Fusing Indian art with lifestyle products, this artist built a multi-crore biz

Suman Sonthalia’s Aakriti Art creates a fusion of regional arts to make functional products like furniture, handicrafts, home décor and utility items, jewellery, etc.

Fusing Indian art with lifestyle products, this artist built a multi-crore biz

Tuesday May 09, 2023,

5 min Read

Key Takeaways

  • Aakriti Art Creations employs a variety of traditional art forms and blends them to create unique product designs.
  • Suman Sonthalia, Founder of Aakriti Art, won the President's National Award for Master Craftsperson in 2011.
  • Started selling Warli Art paintings, Aakriti now offers a wide range of furniture and home decor items.

Growing up in a middle-class family in the small town of Bhagalpur in Bihar, Suman Sonthalia had a cap on her dreams. Instead of aiming big, she was expected to only get a basic education, do housework, and pick up skills like sewing and weaving—all towards finding a good match. 

However, Sonthalia had other plans.

“I played along. I did things I was expected to do, but in my mind, I knew my life was not going to be just this,” she tells SMBStory.

Today, Sonthalia is the founder of Sahibabad-based Aakriti Art Creations and the recipient of the President's National Award for Master Craftsperson (Shilp Guru). 

Suman Sonthalia

Aakriti Art Creations employs a variety of traditional and folk-art forms. It blends them to create distinctive designs and produces lifestyle products across categories like furniture, handicrafts, home décor and utility items, jewellery, and so on. The products range in price from Rs 100 to Rs 3 lakh.

The brand has 3,000 SKUs in its portfolio. These include dining tables, racks, cabinets, sofas, loungers, mirrors, lampshades, ceramics, earrings, necklaces, and so on.  

The entrepreneurial journey

After moving to Delhi after marriage, Sonthalia visited a craft museum where she was studying and replicating a painting. That’s when a bystander made an offer to buy her artwork if she wished to make more. It was then that she began painting and selling Warli art. The motive was simple—she wanted to be financially independent. 

She trained and formed a team of six women, and started working with them from the living room of her rented house. In 1998, she established Aakriti Art. 

Aakriti Art

Aakriti's products

“I created a fusion of Warli and Dhokra art in a painting for the Central Cottage Emporium in Janpath,” tells the founder. Her life experiences—coming from a rural background and settling in an urban landscape—are reflected in her art.

Regional art

Aakriti showcases a fusion of regional arts from different states. These include Warli from Maharashtra, Madhubani from Bihar, Dhokra and Pattachitra from West Bengal, Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh, Mandana from Rajasthan, and Gond from Chattisgarh. 

“In just one product, we give a glimpse of different Indian states. Each product has a story to tell,” says Sonthalia. 

The company’s B2B clients include Pepperfry, itokri, Central Cottage Emporium, Fabindia, Shoppers Stop, as well as other local stores. Additionally, it sells through D2C channels like Amazon, Flipkart, and its own website, aakriti.store. It also has a small outlet attached to its factory in Sahibabad industrial area from where customers can directly buy.

By 2004, Sonthalia realised that the demand for paintings was not as high so she decided to combine art with utility. Aakriti then started making home utility items like vases, trays, jars, mugs, and so on. From 2004 to 2007, the team grew to 25 members and the brand’s products started gaining recognition for the use of environment-friendly materials to make innovative designs.

In 2008, she and her husband, Banke Bihari Sonthalia, invested Rs 50 lakh to purchase a workspace in Ghaziabad to enable the business to expand into more categories, particularly wooden products. As it moved into a more professional space, the company started getting orders from bigger stores like Fabindia. 

Currently, there are 150 employees on the company’s payroll out of whom 100 are women trained free of cost. Aakriti also involves hundreds of artisans from states including Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal. Sonthalia has trained more than a thousand women till now and helped them become financially independent.

Foraying into new categories

In 2009, she established a factory in Sahibabad Industrial Area in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh as the volume of work increased. It houses a furniture manufacturing unit, sample showroom, handicraft assembly unit, and design studio.

Aakriti began producing furniture in 2010–2011 which is now currently one of its best-selling categories. While it started selling only stools, it now has a whole range of furniture, including beds, sofas, dining tables, wardrobes, and swings. 

Aakriti Art

Aakriti's furniture

The furniture is made of pure teakwood with a walnut finish and is mostly targeted towards the upper-middle and upper classes. It starts from Rs 5,000 and goes up to Rs 3 lakh. 

Sonthalia’s son, Utsav Sonthalia, joined the business as the Chief Technology Officer in 2014 to focus on online and target consumers aged 20-30. Since 2016, the company has started focusing more on digital and exports. 

In the last year, Aakriti has exported products worth Rs 3 crore—both directly or indirectly—through its clients like the Maharashtra-based Asha Handicrafts. It is currently exporting to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and the UK.

Aakriti also started selling jewellery during the pandemic to a good response. On average, it receives around two lakh visitors each month to its website.

Going forward

While many of Aakriti’s B2B clients do not sell its products under its label, the company will now focus more on selling directly. 

The brand has recently got a jewellery order from Italy. “There is great potential for this category in the European market. We are planning to focus more on exports,” she adds. 

Though Sonthalia relies on the quality of its products to expand its business, she wants more help from the government in exporting. “As a national awardee, I have gained recognition because of the government, but government policies and initiatives have not been of much help in getting orders,” says the founder.

The company aims to double its revenue by the next financial year.

(The copy was updated to correct a name.)

Edited by Kanishk Singh