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Noida-based startup Lal10 is optimising how handloom clusters streamline global orders

The four-and-a-half-year-old entity uses WhatsApp, Big Data and communication to empower weavers and Fair Trade principles

As this goes to print, a team in Noida is coordinating with a person from the weaving community in Maheshwar, to manage an order for handwoven hemp fabric, which they received from a boutique in Los Angeles.

In a nutshell, this encapsulates what Lal10, a four-and-a-half-year-old startup, has managed to do by cleverly leveraging tech. The B2B venture — run by Maneet Gohil, 29, Sanchit Govil, 30, and Albin Jose, 27 — has been trying to connect India’s handloom and handicraft sectors, with global retailers of various kinds, looking for genuine and quality handmade products.

“With our experience, we’ve identified that this isn’t a demand-constraint sector, but a supply-constraint one,” says Maneet, explaining how many retailers have passed off cheap power-loom alternatives to buyers looking for genuine handloom.

Noida-based startup Lal10 is optimising how handloom clusters streamline global orders

For example, you can find a cheap knock-off of a Chanderi dupatta, of the famous Madhya Pradesh weaving cluster, in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk for at least ₹1,000 less.

The trio started Lal10 in 2015, operating first out of their apartment room in Bengaluru. This is where Maneet and Sanchit, graduates from the Delhi College of Engineering, were working as trainees at Flipkart. Albin, another friend, who graduated from IIT Madras, would join them soon after.

Business beyond WhatsApp

Lal10’s current model of operations is borrowed from the ITC Limited’s e-Choupal programme, through which the company would directly connect with farmers in rural India to procure agri and aquaculture produce.

The team of 28 now works with 1,200 artisans across Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana. In each of these states, they have a point-person, in the weaving clusters or artisan groups, with whom they work. They call this person the ‘Cluster Champion’.

Noida-based startup Lal10 is optimising how handloom clusters streamline global orders

Initially, Lal10 had provided each of these Cluster Champions with a ₹6,000 WhatsApp-enabled smartphone through which they’d communicate and coordinate orders. This helped for a while, with Lal10’s revenue increasing five-fold. But this got tricky to sustain. The cluster wouldn’t just trust a WhatsApp message confirming an order. They’d need more assurance than that — they’d need at least a voice.

In 2018, Lal10 hired 10 interns from IIT Bombay, who set out to further identify how they could streamline this system. Their findings — no 24x7 electricity, but cheap and decent mobile data, with app-literacy extending to the likes of TikTok and PUBG — had them confident that a dashboard, full with a mobile app, is the best way to optimise and streamline their business.

For social impact

They quickly outsourced building a customer relationship management (CRM), but Albin oversaw customisations specific to Lal10’s requirements. Soon, the CRM app was installed into the Cluster Champion’s phone, and all departments within Lal10’s teams started working through the dashboard.

The sales team would be alerted as soon as they received an order on a website like Alibaba; they’d then understand their quantity and design-specifics, as well as budget and deadline; the design team would then be alerted in case of any specificity in order, with Cluster Champion receiving a ping.

Empowering gen-next
  • Lal10’s team has 16 textile and accessory designers from NIFTs across India, and NID. Depending on order and trends, they help in design interventions at weaving clusters — without hampering the traditional practices — to experiment with weaving new-age ‘green’ material like bamboo for accessories, and hemp and banana fibre for fabric.

“We get 3,000 orders each month, some of them as specific as wanting 50 metres of handwoven fabric from Phulia [a weaving cluster in West Bengal],” says Sanchit. “The CRM helps in scalability and efficiency.”

What this also means is that in case the weavers have extra inventory that they’ve just stocked, they can log it onto the CRM, and Lal10 can bridge the gap between supply and demand even further — meaning weavers don’t have to wait to go to the next exhibition in a far off city, or wait for a high-profile designer to come back to them with next season’s orders.

“We’re tech-led, but impact-focussed,” say both Sanchit and Maneet, at different points in the conversation, adding that their aim is to have more regular incomes for the skilled artisans, as well as bat for better wages.

One more advantage of streamlining their order and inventory data? With their order histories, Lal10’s designers have already mapped Spring/Summer trends for 2020, and with their Cluster Champions, are currently busy working to take that on — eight months in advance.

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Printable version | May 22, 2020 5:21:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/lal10-startup-optimises-how-handloom-clusters-streamline-global-orders/article28823180.ece

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