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Gartika : A Platform For Artisans To Showcase Their Talent Through Their Fine Workmanship

My advice to others would be to not be deterred by how many people are doing what you have in mind but focus on how this will become your passion- take the plunge.

Gartika, founded by Radhika Rao in Dec 2015, is a startup based on social responsibility model and is born of out of love for artisanal skills passed down through the generations. It ensures that the entire process, from sourcing of raw materials to product creation, is handled by people who care about the product as much as you do.

"Our first step is protecting ancient forms of fabric making, then employment generation and collaborating with private home network of workers," said Radhika to BWdisrupt.

The startup started working with people in Kashmir who have lived in deplorable conditions and suffered deeply for decades. These artisans would practically have no work or get paid very little money if more factory produced items reach international markets. This system reflects an investment in art and the people behind this art.

In an interaction with BWdisrupt, Radhika Rao talked about her entrepreneurial journey and what good her startup provides to society.

How Did the Entrepreneurial Bug Bite You?

I grew up in a home where clothes were tailored and mostly things were made to order. I had only known of cottons, silks and wool to be called fabrics then. A few years later when I was introduced to the commercial "man-made fabric," I was thrilled because I no longer had to wait for a tailor to stitch my clothes. Things started changing as I grew older, and today I pay more attention to the quality of fabric and completely handcrafted products that take time to make (even have some imperfections), but are all one-of-a-kind.

In a world where I saw artificial, ersatz, rapidly produced man-made products being hoarded in retail shops and stores in United States, Gartika was born. It was born out of this love for people who are still a part of an industry that believes in old methods of production. I am intrigued by everything handmade, not just in India but from across the world, so it could be Zulu baskets from Africa, teak furniture from Bali or Iznik pottery from Turkey, I think every global citizen can contribute in some way or the other to protect ancient art forms.

How Did the Idea Come to Start? What are the Special Key Features of Your Startup?

I researched for a year mainly to find the right people I wanted to work with. During my research, I stumbled upon a cashmere story from Kashmir, and how the cashmere in India was better than Mongolian, Chinese fabric and Nepalese cashmere. I decided to launch a website dedicated to gorgeous scarves, with plans to add more products later. Gartika cashmere comes from twenty goats we have in the Himalayas. This way we're able to ensure we get only the finest 11-14 microns cashmere. We continue to work with artisans in Kashmir who are trying to revive this fading industry. Gartika is also working with Rabari, Kathiawar and Sindi Tapora tribal embroidery to create iPad bags and clutches using vintage fabrics. Our kaftans are a mix of silk and cotton and plain cotton indigo fabrics. Our hand block printed kimonos have got a great response in America as they're perfect for loungewear and the fabric feel is an elegant, light weight cotton with unique patterns. Our pure silver jewellery range is inspired by traditional designs using natural gems in contemporary hues.

Differentiation Factors

Gartika's goal is to not have any duplicate products. We don't mass-produce. We work directly with artisans. Telling the Gartika story here in the States is different than talking or reading about this in India. United States market is full of synthetic fibers and you have to a pay exorbitant prices for natural fabrics. 

We've thought hard about how different do we want to be and realized that our vision is bigger. It's about raising demand for our ancient techniques in a country where the fashion industry hits $225 billion, and most of the sourcing is from China and Bangladesh.

Funding & Monetization

As a founder, I funded this whole project on my own. I give it three years to break even. We are also supporting the African Wildlife Foundation where we donate a small percentage of our yearly profits to the non-profit organization.

Challenges Faced

One of the biggest challenges for me in this journey was collaborating with the right people, who have been doing this for generations. How do you know they are credible and you can trust them to deliver what was promised has been a challenge. Managing geographic time differences, staying awake all night, setting my own deadlines and then going through rounds of quality check when the product reaches gave me sleepless nights. I don't want to call any of my memories worst because honestly even if I pulled my hair during that time, it was because of those incidents that I planned things better the next time.

The other side to this is building the brand - Gartika. Without a brick and mortar shop, my job becomes slightly more difficult and I need to network a lot to spread the word. I also need to educate the market by telling our Gartika story.

Market Size & Opportunity

I think the market is growing due to overall awareness for handcrafted products. People are also realizing that eco-friendly and sustainable products are not always dullsville. According to a report published by Nielsen - Fifty-five percent of consumers from sixty countries around the globe say they’re willing to pay more for products and services from companies committed to making a positive social and environmental impact.

Advice for New Entrants in this Space

My advice to others would be to not be deterred by how many people are doing what you have in mind but focus on how this will become your passion- take the plunge. Be organized and manage time well. I promise you will enjoy it the long run.

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