In 2009, 3 former National Institute of Design students shifted their focus from their design research and IT firm MediaShala and began the task of narrating and preserving the stories of Indian craftsmen. At the time, they didn’t realise that it would soon have to be converted into Gaatha, a budding e-commerce website that within 2 months of its pilot would garner over 11,800 visitors.
Himanshu Khatri, Shivani Dhar and Sumiran Pandya, NID alumni, had come across archives of handicrafts from different states when they realised the paucity of researched crafts resources in the country. Soon they engineered a method to systematically track down crafts, artisans and artisan settlements and document them into a resource library through a project called ‘Gaatha’ or ‘A Great Story’.
Gaatha, which has empanelled over 3,000 artisans and NGOs from various artisan clusters across the country, branched out into commercial operations when the trio realised that research by itself in no way helped promote and aid the artisans. For this, they needed to make the crafts commercially viable.
“We needed to restore pride and commercial opportunity in their system. We aim to bring back the lost respect and wealth back to these heirloom artisanal clusters,” says Sumiran Pandya, one of three founders of Gaatha. “We educate the customer about the immense value behind hand-crafted products, through the stories of their origin, evolution and making,” he adds.
Gaatha then became a portal that sells authentic hand-crafted products, while narrating the tale of a particular craft, thereby building a repository of information on dying Indian crafts.
Three full time archivists along with freelancers are involved in the archiving and documentation process of the website. Apart from using existing documentation to build their archives and make field visits, Gaatha also relies on local contacts to help them connect with artisan settlements. “During our visits, we come across clusters rich in activity. Often we have to provide them with elementary training like coding, pricing, packaging, local shipping and basic banking.” says Sumiran.
The team that is currently 9 members strong, also tries to equip artisans with basic skills like updating their online showcase or even clicking pictures and sending them across. “We also engage in co-creation projects, where we try to forge industry-artisan partnerships,” says Himanshu Khatri, Founder, Gaatha.
Today, the e-commerce website has built a craft research database of 177 handicrafts and a library of 87,000 photographs from 4 states. Crafts have been sourced and supply chains have been established from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kashmir, Orissa and Rajasthan.
Their reasoning is simple, when a country with around 760 million farmers who engage in handicrafts at full-time and part-time levels during the off season, are leveraged appropriately, there will be ‘enormous economic rejuvenation’.
“India with its rich heritage holds less than 2% of the annual $400 billion worth world handicraft market. If these 200 million are made self-reliant it will also release pressure on other Government bodies themselves, like those of health & sanitation, urban development and education,” says Sumiran. “Our engagement is beyond commercial exchange, our customers sense this relation we have with artisans, and support it,” he adds.
Since the sector is organic, at most times margins to clusters depend on accessibility and support that the team provides them. The company claims that they have cut down massively on middlemen and usually decides compensation based on MRPs or on percentage based markups.
The design startup is currently incubated under the National Design Business Incubator (NDBI) since inception in 2009 and has not received any funding yet. It had an initial investment of Rs 1.6 cr in the research, documentation and development of the e-portal. “We have been bootstrapping and pumping our savings into the project,” says Shivani Dhar, also founder at Gaatha.
Gaatha has sold a few hundred products from its inventory and is confident of scaling higher revenues. “In a short pilot of 2 months, we have generated a revenue of Rs 4.3 lakh of which payouts worth 2.4 lakhs are being remitted to 76 artisan households across four states. Of these households, 42 were impacted directly while others were reached via 3 associate organisations.”
The startup whose ‘Crafts Retail Pilot’ went live on 23rd August 2013 also witnessed a surge in its online presence after its social network reach expanded 5 folds from 2k to 10k since then. The e-commerce startup says that they have had over 500 daily visitors on their platform. Gaatha plans to take the research and supply chain development of crafts to a pan-India level and cover 3,000 crafts in 750 clusters across India.
Gaatha has several competitors such as iTokri, Craftsvilla and Nethaat among others. The shopping site also has their work cutout for them when it comes to succeeding in this niche field. According to industry watchers, it is key to create entry barriers so that a large number of sellers do not end up selling the same product on different platforms. Previous players in the field, Shopo and Aporv had to shut shop earlier in 2013 after the former was acquired by SnapDeal and the latter due to a lack of funds.