Sukanya Bhataacharya of Prathaa on building a conscious label, overcoming challenges, and impacting a whole community
When Mumbai-based Sukanya Bhataacharya embarked on a journey across the country, and met several artisans in the process, she felt the urge to revive the dying handloom and textile traditions of India.
This was her motivation to start Prathaa – a slow fashion, handloom-based, sustainable and environmentally conscious brand. Five years on, Sukanya has been able to provide a 5 percent Year-On-Year (Y-O-Y) increase to the weavers and artisans’ community and clusters, along with a gradual increase in the conscious fashion consumer community.
In a conversation with HerStory, Sukanya talks about her journey, the brand, designing a collection, challenges on the way, and finding incredible moments of success.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
What motivated you to start Prathaa and how long has it been for the platform?
India’s rich heritage and history of art and weaves are nearing extinction because of a lack of awareness and demand. As a result, weavers and artisans are leaving their primary skills and shifting towards regular jobs as low remuneration does not keep them motivated. The next generation also does not seem to be interested in taking the skills of their inherited art form forward. I started Prathaa to address this imbalance. Prathaa completed five years this March.
Since you work with artisans and weavers, how does Prathaa ensure that they are compensated rightfully?
The answer lies in the core vision of Prathaa itself - of creating sustainable livelihood for weavers and artisans and growing along the way.
Like I always say, Prathaa is a platform to nurture and develop a more evolved and mindful consumer community that make conscious purchase decisions. It is a long-term but sustainable model of creating a community committed to a lifestyle investment and we act as an active medium to create the market demand to ensure a continuous flow of income to our extended team of weavers and artisans.
What goes into all the different collections that you come up with?
Each Prathaa design goes through an elaborate birthing process and has a distinct story to tell.
Adhering to our commitment towards using mostly natural and breathable fabrics, we use the same to bring forth eye-catching styles. Aware that the Prathaa woman is a common woman, our design philosophy helps to keep it functional and real.
Sukanya Bhataacharya in Prathaa label
Minimalistic designs and innovative silhouettes form the core of the Prathaa ensemble. In a design palette that is always evolving, our focus is sharply on the quality and celebrating the uniqueness of fabrics used, rather than being just a trend follower.
How are you working towards being socially and environmentally sustainable?
As the weavers and artisans contribute to the success of Prathaa, we ensure that fair wages are paid to them.
Environmentally, we are a conscious fashion brand working on handloom overpower loom preserving/reviving handmade skill and heritage crafts of India, and in the process, also cutting down on power consumption. We work mostly with natural and eco-friendly dyes and weaves.
Upcycling and reaching a lesser waste space is a constant effort by everyone in the team. There are a lot of our collections that are created keeping this philosophy in mind like our patchwork edit and our latest Bindi collection.
Prathaa’s parallel ecosystem with an extension of the brand is called ‘ityaadi’, which mostly works on accessories created out of pre-retail scrap in our workspace. In this process, we also take social responsibility for the ladies in our neighborhood, training them with the skills of handmade and providing continuous livelihood to evolve them into skilled financially independent individuals. They create handmade jewelry, coasters, headbands, cardholders etc. All of this is made using pre-retail scraps, again with the objective of reaching a lesser waste ecosystem.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome them?
Prathaa is a passion project, so maintaining balanced emotions while taking a few commercial decisions to ensure that we adhere to the core vision of Prathaa has been a challenge. Especially while continuing to remain a conscious fashion brand.
Staying a slow fashion brand and being commercially viable has been a huge challenge.
We ensure that the weavers and artisans are given fair wages for the effort that goes into each handloom and handcrafted product. We do not compromise on the quality and hence cannot compromise on the prices too. Every time we think we have overcome this challenge, we are faced with a new challenge which we take as a learning and a new discovery.
The first success moment, however small it may sound, was on the launch day of Prathaa. We had a small home premier and the satisfaction when I counted the first Rs. 25,000 in cash that belonged to Prathaa, was amazing, says Sukanya Bhataacharya.
Tell us about your top three successful moments with Prathaa?
My moments revolve around very emotional factors. My return on investments is when I see something successful around my weavers or artisans, or some mindset-change in customers who are tough to break.
The first successful moment, however small it may sound, was on the launch day of Prathaa. We had a small home premier and the satisfaction when I counted the first Rs. 25,000 in cash that belonged to Prathaa, was amazing. This incident always helps me stay grounded while feeling good about how we have learned and grown every day in the last five years.
My next memorable moment is from the time of the pandemic. We all faced our own sets of challenges and sustaining in these difficult times was not easy. When some of my customers approached me to help the weaver community, I was pleased with the gesture. They offered monetary help but, to my surprise, my weavers refused the donations, as they wanted to work for it. This is my successful moment, inspiration, and my ROI! It is the faith that the weavers had in me and Prathaa that they refused the easy money coming their way. They were confident about getting work by staying with us.
Another memorable moment is from a very recent event, when I didn’t have any time to sit down because of the flow of customers. On the second day, I took a forced lunch break of 15 mins in the entire 10 hours.
By midday, my back had given in, and I was in a terrible state. I had my staff and customers helping me with the stock too. At the end of the day, when I was home, I received a message from one of the customers whom I didn't know. She was a doctor and observed my state during the day and sent me a prescription with details of what I should be doing to treat my back. I was amazed by the love and care from someone I didn't even know. They were customers and went out of their way to do this. This is the kind of community I aim to build.
What are your future goals with Prathaa?
A Y-O-Y 5 percent increase in our weavers and artisans’ community and clusters along with a gradual increase in the conscious fashion consumer community, without deviating from our quality, fair wages, and other core commitments.