The story of Vivarang began some 12 years ago…when I bought a hand-painted Madhubani dupatta from an artisan.
As an individual, I was always attracted to things 'handmade' – though till the age of 30 years, I didn't clearly understand the difference between 'authentic handmade' and 'machine made' fabrics and garments.
I started my business with passion and a willingness to learn, support and promote 'Made in India' textiles. A single hand painted dupatta bought from an artisan made me wonder what the possibility of doing this on a large-scale could be. My marketing background paved the way for a clearer understanding of my goal. My Economics and Management learnings have been a key in aptly positioning the handmade pieces. Making customers aware of the intricate patterns and differentiating factors in our products is an important part of my work. It’s often that I think about concepts like brand and strengths that I learned, and later taught in Marketing. Taking all the stakeholders together as one artisans, suppliers, customers, logistics partners, and channel partners is a continuous challenge, that I am able to overcome because of years of hands-on experience in dealing with people.
Initially, I started by getting some hand embroidered t-shirts made from Kantha artisans and selling them to my friends. The product unfortunately didn’t do very well, but the learning was immense. We gradually got into making wraps and sarees and later hand-painted and hand-embroidered items. There has been no looking back since. I gradually moved from my marketing faculty job to full time devotion to Vivarang. My biggest success to date has been word-of-mouth growth of our brand…slow and steady…it is a sustainable boot-strapped model that today supports about 250 artisans and weavers directly or indirectly. The fact that as a brand we are supporting livelihoods and at the same time making customers understand the difference between machine-made and hand-made is a huge success. My success also is defined by the knowledge attained in this ongoing journey. I do not have any degree in textiles or designing, also when I started my knowledge of art and fabric (types and limitations) was almost non-existent. But today I can confidently differentiate between synthetic, handwoven and machine woven, among many other things. Persistence and patience have truly become my virtue – as I realize that there is so much more to learn and inculcate. The business has been self-financed since its inception and has managed to develop that way. Adding new artforms, and expanding portfolio is our future goal.
Vivarang started as a one-man (read woman) army but continuous effort with resolution is helping it grow and sustain. With increasing competition (read online stores) the challenge is to make sure that we do not lose our ‘value proposition’ and in the process not only retain our existing customers but also add new ones. When we started 10 years ago, the logistics in India was not that evolved. We used to ship using Indian Postal Service which meant literally going to a post office and standing in a queue with a bag full of parcels – which meant a lot of effort and time going into a non-creative activity. With time, as the industry has developed, we started working with the best courier service available for both domestic and international shipments. Another challenge was to meet customer expectations, in terms of how the 'real' product looks. We do our photography ourselves and they go on our website without any edits or special effects. Thus, when the product finally reaches the buyer, it not only meets but mostly exceeds their expectations.
Creative people who work at the grassroots level and come up with new concepts and designs, every independent female who is trying to maintain that very delicate balance between her success and family life – these are my role models.
Being an entrepreneur during COVID had its own challenges. We struggled to get orders and keep our business going, especially in the initial months of lockdown, and then around 2nd wave. However, while sustaining business was crucial, ensuring continuous income for our artisans was our primary concern. It broke my heart to see their spouse losing jobs and some artisans selling their hard work for peanuts. On our part, we tried to keep giving them work and the cycle didn’t stop. The fabric was continuously reaching them, to generate sufficient work, even if it meant additional and large inventory in our warehouse. We could afford to hold inventory, but to them, each piece they created made a difference.
I also got innumerable calls from artisans who worked for some other brands and boutiques. They had stopped getting work; these were the weavers and artisans who mostly worked for middlemen. I also saw loyalties shift, as workers (some working for over 15 years with their employer) did not get paid in the months of lockdown. It wasn’t easy to accommodate so many requests for work, but we tried to distribute work amongst as many as we could. The wallet payments came in handy, especially for immediate money needs like filling college forms etc. for a weaver’s son. We have actually seen our Ikat weavers’ son study, and dream of making it big.
There was a lot of satisfaction and mental calm to know, that we could in somewhat limited way, make a difference, in these demanding times. Honestly, in the process we also managed to scout some very able hands, and ex-perienced workers to associate with our brand.
These items, made by hands and labour of love can be ideal corporate gifts and heirloom pieces. It would be great to see society, warm up to the idea of HANDMADE and buy and endorse it. Our products have been part of some weddings, not just as ensemble but also as wedding return gifts.
Lately, the Government has also been very actively promoting handmade and handwoven, by organizing events like National Handloom Day, Hunar Haat, etc. The artisans are also being encouraged for their talent, through Padma Shri awards and government funding.
I sincerely hope that we keep on adding more talent (from grass root level especially) to our bandwagon. I also hope that people at large, understand the difference in handmade (time and detailing) involved, and support and adorn handmade. And, if that ‘handmade’ is Indian, better still!