Leaving her corporate life, how this Women Entrepreneur from North East nurtured her idea of selling traditional products with contemporary designs in domestic and international market
Lovely Baruah, an Artist cum designer moved to Tripura leaving the 12 years long streak of her corporate life in 2016 when her husband decided to join their family business. It was during this time, when Lovely Baruah decided to do something on her own instead of sitting idle. The designer in her quickly identified the vast potential of State’s handicrafts and handloom artisans who had a lot of skills but lacked marketing opportunities. She worked with these artisans and craftsmen to transform their traditional designs into contemporary design and sell through her venture- FitBird
Although handicrafts and handlooms are the biggest source of employment in rural and semi-urban India after agriculture, it’s always a big challenge to mobilize the mindset of artisans in villages and bring back to their respective skill set specially for a women Entrepreneur. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown restrictions have significantly impacted livelihoods of artisans and craft communities, bringing them to a literal halt – Lovely Baruah , FitBird
In an exclusive interview with Shrinkhol, Lovely Baruah talks about Fitbird – her startup ventured in designing and selling local crafts from Northeast to rest of the world , the challenges and opportunities associated with working with local artisans . Excerpts from our interview are covered
Bamboo and other handloom products have been a part of North East’s identity. How differently are you trying to project your products and production strategy?
Lovely Baruah: We are focused on producing good sustainable handmade products that are unique in design and can cater to the market. We start with a skill level analysis of grassroot beneficiaries (individuals or clusters of rural and urban woman) followed by a careful analysis of their strength before we impart the needed trainings. Our model entails skilling them first for free, building on their strengths and honing those skills to ensure the entire chain of activities related to making a sustainable handmade product is not compromised
Where is your current office located and who are a part of your team at Fitbird ?
Lovely Baruah: We ‘FitBird’ own a store at Handloom marketing complex behind Metro Bazar, Agartala. We are also operating for our B2B and B2C customers through our Digital presence networks. As of now, we have 6 salaried staff including me who are working on core product development and production strategy. We also train and employ and train lot of local artisans and weavers , there are 100+ people working with us in our business
What are the products you are currently designing and selling through your platform?
Lovely Baruah: Our product categories include Garments, masks, fashion bags and pouches, jewelries, home furnishing, kitchen and tableware’s, gift items etc. We are partnering with corporates for providing bulk goods.
How are you sourcing your products currently in these challenging COVID times? Are the artists part of your organization or you source from local vendors?
Lovely Baruah: We have temporarily ceased our operations and are waiting for clarity on the future, fingers crossed, are doing their best in their capacity to mitigate survival challenges for their artisans. We have already started Mobilizing and engaging artisans in supplying raw materials like fabrics to masks’ producers. “We’re running self projects to mobilize our artisan clusters or individuals to create masks and essential needs for festival season like gift hampers, lamps, lights, candles etc. as per customer demands out of raw material available in the local market”
How has been your current revenue stream working and what plans you have for future?
Lovely Baruah: We have faced a lot of challenges with the ongoing long haul in business. Old payments are stuck, new orders aren’t coming in, unsold inventory is piled up, and in absence of specific financial aid, they are running for survival.
Even the enterprises and startups like us which form the necessary bridge between the craftspeople and the customers, are facing challenges to ensure their own survival. In the last 10–12 weeks, manufacturing has stopped in majority of clusters and individuals due to non-availability of raw materials and non-existent demand from domestic and international buyers. With limited cash reserves, and uncertainty in when the markets will reopen, they are staring into the unknown.
We have a quarter wise plan set up currently which we are trying to work out that includes adding more micro entrepreneurs to our network, developing a solid training module , adding more capacity for training these artisans and developing their linkages with prospective buyers in the state and beyond.
Do you have any external or private funding supporting your organization currently?
Lovely Baruah: Yes, we have received lump sum amount by Economic Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs and Start-ups by Women . We are also working with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Dhriiti Her & Now, on a three months road map on a contract project
With Govt’s push for Make in India and Vocal for Local initiatives, do you think there is an increasing shift towards locally made products? How far these govt policies helping your venture?
Lovely Baruah: Yes, now during this pandemic people (Domestic and International) are giving importance on hand made products. Growing their awareness on local made handicrafts and handloom products through Vocal for Local initiatives. This is immensely going to help ventures like us in the future
We hope more and more Woman Entrepreneurs like Lovely Baruah come forward and take the bold and beautiful steps of Starting Up in North East !