Hyderabad startup Inde' Loom champions handloom sarees by weaving a brighter future for artisans
Indian women reignited their love affair with sarees after two Bengaluru-based women started the #100SareePact in 2015. Since then, the spotlight has been shining particularly bright on the six-yard piece of apparel, particularly handloom sarees. However, the artisans who make these gorgeous sarees often end up being exploited by middlemen, and underpaid at least 50 percent lesser than standard living wages.
It was to solve this problem and ensure that artisans get their due that Sandhya Tholi and Suren Chowdhary started Hyderabad-based Inde’ Loom, a “maker-to-market” handloom collective. Keen to help “local go global”, the startup works with artisans and weavers across India to offer better, handcrafted products to women shoppers globally. Along the way, they ensure that the makers earn a fair share in “safe working conditions”.
“We have connected with almost all award-winning artisans and weavers across India to work with us on this project. We don't have middlemen, and so pass all the extra money to weavers directly, help them earn more profits and wages,” says Suren Chowdhary, Co-founder, Inde’ Loom.
Founded in 2018, the startup sells both online and offline artisan-made sarees in natural fibres and soft cotton. Apart from its own website, the startup also lists its products on online marketplace Etsy. Offline, it sells via home-based resellers, rack spaces in boutiques, and display pop-ups at trunk shows.
Supporting artisans and weavers
The name Inde’ Loom (Inde’ as in French for India and Loom for artisans) is centred on showcasing “what can be done by the looms of India” to the whole world by intertwining the country’s rich heritage with modern-day elements.
“Majority of these artisans are illiterate, don’t get upskilling opportunities, and don't know how to benefit from various government schemes that can cut their input costs by 20-30 percent and raise their profit margins by 60-70 percent,” Suren says.
The startup directly works with artisans and weavers across India to train, upskill, and help them avail of government schemes such as the Yarn Supply Scheme (where weavers get access to original certified natural yarns such as silk at a discounted price).
The for-profit company has satellite offices in West Bengal (Nadia, Shantiniketan and Kalna), Gujarat (Bhujodi), and Kashmir.
The Inde’ Loom difference
Inde’ Loom connects handloom lovers across the globe with collectives produced by master artisans/weavers across handloom clusters in India.
“Our USP is sarees that are pure handloom; high-end designs that are handmade. Each of these sarees takes two to three months to be made, and some (made of pure organza silk and hand-painted) weigh less than 200 gm,” Sandhya Tholi, Co-founder, Inde' Loom tells SocialStory.
The dream team
Sandhya, a commerce graduate, has sales and marketing experience after working with brands such as Amway, Max Life Insurance etc. At Inde’ Loom, she looks after sales, marketing, and networking.
Suren is a management graduate from IEMI Paris, France, and has global work experience of working with startups and consulting firms in the US, the UK, Europe, and East Asia. Suren looks after operations, interactions with artisans, design innovations, skilling, re-skilling, digital media, and growth strategies.
The startup currently has a 12-member team.
Inde’ Loom’s target audience comprises women who love slow fashion, handloom, and handmade products, but are unable to find the right platform to buy due to lack of trust and traceability.
“At Inde’ Loom, each product is tagged with videos that showcase its ‘making’. So the real work done is captured before the products hit the shelves. This brings immense happiness to artisans as they get respect for their work. Shoppers also find real treasures, with interesting design elements, colours, and aesthetics. These handloom/handmade products are much more fashionable than others,” Sandhya says.
A strong user base
The one-year-old startup claims that it is growing 30 percent month on month in revenues and sales. Its products are priced between Rs 4,500 and Rs 18,000, and the startup has listed more than 4,00 products on its website. With a user base of around 10,000, the startup claims to currently receive five to six online orders per day.
Since inception, the one-year-old bootstrapped startup has generated revenue of Rs 40 lakh. It is targeting revenue of Rs 2 crore in the current fiscal.
“We are just not an online seller. We have a hybrid sales model based on online, retail rack spaces, home-based resellers, and trunk shows,” Suren says.
For selling its products offline, Inde’ Loom has a network of 40 resellers in India and the US; most of these are women who operate from homes. It also supplies products to select boutiques in India (Kochi, Vijayawada, Delhi, and Bengaluru), the US, the UK, and Poland, and works with them on a profit-sharing model.
The startup has also done trunk shows in Indian cities, including Hyderabad, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Bengaluru, Vijayawada, and Mumbai.
Market outlook and the future
With over 4.3 million people directly and indirectly involved in production, the handloom industry is the second largest employment provider for the rural population in India after agriculture, according to the Handloom Export Promotion Council.
Exports of handloom products from India were valued at $355.91 million in FY18.
Interest in the sector is growing. Earlier this year, Microsoft India launched an ecommerce platform, re-weave.in, to empower handloom weavers, as part of the company’s philanthropic initiative, Project ReWeave. The platform is aimed at helping artisans connect with buyers.
Last year, Amazon India added handloom and handicraft items of an online handloom store, Weavesmart, which is supported by the government of India, on its platform. This initiative aims to enable over 3,000 weavers.
Flipkart-owned Myntra also partnered with the Textile Ministry in 2018 and launched Navibhu, a private handloom brand, to provide a platform for more than 250 styles of traditional hand-woven products.
The market is clearly there, and the Inde’ Loom founders are keen to grab a big chunk even as they enable hundreds of weavers and artisans across India.
“In the next phase of growth, Inde’ Loom plans to raise a seed capital of Rs 3 crore to introduce more innovative designs, invest in weaver skills training center and for scaling rack spaces numbers to 200 in 30 cities,” Suren says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)