The Zen of Craft- Mayura Balasubramanian, Founder & CEO, Craftizen
Ramdas from stirfrymba speaks to Mayura, the Social Entrepreneur whose mission is to promote and preserve everything that’s handmade in India.
How and what made you craft your initiative –Craftizen? How did you build this up from scratch?
I have always been passionate about India’s rich craft heritage. I was fortunate to start my development career back in 2007 with the United Nations Development programme where I worked on a national rural tourism project focussed on developing craft and culture-based livelihoods for village communities in 20 states. The hands-on exposure to artisans and traditional craft skills made me realise there was a growing gap in consumer preferences and the artisan’s ability to evolve their designs and products to cater to this.
Cut to 2013, I participated and won a business plan competition by NABARD as part of their Rural Innovations Fund and thus began my entrepreneurial journey.
What are the challenges for artisans in India?
Markets are flooded with machine-made, inferior goods. Many of them even copy unique weave and folk motifs that are actually supposed to be protected from mass-scale production.
Supply chain and logistics are still a challenge with the cost of raw materials across most crafts having increased significantly over the years and on-demand side, huge margins to marketplaces and buyers. This means artisans and craft-based organisations are being squeezed from both ends!
Inadequate support from Government – too many fragmented schemes & policies with many not being implemented. No respite from high tax rates especially for GST, it’s unfair to charge the same rates for handcrafted as for machine manufactured & exploitative luxury goods.
How did you overcome the challenges for artisans?
The challenges of the artisans was overcome by:
- Absorbing risk of production, inventory and working capital by providing guaranteed to buy back to all our artisan groups.
- Understanding the evolving consumer preferences particularly for corporates who are supportive of crafts but need them to be tailor-made to suit their requirements and also require a professional approach to manage and deliver large orders on time.
- Building capacity through skill up-gradation, design development and soft skills. As well as training in handling orders end to end including production processes, packaging and branding.
- Focusing on design development which enhances the functional nature of crafts and therefore increases their repeat purchase value.
- Taking on the complex task of customization and thematic development and curation of crafts
How has the art and craft market matured over the years?
On the supply side, there have definitely been a lot of improvements brought about by several organisations such as ours working for the upliftment and betterment of Indian arts and crafts for the past several decades.
There is increased access to a larger consumer base thanks to e-commerce and social media. Technology is a leveller also in providing access to those, particularly in rural and remote locations.
However I feel that on the demand side, we need to do a lot more story-telling and build more awareness for what makes handmade and handcrafted products unique and worthy of patronage.
What is Mayura’s typical day?
All work and no play with back to back meetings and calls! Lots of travel (at least 10 days a month). Some sort of crisis management on a weekly basis (sometimes daily). But always something innovative and creative in the works 🙂
What is your vision for Craftizen?
To be India’s largest creator, producer, and enabler of unique handcrafted products that are also environmentally sustainable.
Any childhood memories where you were connected to the art world?
Lots! Many times my mom would pick me up right from school and take me to ongoing craft melas and exhibitions, that’s how I became familiar with so many unique crafts that our country can be so proud of. I also spent every summer holiday in a workshop related to art, craft, and performing arts 🙂
Your advice to aspirants who want to work for this domain?
Spend time to understand the ground realities of those you set out to benefit. Social change is complex, it requires time and dedication. And to truly enable large scale impact it merits a hand-on approach, which means getting into the field to understand the larger context and ecosystem, so you can build/adapt your model to really cater to unmet needs and social challenges.
How has your ISB MBA helped you in this sector?
First up an MBA is always helpful for an entrepreneur because it gives you exposure to every aspect of management which is particularly valuable in your early days when you have to pretty much handle everything!
More specifically the ISB community including alumni, faculty and staff have been invaluable in offering support to Craftizen, from donors to customers and mentors, I have so many key stakeholders in this group. The school has also been so very supportive and thanks to them I’ve received several press features and hard to access leads.
Who is your support system?
My parents. They have always been my staunchest cheerleaders but I’m especially grateful for the unstinting and wholehearted support in my entrepreneurial journey.
A group of close friends, particularly fellow entrepreneurs – they’ve kept me motivated and encouraged me but also not shied away from giving me tough feedback and critically analyzing our work and outcomes.
Your philosophy of life?
There is no downside to taking risks in life when you truly, passionately believe in something.
Live life to the fullest and chase every dream because life is just too short to have regrets.