Tjori is empowering Indian craftsmen through its global marketplace
The onset of the covid 19 pandemic jolted various industries. The handicraft industry and the artisans couldn’t remain untouched by its devastating effects. A study published in 2020 discerned that only 15 out of 40 looms are now operational.
In unfortunate times like these, Tjori, a brand born out of love for the Indian traditional handicrafts and apparel aims to preserve and improve the lifestyles of artisans across India. Founded in 2013, Tjori now caters to 195 countries across the globe.
Founder Mansi Gupta talks about the brand’s objectives, beliefs, and journey so far.
As fast fashion gives a strong competition to traditional textiles, artisans are struggling to make ends meet. How do you think the pandemic exacerbated their problems?
The handloom sector has been challenged in the past few years by fast fashion, which has a price-point advantage so the sales have been affected badly, and weavers have been facing extensive hardships. The current pandemic has exacerbated their woes as the unanticipated lockdown has brought with it a high sense of insecurity amongst the weaver communities, and lack of production materials has affected overall production. This was a kind of struggle that only got harder.
There is no denying that the whole scenario has only added to the pain of the local craftsmen and artisans. The artisans hardly earn about ₹18K-20K per month. Exhibitions have been canceled since March 2020. Wholesale buyers & businesses have shut down due to which payments have not been made. Weavers have lost wages and in the absence of raw materials and working capital, there is no certainty about when they can actually begin again. The colossal dip in economic activity, income cuts, reduced number of social gatherings and customer demand has made it difficult for them to stay afloat. This calls for a realignment of strategy for the artisans as well as the businesses that deal with such artisans.
Artisans undoubtedly enjoy a very close relationship with Tjori. Can you tell us more about how this collaboration has benefited the brand over the years?
Tjori as a brand is a fusion of both traditional knowledge and modern trends. It is born out of a love for traditional handicrafts, catering to the global demand. We are based out of Delhi and all raw materials are sourced through authentic and ethical sources i.e. sourcing directly from weavers, making sure the original art form of that state is given the right value and each piece carries a status of ‘state of the art design and fabrication’.
Talking about the collaboration & benefit, I would say it’s all about the story telling. The purpose is to increase the volume of work to the artisans along with increasing the number of artisans that we reach out to, and yes of course generate a steady stream of sales. As they say, “when it’s done right, it can change lives and benefits the brand equally”
Given the current scenario, it goes without saying that being associated with Tjori is very rewarding for these artisans. Can you tell us more about the company's CSR activities?
As a brand, Tjori aims to preserve and improve their traditional lifestyles. Artisans are the backbone of our social system. To highlight, it is a responsibility that every fashion entrepreneur and business in India has today. Especially, in such a time, where instead of just standing by the ideas of #VocalForLocal, we need to go the extra mile and #BuyLocal. Tjori collaborates directly with manufacturers, suppliers, artisans, and craftsmen and exhibits exquisite items from hyper-local markets of the globe. Contributing to our collections, our artisans and craftsmen are from India. We have created jobs for 700+ and they will grow as we grow.
One of the first steps as CSR was to introduce essential items i.e. environment- friendly, sustainable face-masks. Although we already possessed soaps and body wash in our category collection, we introduced items like disinfectant soaps, hand wash, and sanitizers. We endeavored to make all the products prepaid, and discontinued cash on delivery options. The use of e-commerce and social media was also pushed for, and instead of solely operating independently, we highly operated on the concept of #buylocal.
What kind of opportunities has Tjori given these artisans - in terms of impacting their life and work?
The whole situation looked like the hardest and longest struggle for survival with no hope in sight. While the production was delayed and brands choosing to cancel upcoming shipments, Tjori worked closely with weaver teams and still helped get through these adverse times by providing projects, selling products on our own site, providing insights and knowledge enhancements. We want to have a sustainable social impact, to create sustainable employment opportunities.
The sole objective has been to develop weavers and artisans into small entrepreneurs who can directly sell through an e-commerce platform ensuring they enjoy higher margins by removing the compounding supply chains. Along with this role reversal, we also started to reach out to agencies, people, and organisations supporting these communities in smaller villages.
Tjori understood the importance of livelihood and spread out a word and helped them on our platform, but we did not forget the real problem here that the world was facing and sadly the weaker section of the society always suffers the most. One such incident and absolute chaotic situation rose when one of our workers lost both parents. As devastating as it sounds the concern for Rajan wasn't just a loss of life but the loss of working hands that would support the family and now everything fell onto his frail shoulders. The very worried Rajan almost contemplated suicide, but one call of assurance from the team helped him out of this terrible phase of life. We all suffered as he is one of our biggest supporters during the pandemic who runs his unit with his parents keeping all legalities and social responsibilities in place. The brand did not feel the loss in comparison to Rajan’s, he lost his parents and the brand received some backlash from our new customers whose orders got delayed by a period of 14 days. All said and done both Rajan and the brand are slowly coming out of the impacts of Covid, although we surpassed the second, the last tail effect still hurts the supply chain and people in it until now.
How many artisans and weavers does Tjori work with?
700+ throughout the country.
Can you take us through some of their unique stories and how Tjori helped them survive this period of uncertainty?
Most brands aren’t placing orders like they used to, some are scaling back their collections, while others are moving production elsewhere leaving millions of factory workers and artisans in India unpaid. Tjori has reduced its overhead costs, provided provisions to staff and artisans, and is giving just enough work so that they are able to meet their urgent basic needs.
The best way I know how to support them is to keep sending them work, keep the flow of orders coming, give out advances to the artisans, and use resources that are readily available. We’re using materials from past seasons to restock a few of the best-sellers, which will keep our warehouse/factory busy. This really helps them stay afloat. You’ve helped them grow, and they will help you grow, so now’s the time to step up. If every brand does this and becomes supportive of the community, it could turn out to be great support alone from the fashion community.
When it comes to the regular welfare of the artisans, what kind of initiatives have been taken at Tjori?
A) Doing well by doing good i.e giving back to society is what matters in the end. Operating out of Delhi, Tjori works towards creating opportunities, both financial and community-based for the craftsmen. This will not only help them drive away from the ongoing crisis but could encourage a system of empowerment and growth within their social setups. Thereby, ensuring steady and sustained incomes to weaver, artisans & craftsmen communities.
B) We want to help create sustainable jobs and empower women themselves to become self-sufficient. Thereby, uplifting the lives of talented, skilled, and hardworking women, and helps them with a source of income from home-based occupation. The organisation seeks to empower those who have been neglected by society and denied these opportunities, especially women from urban slums.
C) The company is also working to meet the environmental requirements of India and international fair-trade organizations that is vital to the bigger global trade picture.
D) Tjori usually works with independent artisans and weavers along with small rural artisans to revive dying art & crafts.
Any message for your fellow designers and the local artisan communities?
Creating beauty by hand requires patience and time. Creativity is ever-evolving and we should never stop challenging ourselves. This is the apt time to evaluate, create classic styles, and do things that are more reasonable to popularising Indian art and craft forms.
Any Tips for collaborating with Indian Artisans?
The textile and handloom industries are probably the largest source of employment across India after the agriculture sector.
A) The best tip would be to purchase from brands that produce in India, especially those who work with artisans. When you buy from these brands, know that it really does help Indian workers keep their jobs.
B) Share your knowledge, be clear, give feedback, and listen. View the relationship as a work-in-progress.
C) Promote fair trading.
D) No surprises- be clear on costs and rather than depriving and underpaying these artisans try giving them the fair pricing they deserve for the hard work they put in.