“Nervous?”, said my mind
“Yes!”, responded the heart
“Scared?” – mind
“How will I do everything?” – heart
The debate between my heart and mind was interrupted by the soft yet commanding voice of my mentor, Kalpana Pant. “Tomorrow onwards, you will look after the entrepreneurial work in Maheshwar”. It’s my 3rd month in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. The formation process of SHGs (Self-help groups) has picked up the pace. My daily routine until now included visiting different areas in the town, talking with women working on handloom or just spotting a group of women and explaining our work as well as motto to be in Maheshwar. A few weeks back, we, at Chaitanya WISE, rolled out the idea of an enterprise development in Maheshwar. This started through interactions and brainstorming with SHG members about re-using the left over thread from handloom. There was a plan to start with thread jewellery, still in its prenatal stage.
To give you a background, Capri Global Foundation, under their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) project, is supporting us financially here in Maheshwar. Through CSRs, companies are “encouraged to be more aware of the impact of their business on the rest of the society, including their own stakeholders and environment”. Thus, as mandated by the government, they have to invest 2% of their annual profit for social good and to do that, they work with organisations at grassroots or directly with a community for creating social impact. Under this project, we are given funds to work with women weavers or those interested to start something of their own in Maheshwar; to create more work opportunities for women weavers and expand the market for Maheshwari sarees/cloth. With this aim and support of our SHGs, the work is taking a firm shape.
One of the groups, in their 2nd month of formation, started making jewellery using silk threads. We had met the members together and explained our motive using audio/visual tools like a presentation. They readily agreed to be a part.
Meanwhile, I was in Indore, at our head office, and was asked to do a market survey for procuring material. I immediately headed to Rajwada, a local market area where we were planning to sell our finished products. After a thorough research, I got to know that at this stage, Ranipura is the better market for us, to get raw materials in bulk. I listed down the items that could be used to make jewellery and did a quick cost analysis with the help of a busy shopkeeper who was definitely not pleased with my questions as customers were rushing in and out of his shop. The upcoming festive month made sure that people packed inside his shop, each one trying to get their bargains and trampling others in the queue.
After the survey, we recognised our buyers and sellers. Now it was time for action and implementation. We brought the raw materials to Maheshwar, had a series of meetings with interested and identified SHGs. The required material was given to them. We showed them the samples and talked about the division of procurement cost. A longer discussion was held on pricing, considering the cost, effort and time invested. Our main goal was to capture the market by increasing the demand of products and meeting the cost. They had a week’s time to be creative with the art of jewellery making. To our surprise, the results were beyond our expectations. All the earrings, necklaces and bangle sets were impeccably beautiful with an amazing combination of colours, pearls and shinning stones, put together for casual use and festive occasions. They were enthusiastic to come up with more such elegant pieces. Subsequently, the team started to work on marketing and sales strategies.
An entire day was spent in approaching shops in Maheshwar, who were selling similar products including gift shops, jewellery shops and general stores. Another way of marketing these products was through social media, using channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. We brainstormed about brand name and outreach.
We are still in the process of assessing the market. Recently, two of our SHG members who are also involved in making these products, visited our regional office in Ujjain to put up a stall in their monthly federation meeting. There, they got a good response along with their first bulk order that they completed in a couple of weeks. We are also ensuring to not use plastic and hence, investing in jute bags and pouches for packaging. Other alternate ways are being explored.
The focus is currently on building a business model in Maheshwar. We have decided on our brand name, ‘Kala Sutr’. Kala, here means skill and Sutr signifies a unifying thread binding all the entrepreneurial women who are showcasing their talent via these handmade products.
This project is close to my heart as we started off in Maheshwar with nothing and today, there are 300 women working with us trying to build something new and create their own identity. It goes along with my own aspirations.