You can buy practically anything online these days. From shoes to dog leashes to green vegetables. But we always thought something as individualistic as handicrafts would never go the cyber way. We imagined you would always want to pick your Kalamkari stole at the annual haat or your Kishengarh painting when you travelled to Rajasthan. Well, think again. Indian handicraft has taken to the world wide web in a big way, and almost anything you can think of — from Dhokra to Madhubani to Etikoppaka to Kantha — is now a click away. And at far more reasonable rates. So give your neighbourhood exhibition a pass and log on instead. Handcrafted products made by small-scale entrepreneurs and artisans are now signed, sealed and delivered online through sites dedicated to showcasing Indian culture and they come with a gamut of options to enhance your shopping experience. lists three of them…
Monica Gupta was on a road trip in Kutch and astounded by the variety of handicrafts in the area. “They were selling everything at very cheap prices and the same products would cost ten times more if you bought them in the city or in big stores,” she says, “I wondered if there was a way to connect them directly to their customers. India has a huge variety of art and craft and we’re always finding something new. Going online was a good option since there is no space constraint. We have about 25,000 products on our website from 500 odd sellers.”
The portal gives importance to traditional artisans and the NGOs that support them. “Around 80 per cent of our sellers are women entrepreneurs and others are craftsmen and NGOs. But we focus on traditional artisans, go out and locate them and ask them to join us in selling their products. We get the products shot in our studio, upload the pictures, and provide warehousing, packaging and dispatch facilities. We also train them to manage their own online accounts,” says Monica.
The sellers and buyers are happy with their experience, says Monica. “The sellers are happy because their sales have gone up five times. Our market research team help them price their products competitively so that they gain. Our buyers like the variety that is offered and the fact that what you see is what you get, at reasonable prices. To top it all off, it is for a social cause.”
Designer-turned-entrepreneur Krithika Nelson wanted to help urban designers showcase their products. “We have such a rich heritage in design but it’s still nascent as an industry,” she says, “most people automatically assume a designer is a fashion designer. I wanted to change this scene and help craftsmen, NGOs and urban designers sell their work online. While most of our sellers are from the north, we do get many chocolate makers, sari and jewellery designers from Chennai.”
Seven months down the line, she started Shopo along with Theyagarajan Sundaramoorthy. “Going online is easier since you don’t have to grapple with rent, bills and overhead costs, which will, in turn, play a role on the price of a product. We want to give back everything to the designer and this is only possible if you have your business online. It also helps reach more people,” says Krithika, while Theyagarajan adds “We also constantly try to make the shopping experience better. We recently launched a social layer to it; people can talk about what they shop on their social networking sites. We want to give our customers a different experience.”
Shopo started with 20 sellers in June 2011 and has seen business since the day it has opened. “We were just testing it out with a few friends first, to see if the model would work. But people started shopping from the day we opened, and not all of them were our friends. Now, we get 30 to 40 seller applications everyday but we choose only about three or four so that the quality stays high. Also, we only take in products that are locally made. There have been times when we have rejected applications because the products were made elsewhere. While we concentrate more on urban designers, we haven’t completely let go of rural artisans or NGOs. It will still take time for them to get accustomed to the computer and handle their business and we just want to give it that time.”
A group of five friends quit their jobs to promote completely Indian products and their effort culminated into Unwrap India. “We wanted to create a market for Indian products and help local artisans at the grassroots level. These craftsmen already have a good market, even with their production being so small-scale. If we can help them produce more, then their standard of living can only improve. This also means we’re very strict about the products we receive. Often Taj Mahal and Ganesh idols come with ‘Made in China’ tags. While they are popular with buyers, they’re not Indian and tend to hurt our traditional crafts. So we don’t include them,” says Suhas Kamath, Operations Officer, Unwrap India.
With over 140 artisans, NGOs and small entrepreneurs, the site offers a wide variety of products to choose from. “We worked from scratch to make sure the site is user-friendly and there is no compromise on technology. We also make sure we scale up their businesses by boosting on other websites. Our sellers so far have been very happy with our site design and their interface pages.”
Unwrap India also works with traditional craftsmen to help them build brands. “We identify people who can manage a group of craftsmen and build a brand for them, through which they can sell their products on our site. We make sure we are also responsible towards the environment when looking at such businesses.”