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Saturday, August 7, 2010

An Online Platform to Preserve Traditional Indian Handicrafts

By Rishabh Kaul

A wood marquetry, one of the many unique products on Aprov

When Sudip Dutta, an alumnus of my college sent me a mail a month ago informing me of Aporv, a venture he'd launched that revolved around selling Indian handicrafts online, I decided I would take a closer look and inspect how Aporv was truly unique.

Sudip, a BITS Pilani and INSEAD alumnus, left his job as a successful marketing manager at a leading IT company to foray into social entrepreneurship. At the heart of his venture is an ideology that a lot of artisans give up their professions leading to the traditional arts dying primarily because they don't receive a fair price for their hard work. Aporv tries to sustain this extremely labor intensive sector (a majority of which falls in the unorganized sector) by asking the artisans to fix the price. This along with the operational costs of Aporv determines the final price at which the artifact is sold.

Aporv is interesting because they don't look at the artifacts as products, instead they treat it as a story. Consumers want to connect with the product and not feel as if it's off the counter and mass produced. Hence Aporv spends a lot of time with the artisans, trying to understand the history behind the product and give it a real face. This I feel is extremely important for a lot of times, a handicraft product which takes months to prepare might not be recognised for it's exclusivity. While the artisan has the freedom to make the product as he/she desires, Aporv also advises them on market conditions and what are the current design trends.

Because of the uniqueness of the product and the freedom of the artisan in making the product as well as quoting the price, what Aporv is doing is promoting an entrepreneurial culture rather than the current labor oriented culture while also giving these artisans access to world markets.

But that isn't the end of it. After paying the artisans their cut, a substantial amount of remaining revenue will be directed towards supporting the artisans' communities by funding education, sanitation and environment in their villages. This will be done in collaboration with local NGOs, who Aporv is in the process of establishing linkages with.

Currently being bootstrapped, the company is keen on getting investors on board. The next 1-2 years will however be spent on expanding their linkages with partner organization as well as increasing their penetration into the households of the artisans. They realize that logistics is probably going to be one of their biggest challenges in the coming future since the artisans themselves either courier their products, or have someone from the company come pick it up (the costs of which are borne by the company).

Studies report that up to 2.5 million people (Pye, 1988), most of whom are ultra-poor, are involved in this sector which is largely unorganized. A once thriving industry, it almost went extinct with the onset of the industrial revolution, during the rule of the British. Aporv presents a model that helps artisans make their craft skills remunerative, promote fair trade, cut out middlemen, and preserve the traditional crafts.

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