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Vineet Agarwal

President ASSOCHAM, MD, TCI

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Technology Has To Play A Vital Role In Solving Corporate Challenges: Niiyaa

In an interview with BW Disrupt, Anurag Shrivastava, Co-founder and Aditi Tewari, co-founder of Niiyaa, speak about company's journey, future plans, Indian Market and more

Brief us about your company, its business model and operations. 
Niiyaa is an e-commerce platform with the aim to bring textiles with optimum utility and quality for a large pool of audience globally and in turn making craftsmen a brand in themselves. Niiyaa is on a mission to showcase artisans work globally and thus to uplift the lives of the ARTisan Community. Niiyaa is dedicated to create the Indian and international community of creators and consumers in the space of handcrafted luxury.  

Niiyaa is the brainchild of Aditi Tewari and Anurag Shrivastava. The founders began the hunt to bring stories in the form of woven fabric to the world a while ago and continue to work towards seamlessly blending age-old craftsmanship with modern sensibilities to cater to a global audience. Both of them having a deep understanding of the art and technology that is helping them blaze a scorching trail in the arena. This heralds a new chapter for Indian culture, art and beauty - creating a new generation of micro entrepreneurs across the heartlands globally and bringing in the much-required scale, reach and sustainability to rural artisans. Both of them have a vision of weaving a fabric of strong human connections through our work.

What are the unique key points (USP) of your company? 
Niiyaa is a global platform bringing art from remote corners of the world, the mesmerizing clothing from Marrakesh to Kalamkari panels from Shrikalahasti, handwoven Bhujodi panels embellished with Bandhani and Rabari embroidery. Ornamented with the finest art forms, sounds and sights of the intriguing desert come alive in each splendidly unique wrap made by loving hands. Then there is Jamdani, warm woollens and a plethora of products that will captivate you. Fashion has a new benchmark and that is Niiyaa. All the collections are a unique interpretation of the essence of the brand. Niiyaa is soon launching all of the following products categories: Stoles, Scarves, Handbags, Jewellery, Coats, Dresses, Jackets etc.  

How are you different from the existing competitors? 
“The recent findings from McKinsey survey in the United Kingdom that looked at consumer sentiment about sustainability in clothing, footwear, and accessories. Despite increased awareness about the importance of sustainability, the fashion industry’s environmental footprint remains significant. Lot of Companies create far more products than they can sell, and more than half of all global fiber produced is polyester, a material that requires a great deal of energy for extraction and processing and that lingers in the environment for a long time.”

Niiyaa works with all kinds of arts, be it tie and dye, block printing, hand painting, embroidery, weaving, the best artisans of all these arts are part of Niiyaa. One kind is indigenous artisan communities across the globe who work locally in their villages (mostly inaccessible locations). We generally respect the native-ness of the art and don't interfere a lot with the colours and the motifs. Every handmade piece has a story to tell, a story of their tradition, of their history, of the emotions they carry while producing the piece and the list is endless. We exist to tell their stories and flaunt their work.

Second kind of artisans are the ones working full time with Niiyaa. They work with all kinds of art and are genius in fusing various arts together. Team of in house designers work hard with both kinds of artisans to make very interesting and rare one of a kind of products.  

What is the monetization model? 
We have ventured into the artisanal world and the consumers across the globe with over 15 signature handcrafts. Our artisans get their fair share much before the product reaches the consumer and thus their healthy monetization is well ahead of time. In fact, Niiyaa is taking the risk of carrying the inventory, to ensure that our artisan partners are insulated from market fluctuations and get monetized way ahead. We invest handsomely on right and beautiful photography, social, and digital marketing in various way. At last, our monetization happens when the product is sold in market, either on our channel or by our partners. At the moment, we are focusing more on reaching the right consumers, creating the brand awareness, making the story of Niiyaa and our partners heard and understood by them. To ensure that we can support this community, we continue travelling and absorbing ideas and inspiration and we are into this for a longer run.

