Dr. Megha Phansalkar,
Tisser Rural Handicrafts
Based in Mumbai, Tisser Rural Handicrafts Pvt Ltd and Tisser Artisan Trust was started by Dr. Megha Phansalkar in 2015 as a social venture to uplift the lives of rural Indian artisans.
While working as a consultant for the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in the World Bank, she realized that there are thousands of Indian artisans whose livelihood solely depends on handicrafts and handlooms, the knowledge of which has passed down as a legacy in their families for generations.
With changing times, these art forms and handlooms are getting dated and due to lack of innovation, are becoming redundant.
“Seeing the need of the hour, we adopted a unique model by supporting artisans with product design and diversification through IT-enabled innovations,” she says.
They do this by expanding artisans’ product portfolios by cataloging and marketing their products on various platforms.
They use blockchain technology for the supply chain by depicting artisan contribution and profit from a product. They raise awareness by featuring artisan stories, training programs, and product stories on social media to provide a background of the effort that goes into making a product.
“We have helped improve artisan connects, by working on end-to-end cluster development,” she adds. Initially, the biggest challenge for her was to get the vast disorganized artisan community onto a single platform and streamline the demand as well as the marketing resources.
“The leanings in the initial stage are immense: products need better packaging, prices have to be competitive, it is necessary to create your own brand, people like new designs, fusions are encouraged.” Tisser products are sold online and offline on B2B and B2C platforms.
The B2B clients include resellers, distributors, shop-in-shops, event managers, and online marketplaces. B2C clients are exhibitions and retail stores. Megha says that Tisser provides end-to-end support, unlike competitors. “Online marketplaces have middlemen and no original products which leads to marked-up prices.
Bulk traders and event managers have middlemen and do not offer customization. Retail stores also do not provide any customization. Producer groups, although willing to customize, lack the design support to compete in the market. We start from artisan mobilization to design and product interventions and customization, coupled with marketing support through online and offline portals.”
According to Megha, who has a doctorate in IT, technology is an important aspect of the business and should be explored on a regular basis. They have developed a technologically advanced platform for artisans to upload their product inventory directly to the Tisser website. They won the Manthan South Asia Award in 2018 for this innovation.
They are also working with Vyoma Software to develop a Distributed Ledger (DLT) based supply-chain solution which will provide transparency to customers to make informed decisions and give greater exposure to the artisans and their work. In the last three years, Tisser has formed a network of more than 10,000 artisans, the majority being women, connected with more than 1,800 self-help groups across 18 Indian states, generated employment of more than 80,000 man-days in a year, and designed over 1,000 customized products.
Through the Tisser Artisan Trust, they have created fair pricing for the artisan community, encouraged social entrepreneurship, and supported the education of girl children in the artisans’ families. Megha has bagged several awards like the Indira Gandhi Award for Women Entrepreneurship, and Social Entrepreneur of the Year by SP Jain College of Management, among others.
They have also been mentored by Thomson Reuters, Procter and Gamble, and the Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), among others. In the next five years, Tisser aspires to triple its strength in terms of revenue, brand value, and products through structured strategic intervention and partnerships.
“We want to increase the number of intensive dedicated clusters, from 50 in 2019 to 250 in a span of three years. We also want to establish a flagship store in 2019 and scale our franchise model from 5 to 25 stores pan India,” says Megha.