I am an Urban Regional Planner with an experience of 20 years in the development sector. Dr. Megha Phansalkar specializes in community-led development in rural water supply, rural/urban sanitation, and rural development with a focus on livelihoods.
Focusing on specific work with the ability to multitask has always been my forte. My work experience with Non-Governmental Organizations, Government Departments, and International Agencies brings a multi-dimensional, multi-stakeholder approach to working for partnerships and convergence helped to address developmental issues.
My work in the livelihood space brought me closer to the artisan segment and resulted in starting a social entrepreneur supporting rural artisans across 18 states, thus helping 10000 networked artisan families earn a livelihood through the enterprise model.
I realized that with the changing of time-old art of handloom & handicraft are getting old and due to lack of innovation, are becoming redundant making the lives of these artists and weavers difficult.
Craftspeople or artisans are the backbone of the non-farm rural Indian economy, with an estimated 7 million artisans according to official figures (and up to 200 million artisans according to other sources) engaged in craft production to earn a livelihood. However, they are a slowly perishing breed. The sector is highly disorganized with a lack of institutional support and constraint of low capital, and poor exposure to technology, designs, and market intelligence.
Seeing the need of the hour, Tisser aimed to bring a new wave of innovation and sought a unique model by supporting product design & diversification, bringing IT innovations for improving artisan connect, and working on end-to-end cluster development.
Tisser in French means ‘to weave’. We support weavers and craftsmen who make products using traditional techniques, skills, and hand processes consisting of the core of Incredible India! We tap the artisans and products across the country and promote rural livelihood, thereby providing a platform for them to directly connect with the globe. Our artisans found an unmatched expression of our splendid culture through the cherished legacy of handmade products. Our core value is to respect the producer and the customer both. Profits earned from sales in part go back to support the education of the girl child of the weavers and artisans. It is our humble tribute to these golden hands that continue to weave respect, reputation, and riches for India.
At the core of it all, it is helping the handloom and handicraft communities of India do what they haven’t been able to do until now. From 100 artisans and limited products when it began, to 10,000 artisans and 300+ products on offer, Tisser has come a long way but has a much longer way to go. The idea is to run the whole operation like a business, with the profits being used to provide a better life to the communities, and supporting initiatives for girls’ education etc. In order to do so, a number of challenges have to be overcome. The years of neglect have resulted in these crafts and techniques disappearing from the public consciousness, with the consumer moving on to ostensibly trendier wares
The vision we have embarked: on Equitable distribution of resources and better prosperity in Rural and Urban India. A mission we aim to achieve:
• Network rural artisans/groups towards creating small enterprises pan India
• Strengthen the handicraft/handloom value chain through ICT innovations
• Harness the transformative power of rural clusters for impact business model
Tisser has put its foot forward in a strong value chain approach and supports 10,000 artisans across 18 states. Generated livelihood & social status upliftment for artisans, especially women. Created better opportunities in the future for family entrepreneurs. Provided an alternate and poise to be the primary source of family income.
- Networked with 10,000 artisans across 18 states of the country and mainly working in Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Northeastern states, and southern states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh.
- Created a range of new products in 1000 designed products
- Conducted end the end cluster development with 2000 artisans intensively in Maharashtra and Formed 50 Producer Organizations in Maharashtra
- Worked with 8000 artisans through skill-building on product design.
The core of Tisser’s work is to generate livelihoods and contribute to economic growth in personal as well as national interest. Tisser’s approach is to provide ‘End to End support’ which includes Mobilization-training-product design-production-PO formation. Not only generating livelihood but we also believed that our artisan should not be dependent on us for our lifetime. For the sustainability of the rural artisan and to encourage the common good and collectivism, we went one step further and formed the Producer Organisation (PO). The regular flow of income is ensured by market linkage activities and partnerships with various governmental and non-governmental organizations to get their orders and required funds for revolving their PO activities.
