Assam’s remote Mezenga village is no entrepreneurial hotspot. But does it mean residents of Mezenga (in Sibsagar district) cannot dare to dream?
Of course not. Two decades ago, Pabitra Buragohain had a dream too; the founder and Managing Director of the Orient Group of Companies wanted to make it big, and he did exactly that.
From growing up in rural Assam as the son of a school teacher to becoming a visionary entrepreneur revolutionising the textile industry in northeast India, Buragohain has not only made a name for his company but also put Mezenga on the map.
Under Buragohain’s leadership, the Orient Group is the only Northeast company ISO certified for natural, eco-friendly yarn production, earning several accolades, such as the 2006 Special Recognition Award from the Ministry of MSME, Government of India, and the 2014 national award for outstanding entrepreneurship.
When asked how he became interested in yarn, Pabitra Buragohain attributed it to his mother’s weaving of mekhela chadors and gamochas at home. He learnt about the low-quality yarn issues faced by weavers in rural northeast India. After completing his education, this memory encouraged him to take up the textile mill business. “While growing up, I was not in a position to technically judge the quality of yarn, but by intuition, I knew there had to be something better,” he said.
Buragohain’s entrepreneurial journey started from scratch, lacking family business ties and with limited resources. After a short stint in a day job, the first-generation entrepreneur pursued M.Com and MBA from Guwahati University.
He recalled, “After completing my education, I started small. As my father was a teacher, he could not support me financially for a business.”
But the lack of financial support from family or relatives didn’t deter him. He shared, “Banks couldn’t provide loans because I was unable to afford a security deposit. But I researched and figured out the way I wanted to do it.”
His first unit was launched with machines from the National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC) on a hire-purchase basis. NSIC, established in 1955, promotes and develops micro and small-scale industries in India.
Established in 2001, Pabitra Buragohain’s maiden venture, Orient Processors Pvt. Ltd., was founded to produce quality cotton-dyed yarn to meet the needs of weavers in the northeast. Over the years, Buragohain has expanded his first unit into the Orient Group of Companies, which now includes Orient Processors Pvt Ltd, Orient Spun Silk and Processing Mills, and Orient Knitfab Pvt Ltd.
When asked about the needs of rural weavers in the region, Buragohain explained that he has been observing primarily three challenges; low quality yarn, insufficient market research, and limited networking. While the northeast textile industry had been grappling with a demand for better yarn, particularly good cotton yarn, Buragohain entered the industry with a vision to upgrade yarn quality.
On being asked to differentiate low-quality from higher-quality yarn, Buragohain elaborates, “Before starting my venture, I researched and found global benchmarks for measuring yarn quality, such as the BIS (British Standard Institute) scale.
Low-quality yarn is inconsistent, knotted, tangled, and poorly dyed, falling short of globally acceptable standards. At Orient, our yarn consistently scores 4.5 out of 5 on the BIS scale, reflecting excellent rubbing fastness, colour fastness, and light fastness and evenness throughout its length.”
When asked about his early challenges, the MD of the Orient Group mentioned that even though had no business background, he had a love for his region and a clear vision of establishing a sustainable entrepreneurship that does not fail and helps his region’s weavers and his cultural heritage.
Apart from dealing with initial financial constraints, Buragohain said he had to deal with unscrupulous manufacturers who used to undercut prices and sell low-quality yarn, causing devaluation of the region’s handloom products and also, inconvenience to weavers. Buragohain introduced 2 kg bundles of higher-quality yarn for sale, a departure from the common half bundle to full bundles of the past.
He recalled promoting his higher quality yarn bundles door-to-door, gradually gaining support from customers as they recognised its value. In Manipur’s Senapati district, his yarn was recognised as “that 2 kg yarn”, a moniker coined not by him but by the local dealers among whom it has been popular. Others even referred to it as “double-dyed”. “We don’t double-dye yarn, the buyers called it so because of its colour fastness and brightness,” he shared.
After gaining customer trust he worked on maintaining the faith, Buragohain shared during this exclusive interview with EastMojo. “Once I could secure bank loans, I invested in machinery by attending ITME (India International Textile Machinery Exhibition), where I selected top-quality machines from Italy, Germany, and lab equipment from the US in 2009. My textile manufacturing equipment primarily features one of the top brands, Savio. And I also added the unique High-Temperature High-Pressure machine from Hong Kong for package dyeing, a rarity in the entire northeast.”
Technically, Buragohain asserts that his manufacturing capabilities are at par with international companies, but his production volume is comparatively smaller. He values quality over quantity and mentions that his establishment produces a maximum of 3,000 kg yarn per day, while some others produce 25,000 to 30,000 kg.
Buragohain’s commitment to quality extends to addressing the scarcity of quality raw materials in the handloom sector. Orient Processors’ ‘Ramdhenu’ cotton yarn brand bridges this gap, while their ‘Reishmi’ brand produces regenerated fibre from European beachwood and Maple trees, imported through a collaboration with the Aditya Birla Group. The brands under the Orient Group also use only Azo-free dyes for skin-friendly products, as Azo is a harmful compound banned in European countries.
Explaining the importance of ISO certification, Buragohain said that it plays a crucial role in adding credibility and maintaining quality and efficiency through record-keeping. Orient also has Silk Mark certifications for its Eri and Pat (mulberry) silk products.
Elaborating on the need to protect local rural weavers from being cheated, Buragohain stresses the need for education to distinguish between natural and synthetic yarn. One simple test he recommends is burning a small yarn: if it burns and forms ash, it’s natural. This knowledge could safeguard weavers from deception.
Orient’s ‘Reishmi’ brand offers a cost-effective and appealing alternative to commonly available acrylic or polyester yarn for weavers. Mizoram and Nagaland have embraced ‘Reishmi’, Buragohain stated. He also said that he wants to empower rural weavers across the northeastern region by providing dealership opportunities, emphasising their potential to appreciate and value premium yarn for both handloom and powerloom sectors.
Buragohain’s firm has distributed yarns to weavers in Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, and Nagaland. His commitment to empowering weavers extends to plans of giving away free yarn to 100 weavers during an upcoming event in November. Passionate about providing exposure to rural weavers who may lack education and networking opportunities, Buragohain emphasises the importance of product versatility to market products in foreign countries. Paying attention to the preferences of customers in terms of colour combinations and global size requirements is crucial for weavers’ success in international markets, he informed.
In the past, Pabitra Buragohain led a delegation to Japan to discuss business opportunities including textile. On being asked to speak about Japanese interest in northeastern textiles, he shared, “The Japanese are interested in technology transfer and importing handloom products, particularly curtains made from Eri and Muga fabrics. This has opened new possibilities for the northeastern region. Muga is known for its ability to protect from UV rays, making it a valuable choice for curtains, umbrellas and other products in Japan.” He advised that northeastern entrepreneurs should focus on quality standards and consignment delivery times to appeal to Japan and other countries abroad.
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For aspiring entrepreneurs in the northeast, Buragohain suggests stepping out of one’s comfort zone, staying determined and focusing on “core competencies”. He adds, “Conducting thorough research before starting your entrepreneurial journey is a must.”
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