Just like a fish that wades against the strong currents and swims across thousands of miles to reach its destination, matsya, a unique handicraft industry, pioneered by Neha Gandhi has travelled miles since its inception in 2009. Matsya brings with it a wave of good news for all ethical shoppers and handicraft enthusiasts who wish to buy hand made products to support the Indian handicraft industry.
Meet Neha Gandhi, a 36-years graduate from Sir J.J School of Fine Arts, Mumbai with more than 11 years of work experience in the craft industry, armed with an initial investment of Rs. 10,000/- from her own savings, started matsya almost two years ago. She says, “matsya is an extension of my personal and professional experiences in life. I have always been inclined towards Indian culture and traditions followed with crafts and handmade products.”
Post the earthquake of 26th January 2001, in Kutch, Gujarat, Neha got introduced and exposed to the rich culture and traditions of Kutch. This extended her career with several NGOs in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) including fair trade organisations in (Mumbai).
It all started out with her volunteering with the Behavioral Science Centre, an Ahmedabad-based NGO that was dedicated in relief work in Kutch. This exposed her to the rich culture and traditions of the region.
“This was a turning point in my life as I never looked back again and my journey began in Kutch. I worked with them for five years developing a complete capacity building programme with the women artisans who gave me a very in-depth understanding of rural life, culture & traditions,” adds Neha.
During her tenure with NGOs, Neha realised that there were not enough and right marketing platforms and strategies which would eliminate the middlemen and make the trade fairer. Markets were growing and evolving which was not adapted by the craft industry and she decided to build a bridge between the artisans and urban markets through her initiative called matsya.”
What does matsya mean?
The design of her company logo is a colourful fish, which is so unique and brilliant that one can’t help but ask its significance. Neha smiles, “matsya means fish in Sanskrit. As an artist, I use this form in all my work like paintings and pottery. The fish is very versatile and is found in all cultures across the world; hence very easy to relate and connect. The fish is considered to be unique and auspicious in certain cultures, especially for weddings. It has been adapted in all tribal craft communities globally and it’s always moving. This somewhat reflects my personality and therefore I decided to with the name matsya.”
Handicraft is the second largest source of livelihood in India, after agriculture. It is estimated that every 7-10 years nearly 10 percent of the 23 million artisans from rural India move on from traditional crafts, handed to them over generations, in search of better opportunities in other towns and cities.
Neha mentions, “If this trend continues, traditional Indian craft could be lost in the next few decades and matsya’s aim is to present traditional handicraft products in contemporary style and market them to urban buyers. This helps create a livelihood for artisans and thus preserve our traditional craft.”
Presently, matsya only constitutes Neha for managing all the operations. There other people who have worked for matsya externally from time to time include Volunteers, Designers, Researchers and Interns. “Now I am looking out for people who would like to work at matsya on part time and full-time basis,” adds Neha.
Neha further mentions, “Most of the NGOs and craft groups that are presently working with me are through my own network and database, as I have a very strong rapport with them. After initiating matsya, many new groups have contacted me through my website. matsya does not employ craftsmen, we partner with the NGOs directly who then work with the craftsmen. I deal with the NGOs and then they would take care of the business aspect.”
At matsya, she partners with different NGOs, small micro enterprises, women entrepreneurs’ SHGs (self-help groups) who are already creating some of the products, which she carefully selects and sources the products. Neha also provides them with timely design suggestions based on her present online and offline markets through the website, exhibitions, social media, regular retail collaborations that she is involved with.
Neha admits, that initially not many NGOs were ready to partner as they could not visualise the brand so she had to start with whoever was willing to partner which was not very ideal at that moment.
Products and Services rendered by matsya
matsya aims to offer traditional and yet contemporary products that match the lifestyle of urban homes, customers and tourists who visit India and are looking for Indian gifts to carry back as mementoes. They also offer certain services such as Artisans’, ‘Craft Tours’, ‘Consulting and Support’ and ‘Gifting’ and Neha explains how each one works.
Working with artisans:
This includes specific design workshops and training to NGOs or even individual artisans, women entrepreneurs providing them with inputs based on our present markets, building their capacities wherever they are lacking. “One such training I imparted with an NGO called Utthan who work with the rural women of Rajula in Bhavnagar Gujarat. The women here were exposed to the basic idea of design using their own skill sets,” remembers Neha.