Tisser ensures the economic growth of the artisan in this competitive sector by providing eco-friendly products, unique varied designed products so that we should reach a maximum audience with great variety and appeal through the products.
Great Companies: What are the various products and services provided by Tisser?
We at Tisser work with rural artisans all over India. Our connection with them has not been limited to home decor, artifacts, and utility items, but also textiles and the fashion industry. We began by empowering rural women artisans in small clusters and have expanded to many states in India. In the three years of our operations, we have not only grown within the textile & fashion industry, but home decor and furnishings have been an intrinsic part of our brand. We have: Generated livelihood & social status upliftment for artisans, especially women. Created better opportunities in the future for family entrepreneurs. Provided an alternate and poise to be the primary source of family income.
Tisser Rural Handicrafts is a social venture established to uplift the lives of rural Indian artisans. It has created a brand name known for its honesty, fair trade, and product innovations. With a stronghold in creating handloom and handicraft products, we have forayed into the Home Decor & Interiors area with the same ideals. Tisser’s Home Decor & Interiors space is designed and hand-crafted by rural artisans across India. Our endeavor is to provide value-chain support for these craftsmen to showcase their creations that remain otherwise unknown. We at Tisser wanted to create products that would reflect the various art forms of India. By utilizing elements from these traditional art forms in contemporary products, we aim to bring a little part of India into your spaces, homes, and offices alike.
Our innovative model works around:
- End-to-End cluster development: Creating artisan groups, skills training, marketing, and continuous handholding for all artisan clusters
- Design intervention: Dedicated team of designers work on incorporating traditional art form into utilitarian products.
- Product diversification: Expansion of artisan’s product portfolio, cataloging and marketing of all products on various platforms
- Blockchain technology: Depicting artisan’s contribution and profit from a product; solution to provide transparency, traceability, auditability, immutability, security, and agility to smoothen processes
- Raising awareness: Artisan stories, training programs and environment awareness.
- Regional hubs for outreach: Regional hubs for extensive outreach to work directly with artisans.
- Empowering for business: Tisser Team empowers the artisans by strengthening producer groups’ Self-Help Groups and their skills.
- Fusion of clusters: Through our customized product line expanding from clothes to home.
Great Companies: What makes Tisser different from hundreds of other Handicraft firms?
Tisser has been working to make the handicrafts and handlooms industry relevant again, not just in India, but the world over. It provides design and development assistance to rural artisans, helps in quality control, and provides marketing support by selling their products through the wholesale segment.
We network rural artisans/groups towards creating small enterprises pan India, strengthen the handicraft/handloom value chain through ICT innovations, and harness the transformative power of rural clusters for impact business models.
Fusion of Art forms
To ensure that the contemporary demands of the consumers are met, the Tisser design team personally looks into the products being developed by the rural artisans and weavers across India and then decides the best designs and quality control to attract not only local but also international consumers. Tisser’s endeavor is to bring customers a choice of products – and lifestyle – that offers an alternative to the mass-produced while creating sustainable livelihoods in the rural sector. We also realized that contemporary demand needs to be met by infusing traditional art with modern products. We can proudly say today that it worked and is much loved by consumers as well as helped sustain livelihoods for thousands of artisans.
Great Companies: What are the struggles and challenges you face?
Some of the main challenges we face include:
Unorganized Artisan sector and middlemen who use the artisan and don’t do fair pricing
The apathy of artisans over a period, which makes it difficult to convince the artisans to witness the use of training and income generation themselves, handholding their aspirations is a challenge Expectations v/s Reality.
Extreme poverty in the clusters and issues of financial access.
The problem of working capital in the sector is due to high credit requirements during the gestation period.
Power loom and machine products pose a challenge as they are low-cost and easy to make in bulk.
