Weaving an Amul

Sumita Ghose's artisan collective RangSutra, which started out from Rajasthan, is now a supplier to Ikea.

By Sonal Khetarpal  
Monday, September 3, 2018

Sumita Ghose is well set on her journey to make RangSutra the 'Amul' for handloom and handicraft products. After all, she has founded the only Indian producer-owned company in the handicraft space.

The inspiration was her work with Urmul Trust in western Rajasthan, where she saw how most handicraft businesses were not sustainable and depended on grants for sustenance. She did not have a lot of money of her own and turned to artisans for help. A thousand artisans pitched in Rs1,000 each from their savings. Ghose put in Rs10 lakh and incorporated RangSutra. In 2007, impact investor Aavishkaar and ethnic retailer Fabindia invested Rs23 lakh and Rs70 lakh for 17 per cent and 38 per cent stakes, respectively, and RangSutra was incorporated as a public company. Each entity in a producer-owned company gets one vote irrespective of the shares they own. Ghose was clear that artisans should have a say in the organisation, a decision which meant no private investor would put in money. Today, 2,500 artisans own 32 per cent of the company; and are on the board, too.

RangSutra - known for combining traditional crafts like handloom, tie-dye, block printing, hand embroidery, mirror work and applique on contemporary designs - supplied garments and home products to Fabindia for the first five years of its inception. It broke even in 2008 with sales of Rs1 crore. There has been no looking back since then. It has been profitable since 2009.

In 2013, it hit another big milestone - the first export project from Swedish home furnishings company IKEA. That was a game-changer as it introduced international protocols of fair trade, quality and compliance into the organisation.

But RangSutra's core is still about organising women in different areas in clusters as self-help groups, giving them the required training to maintain quality and ensuring they get regular work so the organisation is sustainable and artisans get stable income. Usually, due to lack of market access and irregular orders, artisans earn anywhere between Rs500 and Rs1,000 per month. With RangSutra, full-timers earn anywhere between Rs15,000 and Rs20,000.

RangSutra has partnered with the Jammu and Kashmir government to form a producer company in Srinagar to provide artisans with a means of livelihood as part of a rehabilitation project for women affected by floods. Currently, it is working with 3,500 artisans, 70 per cent of which are women, in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. The organisation has a turnover of Rs10 crore. "We have been giving dividends to our shareholders and that has boosted the artisans' confidence," says Ghose. Aavishkaar, too, has got a good exit.

After getting expertise in working with producers, RangSutra now wants to sell to consumers directly. Its handcrafted products are available online through artisanal e-commerce platform Jaypore. It also has a retail presence at the exhibition space at Dastkar Nature Bazaar and Shahpur Jat in South Delhi. An e-commerce store is also in the works. More power to the woman behind the initiative.

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