Money & Careers

The Rope ladder

Artisans at work. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Jute bags topple out of cupboards while colourful dry flowers bunched up in bouquets sit prettily. Welcome to Rope, a lifestyle and home décor start-up by N.N. Sreejith. It employs nearly 1,000 rural artisans, and has not just provided them with employment opportunities but also given traditional handicrafts a new lease.

With an MBA in Rural Management, Sreejith entered the micro-finance sector, where he was exposed to the myriad skills of the rural populace. “I was working with an organisation that provided employment opportunities to villagers. This is when I became aware of the immense potential of their skills and the seeds of Rope were sown here. I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur and approached the TeNeT (Telecommunication and Computer Networks Group) in IIT, Madras with my proposal and for a few months, we worked on it as a project, after which Rope was launched. The reason why Patrick Fisher (co-founder) and I named it ‘Rope' was because it is a material we use extensively.”

The objective of Rope was to provide opportunities to artisans in villages. “When I was touring villages in Tanjore, I met weavers who told me that the demand for saris has gone down and hence many have left the villages in search of jobs. The few traditional weavers who had stuck to their craft didn't get work through the year. I realised that their products might generate demand if their designs are contemporary and that's what we do at Rope. We identify trends and use their skills to customise and establish a product,” says Sreejith.

Rope supplies dry flowers bouquets, potpourri, flower bunches with vase, laundry baskets, bowls, trays, table mats, runners, carpets, cushion covers, blinds and bags made from natural fibre. “We use ten different materials such as screw pine, elephant grass, banana fibre, cane and yarn and engage in four different kinds of hand work — textile weaving, crochet, basket weaving and packaging (hand knotting). Fabindia and Good Earth are among our bulk buyers though a substantial part of our market is abroad. We've also recently launched our retail section. We sell our products through e-commerce, exhibitions and stores,” he adds.

Rope not just employs artisans but also trains unskilled labour. “We employed experts who trained unskilled and agricultural labourers and since most of them were women, it was like providing them with an alternate income. We have about 400 artisans working for us directly. The rest are engaged through rural entrepreneurs. We identify people with entrepreneurial potential and train them to run small units in villages around Madurai, Theni, Puducherry, Tirunalveli and in and around Karnataka and Kerala.”

Sreejith and his team are pleasantly surprised at the response rural crafts get from the urban population. “Since we always supplied in bulk we never really got any direct feedback. But with the launch of our retail segment we have become more aware of our customers' preferences. We set up stalls in IT companies and realised people are open to the idea of buying natural home décor products. All this meant a rise in income for our artisans. We also provide them with benefits such as medical care, provident fund and insurance. Now, they feel empowered,” he smiles.

Rope is located at IITM Research Park in Taramani. For details, visit www.ropeinternational.com


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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 7:22:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/money-and-careers/the-rope-ladder/article2882929.ece

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