Dharti Jute Emporium rides on the twin causes of women empowerment and spreading eco-awareness

Wooden toys, abacuses, jute bags, floor carpets, Warli jute paintings, clocks, terracotta jewellery, jute jewellery and busts are some of the handmade products available at Dharti Jute Emporium that recently opened a shop in Chetpet. It’s Dharti’s fifth showroom, after one each in Alwarpet and Coimbatore and two in Puducherry.

For K. Srikanth and his family, who have been in the jute business for over a couple of decades, this showroom is a means of spreading awareness about sustainable products. “All the products are made by women self-help groups from across the country,” says Srikanth. “Everything here is made of wood, cloth, jute, paper or other natural products. Through this initiative, we hope to have more people using eco-friendly products.”

The roots of Dharti were sown over a decade ago, when Srikanth opened his first showroom in Alwarpet. “I was into jute packaging till the late 1990s when woven sacks became a popular replacement for jute. People such as me had to find an alternative use for the product. It was around this time that diversified jute fabrics became available. So I set up a showroom. We bought bags from Kolkata, opened a showroom and worked backwards. We trained women to support our growing orders,” he says.

In 2005, he set up the Development of Hessian Articles Research and Training Institution, an NGO based out of Puducherry, to train underprivileged women.

“We train women in knitting, printing, embroidery, bag-making and so on. The trick is to identify what each of them is good at and help them specialise in that area. We have one or two sessions a month, where we teach about 15 techniques or concentrate on one specific style. So far, we’ve trained more than 1,500 women,” he says.

Dharti is also one of the 33 Jute Service Centres of the National Jute Board, and organises training for women registered under them.

Training backwards

“We always train from backwards. We teach them to market a product, which helps them realise what sells, and then train them to meet the requirement of the orders they’ve received. This keeps their interests intact over a longer period of time. We haven’t advertised even once in these eight to 10 years; it’s all through word-of-mouth,” says Srikanth.

“We get products from the other 32 Centres across the country, and they take our products too. This way we make sure all our products have a wider reach.”

The Common Facility Centres he set up in certain pockets also help ensure that different groups can work together for no charge. “Sometimes, after the training is over, women may not find it very useful to have a machine at home. At these common centres they can work alone or together. Not all the women we train work for us. But since we have a continuous demand, we can always provide them with work.”

What began as a business venture eventually took a social twist. I started this as a business, but when I saw how this training improved the lives of these women and their families, I became committed to the cause.”

(Dharti Jute Emporium is located at No. 6, Mayor V.R. Ramanathan Road, Chetpet)