Many of our art forms have gone extinct and many are on their way into oblivion due to lack of patronage. Here is a company that is fighting for them
By Team SOS
India is a country of diverse arts and crafts. You travel 100 miles in any direction and you will find handicrafts and artisans unique to that region — pottery, jewellery making, toys, ethnic wear, you name it, you will get it throughout the country, each different and unique for other.
Some of these art forms and crafts have attained international recognition but a majority of them, no way inferior to the more renowned counterparts, fail to get into limelight. Many of such art forms and products have gone extinct due to lack of patronage and many are on their way into oblivion. Every passing day is a struggle for survival for these arts and crafts and the artisans who produce them.
Lelo International is trying to become the voice and patron of such art forms. Having started in West Bengal, Lelo International wants to bring all artisans under one umbrella not only to promote and market art and craft products but also to give a contemporary touch to them so that they are not lost to our next generation.
Starts of Startups salutes Lelo International for its efforts. We spoke to one of the co-founders to know about their work and their plans for future. Excerpts:
How did the idea for a startup strike you? What were the moment and the thought that led you to become an entrepreneur?
It was not sudden decision. We were working on our ideas from 2012. Basically, I am from West Bengal and it is a hub of talent and creative artisans. Travelling, observation and curiosity always drove me and my friends to rural and tribal places. We used to go to unknown places where people work with passion to create handicrafts. They always welcomed us with warmth to tell the story behind every piece they make. The essence of mud, their magical handwork that creates unique pieces from the lump of clay, all were so passionate and full of dedication. On the flip side, they had no money to lead a normal healthy life because whatever they were creating, they were not getting the right price for their efforts. We have seen artisans dying out of poverty, quitting their field to search for a stable job. Some of these incidents shook us, so we tried to figure out what we can do. We started to analyze stepwise. Thus, I and my friend, Suman Das (co-founder) came up with the idea of setting up Lelo International.
Was this decision sudden or a gradual awakening or were you made aware by a mentor?
I would say it was gradual awakening. Every day we used to see how much hard work and dedication artisans put to create a handcrafted item. But those handcrafted items are not getting sold or they are selling at a very low price. Artisans are leaving their artwork to search for jobs. That situation was scary. It was a big problem especially for women artisans, who have magic in their hands, but are not able to showcase it.
I and my team took the initiative. We used to visit artisans every day, we tried to find out the root cause of the problem, so that we can figure out what to do. Thus the journey begun and we are continuing with all our heart and soul.
What is the innovation or solution you are providing? How far have you successfully achieved it?
We are trying to create an ecosystem where artisans from rural and tribal areas will work with young enthusiastic designers. It will be helpful for both, as artisans will understand how to make elegant pieces of handicrafts with new age design and our young designers will also get to know these art forms that have been existing through years. How talented our artisans are who make such amazing handicrafts against all the odds. We are emphasising on women artisans so that their talent does not go in vain. In Durgapur in West Bengal, we have a place where they can come down and work in a healthy environment. Both artisans and designers are coming up with creative desig
ns and quality product that we are selling in the market. We have taken all the responsibility of promotion, marketing, selling. So that artisans can peacefully work on their ideas. Keeping in mind the concept of Skill India and women empowerment, we have started another initiative which we call DCP. Distribution Channel Partner of Lelo International, which is only for women. Here, women from all over India can join us as our DCP. They will be given responsibility to spread Lelo’s initiatives and to sell Lelo’s products (only under the brand name ‘Lelo’) in their locality. Thus they can run small business of their own. In a way one woman DCP is helping another woman artisan to sell a product. We are at the budding stage, selling our products through retail stores and online platforms. Lelo’s dedicated sales and marketing team will be available 24×7 to train these DCPs.
We have started another initiative recently. If one DCP has some creativity, some hidden talent (i.e. making Diwali lanterns/ candles/ decorative products) we encourage her to create those. We distribute those to other DCP’s’ (of other states) to sell it in their areas. So, this is the way we are helping women to grow their business.
What is so unique about the products your company is offering? Briefly, give details of your company and partners.
I and my partner have co-founded Lelo International. Currently we are into jewellery (terracotta, Dhokhra, paper Quilling, artificial jewellery), jute bags, leather bags, home decors (table lamps, wall hanging etc). R&D is going on to make ‘Mix N Match’ products. It will be a surprise for the Indian market. We have a range of terracotta jewellery which is being made without using any colour. Temperature variation of the flame produces different colour shades in that clay. This is a form of terracotta jewellery which does not need any artificial colour. Soon we will launch some trendy jute bags for college goers. So, we are kind of going green and using eco-friendly material.
How tough has been your journey as an entrepreneur?
I am still a student pursuing M.Pharm, MBA from NMIMS University, Mumbai. Yes it’s challenging to cope with everything. But my challenges are nothing compared to the real life challenges our artisans face each day. They are my motivation. Lelo has given them strength to dream and we are determined to fulfil those dreams.
My business partner (co-founder) Suman Das is very supportive. He is the backbone of Lelo International. We have a great enthusiastic team. We all support each other and we keep going. We are building our team so we need support from everyone (freelancer/photographer/designers/ art enthusiast). We welcome all enthusiastic people for any suggestion/collaboration.
Do you think your product has good scope in this ecosystem?
Our products are eco-friendly, made up of clay, jute, all natural resources. We are making handicrafts which will attract all age groups. Lelo’s products are eco-friendly, handcrafted and trendy.
- Eco-friendly will take due care of our nature, all are recyclable.
- Handcrafted- we are reviving our handicraft industry
- Trendy and fashionable for all age groups
What are your plans for future?
I want to provide facilities to more and more artisans from all over India. Want to show them that our handicraft industry has potential. So, you need not to quit this field.
To establish Lelo as an Indian brand name which is empowering women, reviving handicrafts industry and obviously serving customers with quality handicraft products.
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