New Delhi: Moved by the plight of thousands of artisans who toil day and night but get meagre amounts in return for the handicrafts they manufacture, Sudip Dutta, an engineer by profession, has set up aporv.com to link artisans with customers.
With a passion for Indian arts and crafts, 35-year-old Sudip had graduated from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS), Pilani. Having worked abroad for five years resulted in his coming closer to his roots. He quit the job and took upon himself the onus of providing support to his less fortunate countrymen.
The Baengaluru-based social campaigner is now committed to preserving Indian crafts through the online platform. Aporv (meaning ‘unique’) spots talented artisans and offers them a marketplace to sell their products in the country.
Sudip says, “Presently, there are over 23 million craftspeople in India. We provide an opportunity to handcrafted product enthusiasts from all over the world to have easy access to the products manufactured by these people.
“We deliver an array of exquisite handmade artefacts like toys, jewellery, bags, scarves, stoles, pottery and paintings to an appreciative audience. The products include a unique collection of ancient as well as contemporary Indian art.”
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, he provides details on his successful venture.
GULF NEWS: Was social endeavour at the back of your mind when you became a mediator between the artisans and the customers?
SUDIP DUTTA: Some years back, I had founded a volunteering organisation for my alma mater BITS and it had impacted my mind. Later, while working with a corporate company in the US, I travelled to China and was amazed how the country marketed its arts and crafts. That’s when I became aware that India had no single online platform to bridge the gap between the artisans and consumers. So, with the mission to help artisans sell their products directly to the consumers, I launched aporv.com in 2010.
But since handmade products were slightly expensive, other manufactures had entered the market and sold machine-made products at cheaper rates. Thus, because of fakes being sold in the market, authentic artisans were not able to sell their products. I also realised that due to adverse economic conditions many craftspeople had taken up secondary occupations and the age-old art was gradually fading away.
With craftspersons spread across the country, how did you go about scouting talent?
The first year was spent in meeting artisans all across the country and convincing them to partner with us. It was extremely difficult to meet them, as they are geographically diverse. Also, communicating with them was a challenge as the middlemen do not encourage direct access to them and the artisans were sceptical of bypassing middlemen to join our set-up. We researched, spoke to the local people and made a breakthrough. Once Aporv was launched, the artisans realised its value and word spread among their community. Now they contact and partner with us.
Did any kind of research go into your work to identify particular crafts that were in demand?
Being an artist, I have the knack of identifying products that are likely to sell. I also researched by going through publicly available reports, the handicrafts data published by the government and by meeting people familiar in this space. Currently, we partner with 2000-plus individual craftspeople and designers, including those associated with NGOs and Self Help Groups from different states.
Do you remember your first online buyer?
Oh yes! A US-based person wanted to send a gift to his parents in Jaipur. It not only brought me the pleasure to provide him all the information but also gave me immense satisfaction to be able to help the numerous skilled workers.
Along with helping the craftsmen, do you also educate people about environmental responsibility and lifestyle choices affecting their personal development?
Yes, we have unique selling propositions. Most of our products are sold as stories that tell the consumer about the item and its whereabouts in detail. We educate the customer in a manner that they realise the intrinsic value of the craft and appreciate the art. The purpose is to let the consumer make an educated choice regarding environment-friendly products and purchase authentic pieces. We have people from over a hundred countries helping us spread the knowledge about these crafts over the web.
Crafts in India being a very disorganised sector, do you think, in the years to come, the country will be able to retain its charm or lose its cultural identity?
I think the beauty of Indian craft lies in it being disorganised, which leads to creativity. Otherwise, it would reduce its charm. But a lot now depends on the new generation entrepreneurs to bring a sense of subtle calmness to this sector by bringing the craftwork onto a platform where people appreciate it. This would certainly enable the country to retain its cultural identity and yet add a new dimension.
Any plans of diversifying into a new segment?
Ever since launching Aporv I have been toying with the idea of initiating a non-profitable venture. We would soon start aporv.org that would work with the objective to help artisans sustain their livelihood and workmanship. We have been providing interest-free loans to those in need. Recently, an artisan, who had about 40 craftsperson working with him, faced a severe cash crunch and was considering leaving the profession and taking up a job. This would have meant all those working with him suddenly losing their livelihood. We offered him financial assistance, thereby retaining him in the sector. Such moves go a long way in ensuring health, education and other needs of the artisans’ families.
• Sudip Dutta was born in 1977.
• He did his initial schooling in Delhi and Maharastra.
• Completed engineering from Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani in 1999, followed by certification from INSEAD, France.
• He has worked in India, the US, UK, China and Taiwan.
• In his last job with a software services company, he was Vice President, Sales.
• Returned to India in 2009 and launched Aporv in 2010.
• Won the Manthan Award South Asia 2010 for promoting culture and heritage.