A study done in the USA found that 47% of respondents said coffee tasted better when prepared by hand, as compared to just 11% who were happy settling for machine-produced coffee. In today’s age of mass manufactured and standardized retail-centric consumer merchandise, handmade products present an old-world charm, a high degree of artistic value, and more often than not better user functionality and likeability. Across several markets in the world, there is a strong demand for sustainably produced and, uniquely designed contemporary handcrafted items. That being said, the biggest benefit of handcrafted products is their potential to transform the economic lives of artisans and skilled labourers engaged in making them.
Arushi Aggarwal’s for-profit social venture ‘The Initiative’ is a passionate amalgamation of love for handmade products, a focus on offering better product experiences to users and a genuine concern for issues related to providing a sustainable livelihood for women through traditional crafts. “The idea is to give them regular work so that they get a regular income”, says Arushi while working on a patchwork quilt with Kalpanatai, one of the senior most and highly motivated women members on her team. Kalpanatai along with her daughter Swati, are expert at sewing and run stitching classes for local women in the shanties of Bharatnagar. Some of the women trained by the mother-daughter duo, work as a part of Arushi’s team.
Arushi is the chief designer and founder at The Initiative. Apart from her, the management team also includes Aakash Dewan and Larika Mallier. While Larika volunteers her time to handle social media and marketing communications, Aakash being a designer himself helps with product research & development.
Her personal journey
Arushi is a vivacious, simple and focused young woman. She is a hands-on entrepreneur, a sharp product designer and an effective communicator. Having grown up seeing her grandmother hand make some really beautiful products of daily use at home, her affinity for them only soared with time. She wanted to study a course which merged the faculties of science, art, craft, history and anthropology. It was a chance meeting with a cousin who was doing her design course, which helped Arushi make up her mind. “Design as a field enables you to work at the intersection of many different streams. It is a way of thinking aimed at making things that are better or easier” says she looking back at her time in college. Arushi completed her Masters in Product & Services Design Management from the International School of Design, Pune in 2012.
Arushi received a job offer from a Danish company with whom she had interned for during college and was awaiting her work visa when in late 2012 she was approached by a Satara based vocational training institute for tribal and rural women. They wanted her to improve the design and appeal of handmade products made by their women since they were unable to muster sufficient sales. “I started by conducting a workshop on the importance of finishing, design and visual appeal in making handcrafted products” says Arushi while narrating her experience with the institute. She soon realized that their products were trying to compete with machine-made bags mass produced at places like the Crawford market in Mumbai. She figured that to earn a sustainable income, the women at the institute needed to stop competing on price and create something of value and uniqueness. Around this time Arushi had some Godhadis – traditional quilts made from discarded clothes, made from the women and noticed a good fit. That’s when the idea for The Initiative was born.
About The Initiative
Arushi founded The Initiative in May 2013. Women form the backbone of her venture and Arushi spent majority of her initial startup time fine tuning their skills and establishing a hassle-free workflow with them. Festivals and family obligations prevented the women from dedicating time and Arushi had to continuously motivate them by showing them the value of their work. Recruiting women into her venture had been one of her biggest challenges.Today after one and a half years of operations, Arushi has built a team of 18 women across three different locations in Mumbai. Arushi assigns adequate work to each of them based on the time they can dedicate each day.
The Initiative team offers 3 distinct categories of products to its customers- Godhadis, Patchwork and Crochet. Within each of these categories, they have a set of 2-3 standard products that can be ordered in multiple variations and customizations. One of their major clients is a Netherlands based e-commerce portal www.thefairladies.com. They make yoga bags for them in the style of hand stitched godhadis. The design of these bags combines Dutch taste & requirements with traditional Indian crafts. Currently The Initiative’s products are available for purchase at The Contemporary Arts & Crafts at Fort, Mumbai.
Arushi’s vision is to offer value to her customers by designing good quality, functional, usable and aesthetic, handcrafted products while being able to positively change lives of people who make them. Plans of expanding the product menu are in the works but without losing sight of the core product philosophy of combining the ingenuity of traditional crafts with a modern design.
Arushi’s immediate goal is to increase the size of her team. She expects to have at least 40 women working with her by June 2015. And as with any startup in growth phase, The Initiative is looking to attract talented people to manage its operations. With intentions of social change in its heart and principles of sound design in its mind, The Initiative is certainly poised for a bright future.