Stock - Pottery
Biya built its initial profile selling Manipur's famous Longpi pottery. Now, it wants to bring more of India's cottage industry into the limelight. (Image used for illustrative purposes.) Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Offer an online sales platform for India’s as yet undiscovered artisans and their way of life – a startup from India has based its business model around this.

Founded by Pooja Singh and Prateesha Malik, Biya sells plant-based and chemical-free merchandise. The company gained traction selling Manipur’s world-famous Longpi pottery products, which are made from a mixed paste of black serpentine stone and special brown clay. “It is one of our bestsellers and it’s not available in any other part of the world,” said Pooja.

Not only does the sale of these products create a revenue stream for artisans from the Manipuri village, the items themselves can be used to cure iron deficiency, she added. “We are also looking at selling linen clothes made out of plant and fruit waste and we used dried flowers to dye the cloth.”

A lot of manufacturers in India claim that they are sustainable when they are actually not

- Pooja Singh of Biya

Best practices

Biya works directly with India’s cottage industry entities, thus eliminating the middlemen in the process. “A lot of manufacturers in India claim that they are sustainable when they are actually not – we need to ensure that our processes are completely plant-based.”

“One of our main agendas is to make people aware of sustainable living practices and we are happy to meet investors that are really interested and believe in our concepts.”

Although Biya is just an online platform now, it might soon get into manufacturing on its own. “Looking at the way the market is going, you may see us manufacturing out of India because a big part of our supply comes from there,” said Pooja.

UAE chances

“We don’t have a competitor here in this region, so the opportunity is tremendous,” said Pooja. “There is a high level of awareness - they know about organic hemp and the difference between plant-based lacquer and chemical lacquer.”

Built on partnerships

Biya has a set way of going about getting manufacturers or artisanal communities on-board. “We reach out to them using our network and we start production with people whom we can trust – before signing up, we take a sample of their work,” said Pooja. “We visit their manufacturing unit located in whatever remote and we see if the process meets our standards.”

Instead of offering them a commission from sales, Biya pays them a premium upfront. “These are artisans who put their heart and soul into making these products. So we pay them a sum at the time of purchase – I don’t want them to keep waiting.”

Pooja also participated in a startup pitching session – called ‘Elevate’ - conducted by the Indian Pavilion at Expo 2020, where entrepreneurs get the chance to showcase their products and ideas to potential investors. “At the Expo, there’s relatively high emphasis on gender diversity as there are very few women in the startup space,” she said.