How this sister-duo from two cities are aiding artisans and running a business through WhatsApp

Sisters Priya Namdev and Ashi Sirbhaiya started Kala Saga to promote artisans and handloom products.

Growing up in a household that treasured handmade goods, sisters Priya Namdev and Ashi Sirbhaiya were upset to see that mass produced items were replacing intricately-crafted traditional handcrafted products.

In fact, they firmly believe that embracing Indian handicrafts and artisans would not only go a long way in reducing carbon footprint, but that the efforts of these craftspersons deserved a much larger platform, especially in markets in Dubai and the US.

“We realised that the artisans who are making these products are not getting the value of their hard work. Though they are selling at a very good price, the artisans themselves were not earning well. So, when we saw the big market, we wanted to promote these products, and also teach them about the same,” says Ashi.

So, in 2018, to share the stories of these artisans, the duo started Kala Saga (loosely translates to ‘Stories of Artisans’) and set off on a journey to aid them.

They began by visiting a village about 200 kilometres away from Indore, Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district, famous for a type of block print called Bagh. The sisters engaged with these artisans and sourced the various fabrics from them.

“We specify the sizes and dimensions and take their fabrics to an NGO in Bhopal, that works with about 40 women doing embroidery work, and making cushion covers, mats and other articles,” shares Priya.

While Priya, based in Indore, deals with the artisans, Ashi, who is based in Bhopal, gets the products ready with the NGO. Once the products are ready, they upload the images onto the social media handles of Kala Saga. Each of the products range from anything between Rs 200 to Rs 3,500 based on the intricacy of the design.

Products from Kala Saga

In terms of promoting these products further, they found WhatsApp Business to be extremely user-friendly.

“While, it takes significant time and effort to add people to our community on other platforms, we find it very easy to talk to our customers over WhatsApp. We upload our list of products by using the catalog feature on WhatsApp and share the link widely so that customers can choose products within the app, says Ashi.

They also have a group that helps circulate messages and provide regular updates to customers. Moreover, customers with only WhatsApp on their smartphone and no social media accounts can also access their products.

“The label feature to track products shipped and pending payments is also very useful in managing the business,” says Priya.

She also said that she couldn't circulate their personal contact number. “So, we got a new number and started a WhatsApp Business account,” she adds.

Overcoming challenges

“The idea to start Kala Saga was to promote artisans and handloom products because the tradition is so rich. But it is gradually dying, and nobody values handlooms as much due to the machine-made products. Moreover, artisans are also leaving this generations-old profession and venturing into new areas to find work and support their livelihood,” narrates Priya.

The pandemic made it difficult to connect with artisans. “Since these artisans are used to dealing with people in person, they needed a lot of convincing to trust technology to accept orders and money,” says Ashi.

While some artisans were sceptical of sharing their bank details, others would take the money and not deliver the products. However, Ashi brushes it off by saying it is a part and parcel of the business.

The duo has clear plans for the road ahead.

“Currently, WhatsApp contributes to about 25 percent of our total sales. In the next five years, we plan to launch a website to share artisans’ stories and the projects we are working on. We are also looking at eco-friendly ways to package our merchandise.”

This story is part of a series spotlighting extraordinary, inspiring women from different walks of life for the See Us, Hear Us campaign powered by WhatsApp for International Women’s Day. You can read more such stories from the month-long campaign here.


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