How far would you go for the love of saris? Spend as much as you can? Or have a collection of every sari imaginable? How about unfolding a new story with every gorgeous sari that you own? Have you tried traveling that extra mile to find out from where your sari comes from?
When my parents were visiting me in Visakhapatnam a few years ago I took them shopping as my mom wanted to buy a Gadwal Sari which is famous from Andhra Pradesh.
We drove to town and visited the brand new malls that had recently sprung up in the city. But none had the kind of Gadwal Sari that my mom was looking for – either they were too garish a colour or the fabric had a mix of synthetic in it.
Then I took them to the Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society Ltd. (APSHWCS), also known as APCO. This showroom is situated in the basement of the VUDA Complex and it is a delight for a person like me. I have visited APCO before to pick up saris just before the Pujas to send home to Mumbai or before Onam to send to in-laws back in Kerala.
There we got just the saris we were looking for. There were fabrics for salwar suits and saris from every nook and corner of Andhra Pradesh and guess what? I picked up gorgeous black cotton Pochampally sari with a dashing gold border. (I wore it to parties and received quite a few compliments for it – well, I’ll keep this part for another time.)
What touched my heart was, that there was no one shopping at APCO and in spite of meager sales there was a 20% discount which we were not aware of and when we were leaving, there was a print out stuck on the glass door which read – ‘Thank you for supporting our Indian weavers by buying a sari from APCO’.
So the next time you buy a sari – look for a story and it will make your purchase even more worthwhile.
That is also one of the main reasons that The Lifestyle Portal liked the dedicated effort put in by 40-year-old Mumbai based Momi Mukherjee who launched ‘Devi’ on 11th June 2012 – a unique venture that offers gorgeous saris, stoles and dupattas from every nook and corner of the country; where each fabric is carefully selected which in turn makes the wearer feel even more beautiful and unique.
Momi had donned the role of a private banker for the last eight years with ABN AMRO Bank and Credit Suisse respectively. Prior to which she was a hard-core hotelier who having passed out from Institute of Hotel Management at Kolkata had worked for nearly a decade with The Park, Radisson and The Oberoi, New Delhi.
Momi feels that the best way to create employment in the rural sector is to buy what they produce. The lack of buyers of products created by our artisans and weavers is resulting in the next generations of the artisan families to migrate to cities to pursue other jobs, as a result several arts getting lost in time.
Creating a much-required demand will ensure a steady income and an interest among the artisans to continue what they do best.
How did it all begin?
A great fan of Indian textile Momi finds that every corner of the country has something unique to offer and yet somehow they are interrelated.
There is nothing like human skill of hand and creativity and Momi always knew that someday she would do something with all these resources but life went on in the corporate world until she felt that she had just stopped learning or doing anything new in.
“The idea was to do something more meaningful, my little way of creating job opportunities in the rural areas and bringing to people all the goodness that we have in our own country. Also, I have an aversion towards synthetic fabrics and fail to understand why people pay huge amounts for synthetic, machine made materials, which are produced by the millions and cost just a dime to produce it,” says Momi.
“I wanted a name that would conjure up “Indian” in everybody’s mind without being clichéd as well as not restrict me to a certain type of product. What better than ‘Devi’ who is worshipped in every corner of this country in some form or the other and she who encompasses everything; moreover it gave me the opportunity to use the dot of the ‘i’ as the bindi….which I so wanted to do,” smiles Momi.
She launched Devi with an initial investment of Rs 3 lakhs. While returns are not as high, her goals are long term, and she’s quite cognizant of factors like time, volume etc. But meeting the artisans and all things connected right from travelling, photographing and learning about the real India is irreplaceable for this gorgeous lady.
Momi admits that one of the main challenges she faces is meeting artisans.
She says, “Most of them are commissioned by wholesale traders or work for co-operatives or NGOs. These outfits are so guarded about the artisans that creating a connection takes a long time and besides there is no way you can do business over phones and emails. Only ‘in-person’ works.”
She further adds, “Since I do not do volumes, I cannot commission work in most places. However my association and my seriousness has started paying off. New designs, colours and patterns are offered to me now and I have the first right of refusal.”
The USP of Devi is that it is vibrant, usable, wearable, and not drab as many would associate handmade products to be. Devi also presents the traditional with a contemporary twist; things which are relevant today.
Sourcing is done at the point of creation. There are no middlemen involved. Currently the states covered are West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu and the sari price ranges between INR 1,500 – 10,000/-
“Natural fibers are the key here like cotton, silks, silk blends, cotton-silks and wool. Though in the near future, I might have to dabble in fine crepes since crafts like phulkari becomes too heavy on cotton or silk to be a practical piece of garment,” adds Momi.
Devi’s tie-ups with NGOs
Working with a weaver would restrict the type of product available at Devi. The next best thing was to tie up with people who are doing great work in this field, are transparent and are not exploiting the artisans. So instead of reinventing the wheel, working with weavers and producers at Dastkar Andhra, Dastkar Ranthambore, Bihar Development Trust, Bailou, Bengal Artisans Association, Madhya Pradesh Handicrafts & Handloom Development Corporation have been beneficial to both parties.
“I have not had to create the infrastructure but get to ride on the one available and quality is not compromised with; and they in turn get to sell their products as their presence is limited,” explains Momi.
The Lifestyle Portal simply loves the way she showcases each sari as a piece of art and we ask her about her passion for photography.
“I love photography as much as I am passionate about textile. I am generally seen with a camera around my neck. I love still life, street life and architecture; it helped me give vent to my creativity while I was at my 9-5 job. In fact, my love for photography has come handy since I launched Devi on Facebook and pictures form an integral part of it,” smiles Momi.
Brand promotion and marketing
Momi adds, “So far, it’s only been word of mouth and I’m quite amazed with the result. The social networking has got me clients from all over India. A feature in the Sunday Express also got the page a lot of traffic.”
While no celebrities have patronized DEVI as yet, but Momi is of the opinion that it is quite simple to achieve; one just needs to sponsor them to wear their stuff.
But Momi’s clientele includes principals, teachers, journalists, writers, PR heads, bankers, HR heads, majors in the army, CFOs, lawyers, hoteliers, financial advisors, musicians, editors and even women from the field of advertising buy Devi products.
Momi mentions, “My audience is the thinking women of this country, who can make a wise decision on their own and who make a difference. My audience is the real woman!”
“There’s also a website underway with a payment gateway to make transactions simpler. Volumes should increase slowly but steadily. I do not want to rush into things, as I would like to maintain a balance between work, family and other social commitments. I want to continue as passionately as possible and not as work or the romance would fly out of the window. The last four months has been incredible with a few hitches now and then, but then a plain smooth ride is too boring. Right?” smiles Momi.
Contact ‘Devi’: You can check out the latest collections at ‘Devi’ right here – https://www.facebook.com/devi.allthingshandcrafted
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