Artisans form the backbone of non-farm rural economy in India with an estimated 7 million of the rural population engaging in the sector for their livelihoods. They operate at the cluster-level with each cluster making one or more crafts and producing variety of product types.
The sad part that we came across during our travel to rural parts of the country was that there is a lack of proper infrastructure and distribution channels for these artisans to market their products tothe masses. For instance, the only distribution channel for a self-help group of women in Tharu belt of Uttar Pradesh was to go to a local, annual exhibition in Lucknow to showcase and sell their raw jute products. Similar stories were experienced in clusters across Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
Global handicraft market is estimated at $400bn with India contributing hardly two per cent to it even after sheltering 40% of the global artisan workforce! This huge disparity shows the gap that lies for the Indian handicraft products in reaching out to the global audience. With increasing internet penetration in the rural parts of the country, there is a great opportunity to digitally promote Indian crafts.
We made a WhatsApp group of artisans in the cluster of Kutch along with some buyers from both national as well as international communities. The artisan community used to push their products along with price and other details on the WhatsApp group. The pilot worked wonders as we started observing that the group is generating transactions, helping us to gauge the buyingrequirements and interest from the clients.
Selling to Businesses
Over the years and working in different states we realized that the comfort factor for an artisan lies in working with people who can understand their problems better and not force them to bring about drastic changes in their working ecosystem. A direct-to-consumer model would make them keep inventory until an order is placed or would require our entity to outright purchasethe stock from them. This requires a lot of expenditure on marketing, cataloging and inventory management to keep the demand engine running for a want-based product.
We wanted to create something sustainable for the artisan community. Today, we deal in varied crafts from 22 states leading to a variety of products on our platform. The wide range helped us in getting insights on the buyer profile. The business to business model helps us in generating leads for the particular cluster and then place orders from that artisan community.We have an on-ground sales team to reach out to these buyers in different locations.They also help us in establishing right product-market fits for the cluster and then keeps the order cycle going with penetration into similar market sectors. For the artisans placing a bulk order would mean that their wages for that 2-3 weeks’ time is fixed and they can rely on that income for their livelihood.
We also create a lot of awareness about the craft and the product through live videos, blogs and artisan profiles. This helps us in delivering the authentic product to the buyer and generates that confidence in the buyer to order again from our entity.
The Road Ahead
Technology has pivotal role to play in bridging this gap between grass root artisans and global buyers. We are working with certain buyer profiles like hotels and boutiques to provide easy access to these products through applications and dashboards. We are also exploring the opportunities to digitize the supply side to coherently bring about the change in the entire ecosystem. Moving ahead in the future, we are looking to provide customized SaaS solutions to each and every one of our client profiles, to make the buying experience for them seamless.