CraftsBazaar connecting rural artisations to global consumers

CIO Vendor The historically imbibed plural aesthetics of Indian handicrafts are priceless economic and cultural assets of the country. The production of handicrafts is (after agriculture) the largest source of income among rural populations. An estimated 11.65 million Indians were engaged in craft production in 2013. This is expected to grow to 17.79 million in 2022. Data from unofficial sources indicate that up to 200 million artisans depend on their crafts for a livelihood, suggesting the need for a more rigorous mapping and understanding of the sector. But all is not good when it comes to accessibility to these products of artisans. Some quit due to low market, other quit with the fading interests of consumers, which again is the direct result of inaccessibility. The need of the hour is a platform that can lift the dying market to its true glory. Here is a story of an individual who has dedicated her life to reclaiming this glory. A Business Professional from the Information Technology field, Aparna Challu, has successfully set-up and operated green-field opportunities in Europe, the Middle-East and North America, before returning home to India. Of Kashmiri origin, courtesy her being raised in a Defence Services family, her growing years were informed by an appreciation for a rich heritage, fabulous arts and crafts, cultural diversity and pluralism, which then became an abiding passion. Aparna and her husband, Upinder Zutshi, MD and CEO of a global IT firm, have a heritage home that has been featured for its unique collection of Heritage Crafts, curated over a long period of 30 years.

In 2016, Aparna chose to devote her vast global exposure and technology acumen to developing a
business in support of sustainability, social-impact, and rural inclusivity by leveraging technology platforms and mobility solutions. Turning away from career-pursuits, living a life of purpose and being an enabler for those millions who could benefit from globalizations magic in the e-commerce age became her mission. Her passion to share the wonders of ancient arts and crafts, where very product can be traced to its creator and cultural identity and the refusal to accept that these will be lost to future generations and the global communities, led to CraftsBazaar. com with the tagline, “Respect Origins, Buy Direct.” With the objective to provide not just an online marketplace but also support rural artisans through a strong supply chain and consumer-centric marketing, Aparna, with a core team of four, Vishal Patel, Sujit Singh, Pankaj Bhan and Sanjay Werghis, laid the strong foundation to CraftsBazaar. “We live in times where we refer to income as being disposable and what we buy as consumers, electronics, clothes, accessories or home products are all disposable. There is increasingly, a change in consumer behaviour away from the disposable commodity towards a more personal buying experience and an increased appreciation for fine craftsmanship, natural textures and the value of acquiring unique, personalised products that reflect individual style and preference,” says Aparna. Authenticity, in classic, handcrafted products made by skilled artisans, weavers, sculptors, painters in materials that range from varieties of stone and wood to eco-friendly grasses, bamboo and organic, vegetable dyes, is sought after. There’s
an increasing appetite for seeking-out originality from those who come from the grass-roots, culturally and literally. Consumers are becoming choosy and keen to explore choice and express individuality while embracing the feel-do factor that comes from giving back to the community even when enjoying the essential retail therapy in this age of consumerism. Aparna highlights that “CraftsBazaar is respected for the authenticity it offers global consumers. Buying a product, while seeing the face of the maker, knowing the source, connecting with its centuries-old Crafts history, cultural context and the human touch engages the buyer at a human-level with the maker. This creates incredible possibilities and exceptionalism in the crafts and arts ecosystem. We’ve found tremendous support and have ambassadors across the globe.”

Product Awareness and Consumer Choice is King; Demand Generation follows
"We are able to offer any consumer, living anywhere, the choice to buy what is being sold by the artisans, or the ease to have unique, made-to order, exclusive, customized pieces made for them and the option of bidding for antiques without paying the exorbitant charges to stores. The focus is to generate demand in the rural sectors through providing access to high-value products and services to Indian and Global consumers”, explains Aparna. While the internet and mobile technology is catapulting almost every tiny industry in the market, the potentially rich art and craft market struggle to make a strong foothold due to the lack of expert handholding in marketing. CraftsBazaar as an engine works to set these wheels in motion, to gather momentum and take on the required pace that will deliver at grass-roots to rural communities. CraftsBazaar works towards three key goals. The first is to ensure increased global exposure and sales outreach for the highly skilled Indian Craftsperson’s and their handmade products. Second involves allowing direct access to consumers and an equal opportunity and level playing field for all, without any middleman intervening to share craftsmen’s hard earned profits.
As for the consumers, they can buy direct, save money, own a uniquely worth-for-money product and feel good by making a direct contribution to the artisan community, and villages. The third goal align CraftsBazaar’s dream to grow as a socio-economic enterprise, focused purely on building a vibrant ecosystem of artisans, NGOs, Selfhelp groups, agencies, and consumers, in India.

