Figurines from Bastar or wooden toys from Chennapatna, these and plenty more are available on Kiran Patil's portal that hopes to keep craftspeople in business, writes Nithya Sivashankar

Are you looking for authentic Warli art work or a bamboo wall clock? Do you want to gift someone a lacquer turn wood toy set or a handmade paper pen stand? Or are you just looking to give your kitchen a new look with vibrant spice racks and hand carved fruit baskets? If you are, then hop on to Villcart ( Founded by Kiran Patil, this initiative provides employment to people in rural and tribal areas through a virtual platform that aids them in selling their products.

Having been in the field of rural development for seven years, Kiran says he has had the idea of Villcart in his mind for a few years now. “However, it evolved only last year. It was while I coordinated an entrepreneurship development program for the youth in violence-affected regions of the country. This program was funded by the HRD Ministry, Government of India in June 2011.” Kiran, who also manages a website for food and nutrition-related facts, found it easy to set up the Villcart portal. “Initially, we focussed on getting good products. We took photographs and wrote descriptions of those. On the basis of the feedback we received, we uploaded more product details,” says Kiran. The website now has more than 250 products.

Vanishing craftsmanship

This IIT- B graduate laments the disappearance of many traditional Indian crafts in the past 50 years. “India was a place known for its crafts. However, these have vanished from several places. Though people want to buy handicrafts, they are forced to buy machine- made alternatives, either because they are more easily available or are cheaper. ” He speaks of artisans who have been forced to become labourers in construction sites.

Through Villcart, Kiran and his team are working on making handicrafts affordable. “We are also focussing on the functional utility of items rather than their decorative uses,” he says. “We strongly feel that by focussing on these, and making them affordable, we will have a strong customer base. And in the process, thousands of artisans will also get employment opportunities.”

Kiran's team sells products from 10 States including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka. The team has also established linkages with about 35 groups, 15 of which are NGOs. Villcart also accommodates handicrafts from remote violence-affected regions such as Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and Bastar (Chhattisgarh).

“We first find out good centres of craft from our network or the internet,” says Kiran. “Then we visit these places and place a small order to check if the products suit the needs of the customers. Once we get a good response, we place more orders.”

V.C.Prakash, who belongs to an NGO associated with Villcart, says his group supplies ceramic and terracotta art ware to Kiran's team. “We have two units in Maharashtra and we also support some self help groups. They make items such as mugs, cups, bonsai pots and candle holders. ”

Villcart gives special importance to products made by women groups. Says Kiran, “Handmade paper products are easily available in Jaipur and Karimnagar. However, we source our handmade paper products from Wardha, where the paper is made in an NGO named Dharamitra and the pasting and binding work is done by a women's SHG named Vasundhara Bachat Gat.”

Employment opportunities

Sunil, of Dharamitra, says, “We have 10 people working in our unit. We also offer training and employment to some women from the nearby villages. Our paper bags and diaries are very popular on Villcart.”

Asked how much the artisans are able to earn through this initiative, Kiran says, “Most of the artisans get close to Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000 per month. A master craftsman earns anywhere between Rs. 8,000 to 15,000 per month.”

Ceramic and terracotta pottery, Meenakari metal items and wrought iron products sell like hot cakes on Villcart. The website also supplies handicrafts to companies for corporate gifting. Orders priced over Rs.200 are shipped free of cost anywhere within the country. Kiran plans to start international shipping in a few months.

He also expresses his wish to include handicraft items from every State in India within the next one year.

Villcart's first “brick and mortar shop” has opened in Mumbai.

“We'll be expanding our store presence to 10 stores in the next two years. In the next few months, we'll also be selling food items — organic food and health food such as honey and wheatgrass — so that we provide employment opportunities to not just artisans but farmers and other village industry workers,” concludes Kiran.