How this Assam entrepreneur brought local crafts and global users together
Walking through the streets of Assam and other popular states in Northeast India, you are regaled by the beautiful designs that adorn various fabrics woven by handloom experts. But only a few ventures bridge the gap that exists between artisans, weavers and their customers. Entrepreneur Dhruba Jyoti Deka is doing more than just connecting artisans to customers; he's doing it through Brahmaputra Fables; North East India's largest tech-driven integrated platform for handloom & handicraft products. Brahmaputra Fables has grown consistently and evolved into a digital database with over 3,000 artisans.
Deka was born in Assam's bell metal craft village. He holds a BSc in chemistry from Cotton College in Guwahati and a masters degree from Pondicherry Central University. His journey into the entrepreneurial world fully kicked off after his master's program in Pondicherry. His affinity towards Northeastern products and his desire to showcase that culture to the world were all he needed.
"When I graduated from Pondicherry University in 2016, I returned home to Sarthebari; famous for its brass and bell metalwork. There are still plenty of skilled bell metal artisans in Sarthebari, but most artisans lose out on a significant cut of their profits to middlemen. To improve the artisans' livelihood and to showcase the culture and tradition of North East India, I launched Brahmaputra Fables officially in June 2017, with 30 artisans onboard selling 100 products," he says.
The journey from having just 30 artisans to over 3,000 in his database is one that Deka describes as a challenging transition both mentally and physically. "For me, entrepreneurship is a journey and not a destination, so it wasn't just tough in the first few months; it is still difficult, as challenges change every day and you need to stay relevant in the market everyday with consistent innovation. I am lucky to have the same mindset of people in my close circle, which keeps me sane. I guess I am not in a position to advise, but I would suggest anyone who is an entrepreneur should read a lot. Reading is the key".
As the days went by, Deka has had to make several changes to fusion attires, a logistics-friendly craft and platform on which he reaches out to his customers, based wholly on his customers' feedback. A few of his current best-selling products include bottles made from bamboo by DB Industries, brass metal xorai by artisans of Sarthebari, and handwoven shawls. In the pandemic era, masks are getting sold in bulk as well.
In his bid to take his business beyond limits, Deka has partnered with another passionate entrepreneur to launch Indiluv. Speaking on this new partnership, he says, "I met Kaustuv in Delhi at an entrepreneurial summit back in 2018 and since then we always wanted to start a venture together. By travelling together, we discovered the inconsistency in the income of forest-dependent communities at the fringe areas of Manas National Park. That's how Indiluv came into being.
"We are trying to secure the livelihood of the communities through beekeeping practices, and by ensuring they get consistent income through the sale of their honey under the brand Indiluv."
Although the current pandemic situation has left most industries struggling and seeking new ways to cope, Deka reveals his single-most valuable philosophy. "In entrepreneurship, we need to adapt to situations, and need to thrive rather than survive. Our artisans made more than Rs 2 lakh by selling handloom masks through Fables," he says. "We are trying to sail through this situation."
For Deka, the future is only as big as the mind can see. The plans he has are those that will not only further entrench technology in the value chain sub-sector of the handloom industry but also impact more lives. "We are coming up with some new technologies to give our customers an amazing experience through our platform. We are introducing design power to the customers. A transparent supply chain to know the origin of the product is another technological change we are bringing in," he notes.
It is one thing to see and yet another to feel. For this inspiring entrepreneur, customers must be allowed to do both. "Handicrafts always work best offline. As you feel and touch our products, you know the real value. There is nothing like seeing for yourself.
"We are marrying technology with offline stores and have tried to come up with technology-enabled touch and feel Fables kiosks, which is on hold at the moment due to the pandemic".
The challenge of running a successful venture that bridges the gap between artisans and their customers is one that Deka takes pride in. Although he believes he has a long way to go, with his current pace, the sky will be his launchpad.