Popular imagination has it that Dharavi is Mumbai’s biggest slum. But it’s also Mumbai’s biggest informal special economic zone, the biggest melting pot of cultures and the biggest unstructured township in Mumbai. Clearly, Dharavi is a brand known for many things and Megha Gupta, the 29 year old founder of Dharavimarket.com has set out to promote Dharavi in a way that benefits its myriad artisans economically and socially. Dharavimarket.com in its current form serves as a market place for leather products manufacturers, potters, shoe-makers, jewelers and other various accessory makers to sell their wares to domestic and international markets. This is for-profit initiative provides fair remuneration to the skilled craftsmen for their labour & expertise and makes available world-class quality goods at reasonable prices to its buyers. However the reason for genesis of Dharavimarket.com goes beyond just e-commerce and has its roots in affordable housing issues, and livelihood & commute problems of people residing in poor communities of Dharavi.
Megha’s personal journey
Megha Gupta represents the new generation of independent, passionate and strong-minded women entrepreneurs. “This is about fulfilling a dream, it’s not work” says Megha about her initiative. Having started off as a journalist for Mid-Day after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media in 2006, Megha mostly reported on issues concerning infrastructure in Mumbai. That’s when she decided to study this subject in detail and went to University of Sheffield, UK for a M.A in Town & Regional Planning. Megha knew she had to come back and apply her skills to the problems she witnessed during her days in journalism. After her return in early 2008 she worked with some of the best names in urban planning assisting them in areas of research & publication of public infrastructure projects and affordable housing ideas. It was during this 5 year stint as an urbanologist that Megha got involved in a project about studying the daily commute methods of people in Dharavi. For six months she spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day in Dharavi observing and understanding the local manufacturing activities, lifestyle of the people, social networks and popular communication modes. “This is when I realized that there is so much activity in Dharavi” she remarks.
Dharavimarket.com- Conception & Cause
In early 2012 e-commerce was taking off in India and Megha hit a brainwave of bringing the numerous artisans, craftsman and manufacturers of Dharavi into its fold. She decided to start Dharavimarket.com. However a new venture would need funds and she didn’t have enough. For the next two years she worked as a freelance urbanologist to accumulate monies for her pet idea. “Lot of people in Dharavi don’t have computers but most of them have good smartphones” Megha points out. She needed to invest not only in an e-commerce enabled platform but also in developing a mobile app that would allow craftsmen to upload images and other details of their products to the platform. After much preparation and investing about 5 Lakh rupees, Megha launched Dharavimarket.com in August 2014.
4 months into its operations, Dharavimarket.com has about 104 registered craftsmen selling 962 SKUs across different product categories like Bags, Accessories, Clay & Pottery, Shoes, Apparel, Customized products and even raw materials. They use the mobile app developed by Megha to upload pictures of their products which she approves before they appear online for sale. Dharavimarket.com also offers the ability to order custom- made products to its clients.
Most of the craftsmen in Dharavi live and work in sub-optimal conditions in workshops that have severe paucity of space. In spite of this disadvantage, they are highly adept in their art and make good quality products. However they have always subsisted since they always remained labourers with no direct access to domestic and international clientele. Intermediate agents buy products from these craftsmen and sell them at high profits. “Dharavimarket.com aims at bridging this gap by using the power of e-commerce. It also intends to create an exhaustive database of each & every craftsman that will include photos of their workshop, information on how they make their products and their life stories” says Megha. According to her this will not only allow potential customers choice of artist but also provide craftsmen a window into market trends and consumer likes & dislikes.
Through next 2 years, Megha is keen to implement the Social Capital Credits Program (SoCC) that aims at improving the quality of life for the craftsmen. She has partnered with URBZ and Asia Initiatives for this. Says Megha while explaining the program, “If a craftsman keeps his workshop clean or reduces wastage in making process he would get some social points. These points could be redeemed by him at a later date to get his workshop painted”. This program offers a social credits menu that has different credits for different tasks like sending daughters to school, mentoring younger craftsmen etc. Craftsmen who get registered on Dharavimarket.com will automatically be registered for the SoCC. Her goal is to bring as many craftsmen in Dharavi as possible in the ambit of this program.
Megha has set herself a target of registering 500 craftsmen with Dharavimarket.com in the first year of operations with a strong focus on apparel- shirts & jeans and bags & shoes categories going forward. “I intend to participate in both National and International Trades & fairs to promote products from Dharavi” she says about her marketing strategy. She is also keen to reach out to wholesalers from US & Russia to expand her business.
From being an e-commerce website that it is now, Dharavimarket.com has the larger vision of evolving into a robust platform for voicing multiple issues that are intimate to the slum dwellers like affordable housing, right to livelihood, access to basic amenities and right to their way of life. It is for these reasons that Megha Gupta indeed can be called the Ambassadress of Dharavi.