In addition, in a globalized nation, the market is the driving force for business flourishing and one of the determinants for leading a healthy lifestyle. In the midst of progress and development thousands of rural livelihoods have been replaced by technologically advanced products. India accounts for 60% of the loom age in the world. We have dedicated clusters producing hand-woven fabric or hand-painted art. These handmade products are replaced by other similar technologically advanced products with greater market visibility. As a result of the presence and reach of corporate based production the livelihoods of the rural artisans have drastically reduced. To add to their misery, their products are not given fair pricing by the middlemen. Moreover, many artisans have stopped producing their art and getting involved in other alternative livelihoods because of being unable to find a market for their products.
At Artisan level:
Informal and disorganized
Limited design skills and poor finishing.
Not committed to Timeline
Limited Enterprise Capacity
Credit system for 6 – 9 months
At Market level:
Middleman across the export market and India
In corporate gifting, the vendor lobby is very strong
Risk of counterfeit products supply which are machine-made
Great Companies: How do you plan to grow in the future? What does 5 years down the line look like for Tisser ?
In a five-year plan, we intend to make a mark through:
Network regional artisans/groups and create producer enterprises across India. (Grassroots Regional Artisan Movement GRAM)
Empowering artisan producers / enterprise groups to be partners in the value chain
Harness the transformative power of rural clusters for impact business model (Designs & Diversification).
Social Incubation support to Rural enterprises for making handicrafts popular (Har Ghar Main Handicraft).
Strengthen the handicraft/handloom value chain through ICT innovations (Digital Interventions)
We aim to achieve in a strategic manner:
An intensive Artisan cluster developed
Partnerships with Government bodies, and institutions to provide support to artisans.
Created regional hubs to directly cater to the artisans
Integrated small producers into the value chain to facilitate access to markets
Sales and Marketing generated leads and revenue flow to enterprises.
Technology innovation for transparency, audibility,
Access to finance to producer groups/enterprises
Theory of Change is what we wish to bring in the years to come:
The Tisser Trust Strategy has two main objectives—helping artisans and families afford a better quality of life and protecting the environment by having our artisan groups use eco-friendly products and processes. If these goals are achieved, the impact of this is having enterprises and businesses created that improve livelihoods, while contributing to a greener economy.
One outcome of this is to create and empower producer groups and enable the value chain with multiple partners inspired by hand art to generate livelihood in a sustainable manner. Additionally, another outcome is to harness the transformative power of a cluster to support entrepreneurship committed to profitable growth through end-to-end supply chain
There are three intermediary outputs for this: artisan groups and enterprise start businesses, artisan groups create sustainable businesses and livelihoods, and these artisan groups become part of institutional supply chains and seek convergence support.
One investment area we focus on is nurturing artisan entrepreneurs. If this investment is made, then we can assess and mobilize their work, assess the scope for product development using local resources and skill sets, and promote these enterprises using PG/PE for group support. With investment to growing artisan entrepreneurs, then there will be product designing and diversification, qualitative skill building with business and financial literacy, growth in digital interfaces, and penetrating market linkages. In addition, investment into building artisan entrepreneurial ecosystems will then create government and CSR partnerships for convergence, supply chain partnerships for sustainable revenue, and access to credit to PG/PE through revolving grants and other MSME opportunities.
Tisser has an end-to-end value chain approach which sustains through convergence and partnership. In each value chain we focus on existing strengths, support weakness and threat and explore opportunities of convergence through sustenance. Tisser Trust has been consistently working in these clusters with consistent efforts of injecting funding, skill training modules, entrepreneurship training modules, and product, design, and diversification modules, all within the target geographies using SHGS as a powerful vehicle of empowerment. Other entities have used this kind of approach in parts, but Tisser Trust brings its value proposition of strategic partners and investments from the government, the private sector, and different foundations. This helps us sustain the interventions at the cluster level without any interruption or gaps, thereby aiming at completing full business cycles of these clusters to be converted into growth centers.
Great Companies: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Social entrepreneurship is lifetime experience, you need passion and compassion to sail through. Every person has something to give back to society, and people. If we do our bit, The World would be a better place to live. Every individual should experience the joy of giving. Social entrepreneurship is a sustainable way to give back to the society.