During his ten-year career as a labor economist, Rakhi Timothy often came across informal sector workers and was disappointed to see their employment situation.
She was particularly moved by stories of craft communities across India who struggled to make a living.
“I felt an urge to do something to increase the penetration of Indian crafts. I felt that if they were made available in the global market, it would really change the lives of rural craftsmen.” she said in chat. her story While attending the Kerala Startup Mission Women Startup Summit in Kochi recently. her story was the media partner for the event.
She recalls working as a faculty member at the VV Gili National Labor Institute for seven years before moving to Singapore to continue her postdoctoral studies at the Singapore Management University.
After spending several years in Singapore, Rakkee and her husband Biju, entrepreneurs and designers at heart, decided to move to Kerala.
“Both wanted to use their knowledge and experience from around the world to benefit their communities, and that is how Graamyam was born,” says Rakkee.
The duo launched Graamyam (meaning like a village) in 2020. This is an e-commerce platform for handmade, eco-friendly and sustainable products.
Rakkee says he was drawn to the idea by his love of authentic handcrafted products and his passion to build sustainable artisan livelihoods.
make a living
It is well known that most traditional handicraft communities do not make an economically viable livelihood. The pandemic left them even more options-less.
Lucky says younger generations of craftsmen are reluctant to continue traditional work, citing a lack of dignity in the profession and other options such as gig work. .
This is where Graamyam makes a difference.
According to Rakkee, the organization partners with Kerala’s craft community to introduce new designs and markets and offer better priced products.
“The intervention by Graamyam Kannadipaya Made by a tribal community. We provided working capital and training facilities to improve their skills,” she says.
Apart from providing a regular market for their products, the organization has also helped communities set up shops to sell their products. Because we believe that quality craftsmanship only comes when craftsmen are willing to do their best,” she says.
The organization currently works with five craft communities in Kerala: Kuthampalli (textiles), Karabor (basketry), Chendamangala (textiles), Kirimangala (natural textiles) and Nilambur (terracotta). Products include handwoven (cotton dupattas, stoles, sarees, home furnishings) and terracotta works (cookware).
Graamyam is now diversifying into wood, bamboo and metal crafts and will be launched by the end of the year.
When asked about the price range, Rakkee said the product is intentionally kept within the affordable range. Prices start at Rs 500 and go up to Rs 4,000.
“We are very diligent about ensuring the quality of our products and making sure that no chemicals are added during the manufacturing process. We have great discounts,” she says.
The organization works extensively with handlooms, potters and ethnic communities passionate about making natural fibers, but makes a special effort to ensure the continuity of women artisans in the industry.
“In some of the communities we serve, the skilled artisans are women, and we are proud to partner with them. All our dupatta is woven by female weavers. and the tassels attached to the dupatta are made and sewn by other female workers.
Rakkee said: The unit is in terrible condition and has facilitated financing for building maintenance. We wanted to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment and motivate women to keep working and value what they do. ”
Rakkee says this is the model that other communities have adopted as well.
Starting with an initial investment of Rs 40,000, Graamyam now has five full-time staff. When Graamyam helps design a product and then sources the product, the craftsman he makes a profit of 10-15%.
“We basically buy from them and make sure we source everything we order,” says Rakkee.
The bumpy entrepreneurial road
For the couple, the road to social entrepreneurship hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. Coming from a family of professionals, changing careers and starting a business was not an easy decision.
“Because Biju has worked abroad for over 20 years, he has had to deal with many unknowns, especially regulations and local business culture. has helped in this regard, but maintaining adequate inventory levels is another challenge.
“A year of operation has allowed us to develop a production calendar to maintain optimal inventory levels. Additionally, we have leveraged our talent management skills to build good relationships with the craft community.” Rakkee says.
The couple plans to expand to other southern states later this year and create communities in other parts of India in the coming years.
“We are negotiating deals with well-known US lifestyle chains to improve the reach of our products in cities around the world,” says Rakkee.