A few weeks back, The Ken wrote about Kudumbashree. An organisation that started 20 years ago with the aim of mobilising women and making them financially independent. One part of their programme works with small units of around five women each—Micro-enterprise (ME) units. These women produce handmade, homemade products, which they then sell door-to-door, in bazaars and at exhibitions. And now, Kudumbashree wants to sell online, join the world of e-commerce by selling on kudumbashreebazaar.com.
While a notable effort, I thought The Ken’s piece was incomplete. So, I said, let me take a shot at it, and, well, put out the bigger picture.
Not long back, I was visiting Kutch, in Gujarat. On work. When my sister reminded me to pick up a chaniya choli (embroidered blouse) for her. A garment of that kind comes with its own set of specifications, and I didn’t want to disappoint. When I asked for it at a nearby shop, I heard the most insane words I have heard in a long time—Rs 3,500 ($53). The shop is a medium-sized store, larger than the ones in Mumbai, in a small town of Anjar in the rather large district of Kutch. These are locally made handcrafted garments with pretty intricate and elaborate work, and I would’ve happily paid around Rs 5,000 ($76) for this in Mumbai. So, that got me thinking. How much of this money actually goes back to the women who sew this?
Yes. My story actually started with chaniya choli. With an opportunistic thought: what if I could somehow buy directly from them and sell it to customers, and make a good profit out of it? Could I get Self-Help Groups (SHGs) registered on an e-commerce portal? So, I asked a friend at Flipkart, one of the largest e-commerce companies in India. What do you think?
Her answer: No.
It was time to move out of the drawing room and understand why not.
Here’s how the cookie crumbles. There are many SHGs across India which work in making artefacts. Most either get the machinery, input material and the market linkage for the output from an organisation. But since everything is provided for at the doorstep, the profitability factor of this venture isn’t high. For instance, say you need a necklace made of beads. You get in touch with a non-profit of the region or any local contact that has formed or manages these SHGs and set up a meeting with them.