How This Blogging Site Became One of the Most Searched Online Craft Brands
The journey of Gaatha – an artisan online store, which has begun to recognize the faceless artisans of the world, is an example of how things are changing for the better and guiding us towards a certain path.
Started as a blogging site to raise awareness of the country’s wealth of arts and crafts, designing enthusiasts Sumiran Pandya, Himanshu Khatri and Shivani Dhar started writing about different art forms and looms on his web portal Gaatha in 2009.
What started as a movement to tell the world about the heritage of Indian arts and crafts, today Gaatha has become one of the most sought after online stores for people to buy products Indian handicrafts. The brand provides its customers with more than 350 art forms in 30 categories and supports around 250 artisans.
In an interaction with SMBStorySumiran talks about Gaatha’s journey, the arts and crafts of India, and how they are doing their part to support the craft community.
Elders of the National Institute of Design (NID)Ahmedabad, the co-founders, from the beginning of their academic journey, learned centuries-old art and design, and it was then that they developed a soft corner for craftsmen who kept alive their age-old art forms, but still suffering to get their piece of recognition.
“The three of us had a flair for design and for exploring masterpieces of art, we traveled across the country in 2009. We had read a lot about the different art forms, but the history of the creators of these arts has never been there. After meeting the artists, we started writing blogs to bring out the unknown stories behind India’s artistic heritage,” says Sumiran. SMBStory.
Once they started posting content, they started getting questions about different products, artisans, and how these readers could purchase the products. This went on for almost two years, and at the end of 2012 the partners decided to set up an online store and make the beautiful works of art available to customers.
Gaatha’s online store portal began by listing around 700-800 products, including clothing, kitchenware and personal utility products like wooden combs. Soon the website started gaining popularity and Sumiran and the co-founders decided to start a full fledged business in 2013.
Sumiran says that NID initially incubated them with Rs 4 lakh, and they also invested their personal earnings, which they had received from working on various design projects.
Since its inception, Gaatha has worked on a revenue-sharing model in which Sumiran claims the company retains a 25% margin on sales and 75% is returned to the artisan.
Gaatha also has a side stream of income, where he lists products from other craft brands on his website.
A craftsman making decorative products for Gaatha
Disrupted craft market
Speaking about the Indian handicrafts industry, says Sumiran, times have changed and there is a lot of recognition being given to artisans, especially after the COVID-19 outbreak. However, when they started, there were hardly any platforms talking about them.
Even after the founders entered the business full-time, they continued to raise awareness of the craft community. Even today they have a separate portal called gaatha.org where they have created a catalog of art forms, their history, origin, etc.
On average, Sumiran says they receive about 600 orders per month. But even though Gaatha has been in the industry for over a decade, the brand now faces stiff competition from peers like Jaypore, Okhai, Indian ethnic societyand others.
“You see, the pandemic made artisans suffer for a short time, but it also helped them grow in this difficult phase. People have found this untapped opportunity worth exploring and you can see the closures have given craft brands a big boost and welcomed new entrants. But it also posed a challenge because there are a lot of duplicate products,” says Sumiran.
Sumiran claims that Gaatha has never spent even an average of Rs 50,000 per month on marketing and relies mainly on organic sales. He says: “We know that even if it means slow growth, we are going to grow organically. We’ve seen our peers spend thousands on marketing, but the day they stop burning money, incoming orders are restricted. We are in a safe zone in this respect.
But Sumiran also says that surviving business on a meager margin has been difficult and the pandemic has compounded the woes initially when all the other artisans have set up shop on the internet and sold these authentic handicrafts at ridiculous prices.
“Artisans have no knowledge of retail and the pandemic has forced them to sell their inventory given the threat of closures, and this has posed many challenges and we are still struggling to overcome it.”
Artisans making Jhabua dolls for Gaatha
Keeping traditional art forms alive
The immediate way forward for Gaatha is to expand and introduce more art forms to nooks and crannies of the country. Sumiran also says they are looking for a strategic partnership, which could help them grow, but working with the ethos and culture they established at Gaatha.
“We want to keep art forms alive and that can’t happen if we’re dictated to on the way forward. We need someone who shares the same value as us,” says Sumiran.