Moulding talent: This pottery brand empowers tribals to sell terracotta creations
Arundhati Badhe has always been fascinated with nature and believes in taking inspiration from one’s environment. She studied ceramics and pottery at the reputed JJ School of Arts where she encountered terracotta and fell in love with the material.
She continued to experiment with terracotta to create unique works of art and craft. A clay-based earthenware material, terracotta is very versatile and environment-friendly. The founder saw it as a sustainable alternative to plastics as it has a high utility quotient.
In 2013, at a pottery workshop arranged by Prolite Autoglo in Hamrapur, Maharashtra, Arundhati trained over 100 members of the Warli tribe in the art of making terracotta. Their zeal and potential in the art of ceramics made her see an opportunity to give back to the community. She approached Prolite Autoglo for investment, and they agreed.
Arundhati decided to train a group of tribals in 2013, and eight years later launched Hamrapur-based Trance Terra as a marketplace to sell terracotta creations made by the tribal community. “It was born out of experience in working with the material, combined with a desire to bring our modern-day lifestyles a little closer to Mother Earth,” the Founder tells SMBStory.
Building out of a community
The first challenge Arundhati faced was in upskilling them as they didn’t have any hands-on experience with pottery. The company started with two employees, and now employs fourteen tribals, none of whom have left Trance Terra, says Arundhati, except one.
“They didn’t really know anything about pottery but were already familiar with handicrafts, although they would only make items for personal use. They didn’t have actual hands-on experience with making products per se. I saw that as an opportunity; it was a skill that we could teach them,” she recalls.
Though they had no sales operation, after the tribals were sufficiently skilled, Arundhati opened a production factory in Hamrapur in March 2022.
Trance Terra makes a variety of terracotta products—from cookware such as casseroles and fruit baskets to wall lights. They also consider customer input and make customised versions of products according to their wishes, says Ayesha.
The brand doesn’t function like a typical ecommerce portal. Whenever the platform receives a new order, the employees are consulted before undertaking the project to get an idea of whether it can be delivered.
“For example, during the recent Diwali season, we got a particularly large order for five hundred pieces of custom terracotta earthenware,” explains Ayesha Parbhoo, Marketing and Growth Consultant at Trance Terra. “Initially we were hesitant about accepting the order, but after talking to our employees, we went ahead.”
While the factory makes use of several machines, the production is largely human-driven.
Every terracotta product goes through a multi-step process of preparing the clay, shaping it, making the final touches, and finally, baking it. The entire process can take 10-12 days for a single product. This necessitates forethought before accepting large orders, according to Trance Terra.
“Take the Diwali order we were talking about. The client had given us the freedom to choose a design of our choice, and there were two options. Since a lot of pieces were to be made, we split the order into two batches—one of each design. Such decisions can only be taken when you have a good relationship with the people who work with you and when they’re comfortable to have their say—we have always encouraged that,” says Ayesha.
When it comes to marketing, Trance Terra employs a combination of online and offline media promotions. This has resulted in 40% of orders coming through their online portal. The rest are received as in-person orders over call as well as from physical stalls and pop-up stores.
The company usually displays its wares at The Green Co-op at BKC in Mumbai. It launched itself on Nykaa Fashion in October 2022, and plans to soon expand its social media reach by working with bloggers, content creators, and celebrities to endorse its products.
Sustainability and the future
“As a company, profit is definitely a concern to us, but what’s more important is building a community and driving sustainable living,” Arundhati says. “Making sustainable products is important but how to use them is something more people need to be aware of and we focus on educating our customers by including pamphlets with every product, with information on the product and how to use and maintain it.”
Trance Terra does not make earthenware like diyas (lamps) or matkas (pots) that is commonly used in Indian homes. Arundhati took the decision in order to not become a competition to the existing small businesses and craftsmen who make their livelihood off such products.
The company ensures that its products are eco-friendly and non-toxic. Even the dyes are prepared in-house using natural glazed colours. The company also plans to create eco-friendly recycling and packaging products, as well as make more lighting designs.
It also ensures that the products are durable by baking the terracotta at 1,050 degrees Celsius, which also keeps the nutrient value of edibles placed in it intact. Ayesha says that if used properly, products like terracotta bowls, tumblers, and so on can be just as long-lasting as their glass counterparts.
Trance Terra currently makes over 2,000 pieces a month. Started with an initial sale of Rs 2,400 in the first month of its launch, the company now rakes in Rs 4 lakh to Rs 6 lakh per month. It aims to record sales worth Rs 1.2 crore over 2023.
The company currently has no immediate plans for funding, and looks to grow organically. As for the future, Trance Terra plans to employ more artisans and widen their product range. “Our aim as of now is to grow the business at our own pace, and work on better products throughout the journey,” Ayesha says.
Edited by Kanishk Singh