Lal10 – When Art meets Business
The story of how a bunch of MBAs who moonlight as Classical dancers, Art lovers, Food critics, Poets and History buffs, collaborated for an e-commerce platform to celebrate the jewel that is India.Sushil Dev
“Why do you close your eyes when you sing carols?”
The 12 year old curious me asked my convent teacher Sister Fatima. She replied in her soft patronizing tone “My child, a person has to channelize all his senses to picture and seek something he strongly believes in. That ideal vision, the very image of it, keeps him going”
The child in me did not fully comprehend the wisdom of the saying, but by god, he wanted to give it his all, to make life a little like the sugary tales taught by his teachers.
Coming from a family of art lovers, the love for art came to me like flying to a fledgling bird. And the ideal vision that I dreamed of was to be a teller of tales, those tales which touched the rich artistic and cultural vein of our nation.
With a camera and diary in my hand I started my journey to realize my vision by exploring the lives of artisans of our country. But the picture that I saw deeply disturbed me and was nowhere near the vision that my teacher had asked me to envisage.
A household kolhapuri chappal maker Bhavesh was struggling to sell his stock due to an unexpected early monsoon - A season when the demand dwindles drastically. He had to sell his stock at half the cost price to keep his family functioning, and he refuses to get back to this artwork and will instead work as a coolie.
Few similar experiences later, I realized if I had continued to remain just a teller of tales about the art and crafts of India, all I could pen was a glorious eulogy of a once thriving culture which is heading towards a slow and painful death.
To be a teller of glorious tales, I had to, in some minor way, make sure the story happened in the first place.Entrepreneurship- being the master of my own business seemed to be the only viable solution to make a glorious story happen.
And one fine evening in a classical music night at my college (NITIE) I bumped into a few juniors. In them I found like minded history and art junkies; people who got their kicks and highs on classical dancing, shaayari and oil painting. We didn’t take time to strike a chord of friendship.
Over next few days we chatted how the so claimed original foods we get in Mumbai are just wax-models of the foods which our Gujarati, Hyderabadi & Tamil taste buds are craving for. How some of us want to purchase products native to their places of origin but will simply won’t find them in Mumbai. All of us shared my concern that the fragile world of artists may face a taciturn crumble if it doesn’t find supportive ecosystem and if commercial channels of earning through art for reclusive artists go dry, they may drift into other professions making century long tenacious arts a history.
A freewheeling of ideas happened. We toyed with the idea of opening a kiosk specializing in indigenous products in our college, pondered whether we can sell some of authentic products in the souvenir shop at college. Finally the whole team zeroed in for an e-commerce platform.
We knew we were up to something that can indeed make a difference to the lives of all the creative artisans. The vision and mission of our firm revolved around two goals. Profitably providing expansion avenues for artisans and craftsmen and helping culture lovers to obtain authentic products and the stories behind them with the comforts of e-commerce.
The odds were stacked against us. Saulkuchi from Assam proved itself to be a logistical marathon. Fragile cane jewellery required us to be the epitome of diligence while transporting. A race against time beckoned us while sourcing native delicacies across the country. And some sceptics even said that Ikat, Chanderi or Maheshwari is not going to stand against Armanis and Hidesign. They claimed we will soon see twilight. But we refuse to go gentle into that goodnight.
Yeah MBA has taught us practicality. But after all we claim to love art and creativity. And how can we be true in that claim if we are just settled with the status quo.
We, The Outliers, have our credentials at stake. We kept going. Agreed, many of our alumni whom we contacted with our idea wished us “All the best” as a formality or out of courtesy. But there were a few whose smile and excitement were palpable across the phone when we narrated them our story. They helped us with guidance and seed money, maybe our craze was infectious.
Mai akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil,
Log aate gae aur Karvaan banta gaya
Our caravan is perpetuating pleasantly fast. Despite road blocks and stumbles, we have our eyes closed like Sister Fatima, to focus on the image of future lal10. That ideal vision, the very image of it, keeps us going.