Started with an aim to empower weavers and artisans, Yak Carpets is now exporting to around 30 countries

In a conversation with SMBStory, second-generation entrepreneur Sakshi Talwar, Director of Ecommerce and Overseas Operations, Yak Carpets, speaks about the journey of the 45-year-old brand.
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Carpet weaving in India dates back to the 16th century. Indian handmade rugs have wide international appeal, despite competition from countries such as Turkey, China, Iran, Afghanistan, and the US that specialises in machine-made carpets.

According to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), India is the world's largest producer and exporter of handmade carpets in terms of value and volume, and around 75-85 percent of carpets manufactured in India are exported. India is also responsible for around 40 percent of the worldwide export of handmade carpets, and the export of carpets from India stood at $ 1.37 billion in FY20. 

India houses numerous carpet brands that are making a mark in the global market. Some of the popular ones include The Rug Republic, Kaleen India, Obeetee, Saif Carpets, and others. 

Joining the bandwagon is Delhi-based Yak Carpet, which is exporting carpets to around 30 countries. Started in 1976 by Harash Talwar, today the company manufactures and exports carpets to Australia, the UK, the US, and other countries.

SMBStory spoke to second-generation entrepreneur, Sakshi Talwar, Director of Ecommerce and Overseas Operations, Yak Carpet, about the journey of the brand. 

Edited excerpts from the interview:

SMBStory [SMBS]: Tell us about how Yak Carpet was started?

Sakshi Talwar [ST]: Yak Carpet has been in existence for more than 42 years now. It was started by my father, Harash Talwar, in 1975 after he returned from Germany. He dabbled in various jobs in Germany and ultimately ended up working for a carpet company. Here, he fell in love with the art and craftsmanship. When he came back to India, he decided to start Yak Carpet to empower Indian weavers and artisans, and introduce Indian craftsmanship to a global audience. 

It has been a long journey with lots of ups and downs. Today, we manufacture and sell carpets through retail, exports, and also launched our ecommerce business, Rugs and Beyond. The company employs about 50-70 people. 

Our DNA has always been handmade carpets. Handmade carpets are hand knotted. We are also into hand-tufted carpets, but we don’t specialise in it. We do it only when there is a customer request. 

We also source carpets from Persia and Afghanistan and sell them to our clients. 

SMBS: When did you join the business? As a second-generation entrepreneur, what were the changes you brought about in the business?

ST: After completing my graduation from India, I went to the US to pursue a degree in MBA in Finance in 2009. Thereafter, I worked for a bit, and also pursued a design course from Parsons School of Design, New York, as I always had a creative bent. I came back to India in 2012 and joined the family business full time. 

I started exploring different verticals, and launched the ecommerce arm in 2015 with the influx of digitisation, and started designing carpets. We also got involved in a lot of trade shows across the world. 

Fundamentally, the idea was to marry the traditional concept of running a carpet business with modern means. That is something we continue to do even today.

SMBS: You have been in the business for some time now. What are some of the factors that have helped you survive and thrive?

ST: Making a carpet is not easy, and it is a very laborious process. Sometimes it takes about six to eight months to prepare a carpet. This challenge remains even today. Talking about quality, we don’t let anyone other than our master weavers work on the handmade carpets. The raw materials, mainly silk, comes from China. Sourcing the best raw materials is the key. 

We own two manufacturing units and two are contractual. All four are spread across Uttar Pradesh, Agra, Rajasthan, and Kashmir. We also experiment a lot. For example, we use jute, sisal, and saree silk to manufacture rugs. Recently, moving towards sustainable means, we also started using recycled plastic bottles as raw materials for creating rugs. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

SMBS: Over the years, how has the carpet industry evolved? How has technology and digitisation changed the game?

ST: The industry has evolved a lot in the last 40 years. Earlier, the carpet industry was less organised and much more fragmented. There were no CAD (computer-aided designs) or modern techniques. Today, the production process has sped up a lot because machines have replaced many processes.  

Today, weavers are more focussed on modern techniques and contemporary designs. Furthermore, social media and digital marketing have changed a lot of things. Also, several players have come and the industry has become crowded.

SMBS: What is India’s position in the global landscape? What is its standing compared to China?

ST: India’s strength lies in handmade carpets. The country accounts for more than 60 percent of the world's market share as far as handmade carpets are concerned.

China is nowhere close to India in this segment. They make machine-made carpets and they do that job well, they are experts in that field. 

To conclude, India’s position in the global market is very strong.

SMBS: Why are 90 percent of carpets manufactured in India exported and only 10 percent consumed in the domestic market?

ST: Handmade carpets are very intrinsic and they require a lot of effort and it takes months to prepare them. Hand-tufted carpets are prepared using a tufting gun. They are in a way mechanised and prepared with much lesser effort than the hand-knotted ones. A lot of customers don’t prefer handmade carpets because they are high ticket value products. When a customer is looking for a cheaper alternative, hand-tufted carpets work well.

SMBS: Why are you not listed on any ecommerce platforms?

ST: We sell only through our portal (Rugs and Beyond) and not through ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon or Flipkart to maintain exclusivity. We also sell in India through two standalone stores and have about 30 selling stores. 

Furthermore, the US is a very large market for our country. We also export to the UK, Australia, and South Africa. 

SMBS: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the business?

ST: The retail industry was definitely impacted due to the lockdown. Our sales are usually higher during this period considering it is the winter season and also because of festivals. But things are better now and looking bright. Moreover, as more and more people are spending time at home, they are refurbishing and renovating their houses, which has triggered some demand for carpets.

Going forward, we are looking at collaborating with the hospitality industry and introducing new product categories. Our focus on sustainable alternatives in terms of raw materials will also increase in the coming times.
Edited by Megha Reddy