What challenges are you facing in running your business? 
India is a country of fine talents and finer handcrafts. These makers with intrinsic talent in their respective fields are busy making fine handcrafted products. The same is true for thousands of artisanal designers sitting across remotest of places around the world. However, whether in India or anywhere else in the world, there are two-fold challenges that affect the sector. One, how do we intersect at various processes while making these hand crafts so that the final product is of optimum utility and quality for a large pool of target audience from the globe (and not necessarily targeting only the population within the country that is making those). Two, the final product reaches to its right set of target audience, this too at a truly global level, meaning a product made in India flawlessly reaches to anyone sitting in the farthest continent.  

A lot has been done to address the above two challenges though we are still at the tip of the iceberg. Technology has to play an extremely vital role in solving these challenges, not just as a mere medium for the maker to reach the right customer but more so because we have to free our maker from the complexities of the tech and the digital world. This will help them to simply concentrate on something that they are best at.  

Impact of the pandemic? How has been your customer's response so far post lockdown? 
We have gone live amidst the pandemic and this has added to our journey with ups and downs. However, we have garnered great amount of learning at every step. We have got finer in reaching the right audience based in the US, Canada, UAE, and some parts of Europe. We also went live in India by November, 2021.  

We work with a variety of handcrafts material shapes and sizes. Based on the customer preferences, we are expanding into more categories such as scarfs, jackets, kaftans and shrugs among others.

What are the traction details (achievements of the company)? 
Niiyaa is onto the job to create an impact, however small it may be at the beginning. In this vast arena of handcrafted world, it has its own challenges of all kinds. We believe we have found a way and the path is getting finer and clearer with everyday efforts and believe this itself is our small achievement. We are very positive to work for this purpose driven cause and we see huge potential in this arena.

How do you look at expansion? 
We are expanding the existing category of product. We are also working towards expanding into newer markets. In the next phase, we are working on is bringing the best of the curated work from artisanal designers working on varied products from across the globe. We are working with makers from countries in Asia to Africa and everything in between. In the next few years, we want to make Niiyaa as the largest platform for highly curated fine handcrafts belonging to the remotest places on earth, and reaching to any continent, to a base of users who truly believe in human connections.

What are your marketing plans? 
Initially we had started with digital marketing on most popular digital platforms and we would continue to do so with more focus and refinement with past learnings. With coming up of so many new categories in terms of products and also with so varied artisans finest of hand work, specially from countries outside India and less heard of and not easily available, this would be a great boost and give deep content for marketing. Additionally, we gradually plan to engage in other forms of marketing channels such as with influencers and other offline channels.

What has been the biggest learning so far? 
Handcrafts are found everywhere -- from road side corners to the lobby shops in five star hotels -- the biggest challenge a consumer face today when it comes to verifying the authenticity and quality of handcrafted products. A sad yet true fact is that while buying a handcrafted product, a consumer is very rarely told the story behind the handmade product. So a very large percentage of consumers don’t realize the extent of workmanship, hard work and passion that's gone in a particular craft. Majority of handmade platforms just bring what is available in the market or opt for the easiest and highly accessible handmade art. Over the past years, there are several platforms which have come online focussing on this space, but scaling up those ventures globally has its share of pain and loss, both in terms of geography as well as financially.  

We also strongly believe that it’s our duty to build a sustainable world for our next generation and moving towards slow fashion and handmade products is one such attempt. In today's world, high quality handcrafted products with a modern language are still not as accessible to the world.  

What is the market size and opportunity? 
The global handicrafts market stood at a value of USD 647.57 billion in 2020. The handicrafts market is projected to witness a CAGR of 10.9% over the forecast period of 2022-2027. It is expected to reach USD 1,204.7 billion by 2026.

With this wide range of craft skills and the number of artisans in the country, India has the potential to make this sector a multi-billion-dollar industry. Handicraft exports from India reached Rs. 25,706.3 crores (US$ 3.5 billion) in 2019–20.

What are your future plans, with respect to the Indian Market? 
Today Niiyaa has over 500 artisans across India to bring the handcrafts on to their e-commerce platform with the aim to bring textiles with optimum utility and quality for a large pool of audience globally. They plan to expand this and reach over 1000 artisans in the coming years. And then later, it would become a platform for any artisan from across the globe. Indeed, Niiyaa is dedicated to create the grandest international community of creators and consumers in the space of handcrafted luxury.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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