“This is the most wonderful project according to me that has emerged at matsya. The main aim is to take the global traveller to experience the rich culture and traditions of a region. At the moment it’s Kutch, in Gujarat,” add Neha with a twinkle in her eye.
The tour is also aimed at interesting collaborations in the area of craft and design. There was one such project that matsya engaged with Maria Joau a Portuguese based designer who came to learn block printing and tie and dye in India. She got in touch with matsya which exposed her not only to her subject but gave her an in-depth understanding of various issues in India.
She further adds, “Together we worked on a book called Craft Tour that was ideated by me and designed by Maria. The book includes lovely illustrations by her and is a complete guide for anyone who wishes to take the craft tour in India.”
Currently, Neha has only three copies of Craft Tour with her. “I need some funds or a good publisher to publish this book so that everyone can enjoy this book at a reasonable cost. The book covers Kutch and all that we do in a craft tour at the moment.”
If you’d like to experience the essence of Indian handicraft, why not take a virtual tour of what you can expect if you were to visit in person! matsya invites you to a journey of traditional Indian crafts; to know more, go here – http://matsyacrafts.com/craft-tour-3/
Consulting & support:
This service would be to NGOs or any entrepreneurs, corporate interns who are seeking specific requirements in the area of crafts.
Matsya and its partnership with NGOs
The partnership with NGOs is to provide them with a strong marketing platform both online and offline through matsya’s present network and database. matsya very carefully selects the products as per the demands of the market and also provides them with design suggestions.
Neha further mentions, “We participate in informal fairs and exhibitions taking rural crafts far and wide and try to connect to the right customers and markets. We take a lot of initiative in creating awareness to the customer about the crafts through our branding and social media promotions. This in return seeks good and ethical business eliminating the middlemen who would probably never understand the trade and gives the NGO a sustainable business over the year.”
Social Media has helped matsya a lot especially facebook. Having large community is a clear indicator of the trust they have in a brand like matsya. “It motivates me to take up more interesting projects and also helps in spreading the word and getting through to the right kind of customer,” says Neha.
Ethical shoppers and handicraft enthusiasts can buy matsya’s products in three stores in Mumbai – ‘our lil bit’, ‘maati’, and ‘bliss’. Neha has also conducted some events at Mother Earth, a Bangalore based organization which has stores across India. Recently, in Mumbai, matsya ran a one-month long event in a craft based shop “The Shop” in Bandra, Mumbai.
Some of the unique products to look out for at matsya are the terracotta lamps, their signature tribal wall art range, fridge magnets, finger puppets, pencil tops, jain keri hand embroidered cushions, craft tour and craft tales books by designers and interns, and other unique products created by NGOs and various craft groups and women entrepreneurs.
These are designed based on the present market trends and the constant customer feedback from the customer which are fast to sell and brings more regular and sustainable business, and also benefits in scaling up both for matsya and the affiliated NGOs.
Supporters of matsya
Any noble movement needs support and recognition from the masses. The main supporter of matsya is flying cursor a digital based company in Mumbai who designed the website for matsya, Diti Kotecha a graphic designer who designed the matsya logo and designer Nash Paul offers creative support and for Neha, all three have been a huge moral support for matsya. “ I would also like to mention that the present office space that I am sharing is with other startup companies flying cursor, Mash Sports & Entertainment , 8848Sports , hoolahup design, and who have generously given matsya an office space from where I carry my operations in Bandra, Mumbai,” quips Neha.
All the volunteers, interns, designers who designed craft tour and craft tales, photographer friends, matsya products, family, and facebook fans are a great source of strength for Neha. She mentions MLA Priya Dutt and ace choreographer Farah Khan, are proud owners of matsya products.
Future for matsya
Before bidding adieu, Neha shares her dream and future plans for her pet project matsya. Her future goals for matsya consist of a complete e-commerce website for matsya, a store in Mumbai, franchisees, exhibitions in Mumbai through informal platforms, international exhibitions, workshops, trainings with NGOs, regular craft tours and expansion of craft projects and partnering with more tribal communities and NGOs.
Well, we sure hope to see a lot more of matsya and the vibrant new designs and products that will adorn our homes and offices and make perfect gifting options during festivals and birthdays.
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