Technology is the Chief Enabler and Master Mover
Sailing the Noah’s Ark for such vast and intensely diverse class of deliverables requires a fair touch of technology. CraftsBazaar emphasizes on three key elements. Adequate leverage of enabling and evolving collaboration tools and communatorial platforms to further promote ease of direct, consumerseller access forms the first element. Consumers today pick and drop an interest without the bat of an eyelid. “Leveraging existing technologies while staying abreast of emerging ones, timely innovation, creation of diversified channels to market, offering differentiated product sets and being responsive is at the heart of success. Our strengths in my view are a committed and strong founding team, agility in execution and a datadriven focus on unit economics”, shares Aparna. The challenges of rural outreach, multiplicity of languages, as-yet emerging comfort and access to smart-phones, and the more central aspects of Supply- chain and Logistics, are addressed by, engaging of the last mile via Rural CraftsBazaar Hubs for Artisan Services that employ and train locals to deliver Support Services, Onboarding and Logistics Support, Skills Training and Quality Assurance. Besides, the CraftsBazaar Platform, is designed to engage Training Institutes, and Self-help Groups, Interior Designers, Assessors and Evaluators of Art etc. After having set in place the platform and on-boarded artisans, the third aspect is to focus on increasing market visibility via traditional means and attractive country-wide fairs, road shows, and Live auctions. From the creation of an Artisan's profile and setting-up of the shop to digital marketing, and e payments etc, all communications are done using mobile devices and mobility solutions. Also, truth be told, an
ecommerce business of this scale and segment requires a lot of investment in terms of integration with third-party partner delivery & logistics, payment services and scale. The CraftsBazaar team has created hundreds of pages on every State and every Craft associated with the State. Following which the artisans associated with the crafts have been onboarded from across the Himalayan range to the desert sands and Gangetic plains, the Nilgiris and the Southern Ghats. The artisan onboarding process that includes setting-up the store, creating every profile, photographing and promoting each product; everything is done by the CraftsBazaar team. Every purchase made directly against the artisan with a name, face and identity. Each individual has a shop created for them. Each is featured with an Individual Profile, Crafts Story and Product’s Showcase.

Peer-to-peer Ecosystem and Global Presence
The Artisan who sells is also a consumer. CraftsBazaar, has been designed to offer a technology platform for the Arts and Crafts community to engage in directly. As Aparna explains Artisans create products through a process of inclusivity and dynamic, socialengagement. The raw-materials provider, carpenters, painters, micro-financer, retailers, exporters, designers, promoters, NGOs, training institutes are key stakeholders in this ecosystem. Peers are already sourcing from each other and supplementing each others’ product sets. With confidence in online transactions developing for this sector, the trend is getting prepared for disruption. Besides, survival of such a potential but delicate industry is directly proportional to creating sustainable social impact via technology. a
balance is to be maintained between demand-generation with the Indian and global consumer on one plate and employment creation in rural hubs on the other. “For a social impact to be a sustainable one, it is imperative to have strong business fundamentals and to be profitable as a business. We plan to be profitable in the medium term over the coming three to five years”, adds Aparna. CraftsBazaar is focused on the markets of the
Middle-East, Canada and America, where it will launch experience stores, in addition to the one in Bangalore. CraftsBazaar has over product categories and over 100, 000 SKUs. However, the key differentiator of CraftsBazaar is customizable products that are not just offthe- shelf, online SKUs. “We’re passionate about our vision for Rural Inclusivity and Global Market Access for artisans, their exquisite, exotic and handcrafted products and the unique value in the evolving global communities. In the coming days, we see ourselves as being a highly engaged technology platform where the global community can connect live with any craftsperson for a personalized experience that delivers unique products and the joys of human engagement and societal value. In times of disposable commodities that hunger for individual expression and personal connect is a need that CraftsBazaar looks to address. With each leapfrog moment in technological advancements, we can deliver greater value to billions of consumers from millions of craftspersons and we will,” concludes Aparna.