The internet has brought the world to our doorstep, courtesy ecommerce. Be it silks, specialty teas and coffees, handicraft pieces, or more, everything’s available online. The proliferation of ecommerce has, apart from helping thousands of small businesses grow, put the spotlight on artisans, craftspeople, and traditional Indian handicrafts.
According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), India is the fastest growing market for the ecommerce sector and revenue from this sector is expected to reach $ 120 billion in 2020.
Parul Bajoria, from Bankura district in West Bengal, also seized this lucrative opportunity and started Miharu in 2013. The initiative bridges the gap between rural artisans and urban customers to revive ancient arts and crafts of India.
In what she believes “fit just perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle”, she combined her skills in designing and dream to start up with Miharu.
Parul brought on board traditional artisans of Dokra and Baluchari, and started selling things like home décor products, jewellery, and dupattas (a bestseller among Baluchari products).
“When I visited artisans in their villages and at melas, their traditional art works were so beautiful. I realised that a lot could be done with them, if only they could be tweaked to suit urban choices. That is how we started,” says the 44-year-old entrepreneur.
The Heart of an Entrepreneur
Parul does not pin-point any one moment when she knew she wanted to become an entrepreneur, but says she had been contemplating starting something of her own many times.
Born and brought up in Siliguri, she moved to Bankura only after marriage and tried her hand at several ventures after that. This included a computer centre for around three to four years and a soup startup called Palanquin that did not last.
Parul then put her diploma in fashion designing, which she had earned at International Polytechnic for Women in New Delhi, to use and started a fashion institute as well.
Recounting the challenges, she says, “Durgapur was too close to Kolkata for my fashion institute to work. People prefer better exposure to learn in a creative field such as fashion designing and go to bigger cities like Kolkata.”
From homemaker to an entrepreneur
While these ventures did not see any measure of impact economically and socially, the entrepreneur did pick up valuable lessons from the people she worked with along the way. One of the key learnings, she says, was being able to understand positive attributes of team members and to delegate tasks accordingly.
“When I meet Miharu artisans, I understand their skills. There are many different styles for each artisan in Dokra and you need to work according to their style. You cannot just implement your way. You have to design according to their style and get the best out of their work, in their style,” she explains.
Now, with Craftmark-certified Miharu having attained a degree of success, Parul believes more needs to be done to meet her goal: scaling her venture to twice its current size in the next two years.
“I want to secure a presence on marketplaces like Myntra, Amazon, and LimeRoad in a big way with sponsored and targeted advertisements,” she says.
Parul has been chasing FabIndia for two and a half years and says she “cried and laughed and danced” when she got her first order.
Reviving Indian Arts and Crafts
The work needs her to work closely with artisans. Every month, when the artisans come with collections ready, Parul hands them 10 new designs. The artisans then try out a sample for each and show the work to Parul over WhatsApp. Once approved, they prepare around 50 to 100 pieces for each design. This happens every month.
This undertaking is helping sustain around eight Dokra artisan families, where the practice has been passed on for generations.
In Hussain Jadupatiya’s family in Dumka, it is natural for children to gradually join the business of making Dokra art. Parul met him for the first time five years ago, during Santiniketan mela, and they have been working together since then.
“We learn new designs from Parul madam and, sometimes, my son brings new ideas from the internet. We also sell at the mela; business is now steady. Earlier, there wasn’t as much demand for our work,” Hussain told MAKERS India.
Parul also brings together young girls from suburbs of Durgapur for workshops for free in batches of four every year and helps them learn jewellery making skills such as wire wrapping and patwa (thread works), among others. At the end of the three-day workshop, she employs some of the girls while the others start making and selling jewellery on their own.
A Woman’s Support System: Women and Family
During her own journey, Parul says the women she met along the way have helped her in gaining insights. She particularly looks up to Payal Nath, Founder of an NGO called Kadamhaat and who later became her mentor.
She also had the chance to appear in a reality show for startups and the All India Road Show for Women Empowerment organised by TiE Global at US Embassy in Delhi.
“I believe all women who come out to work manage their family and go ahead. We all discuss how we can grow our businesses; what can benefit us is always a talking point. We have already crossed the stage where we talk about household problems. Because we know that we have to work along with that,” Parul says.
Parul is also clear on what kind of support she expects from her family. She says, “If they are not pulling you down, that is a big support.”
Her family has been with her every step of the way. Her daughters, Mihika and Arushi, after whom the company was named, help her with social media marketing and gaining reach through Instagram and Facebook. Parul also credits her husband for teaching her the “threads of business”.