakh and Rs 75 lakh in revenues in the fiscal year 2017 and 2018, respectively. Last year, it generated Rs 12 crore in revenue and is now on track to achieve Rs 20 crore for the current financial year.
Ipsita Dash, 6yardsandmore
Ipsita Dash nearly lost touch with her creative side during ten years of corporate life and a brief stint of entrepreneurship with her first startup TESTMIND, which prepares engineering graduates for the industry.
However, shifting to Noida led Ipsita Dash to explore colours and patterns and start 6yardsandmore with her sister Vinita Dash in 2016.
The duo started sourcing sarees from local weavers from across India, including Assam, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Lucknow, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, among many others. She also coordinates with the weavers to design their fusion collection that combines traditional designs with western and modern styles.
The duo introduced the Pravasi collection, targeting the NRIs and keeping in mind their need for the saree as occasional wear as opposed to daily wear as well as the weather conditions. Moving ahead, it hopes to expand further internationally and provide custom-designed products.
Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan