One of the most ubiquitous portraits that appear in our minds when we hear the word ‘India’, is the colourful variety of saris. With plenty of cultures present in our country and the diversity that our motherland has, it all reflects through these saris. Here’s a unique entrepreneurial journey of a boutique that took shape during a charitable act by the Founder that is aimed at helping the weavers in Bengal.
The Lifestyle Portal caught up with Nandini Banerjee, a 44-year old, Mumbai based B.Sc. qualified mompreneur. She is an ex-primary and secondary school teacher, who also has an experience of working with a multinational company.
She has also been into lots of healing work like family constellations and past life regression therapy etc. This powerhouse of a woman is now the Founder and Sales Director at The Charkha, a boutique dealing in saris and traditional accessories straight from the weavers in West Bengal.
How did it all begin?
It all started when Nandini was involved in charitable work at an ashram she was associated with. One of her Guru sisters at the ashram was working with a lot of poor weavers, mainly women, from West Bengal. She sent Nandini fifteen saris, to begin with, and which Nandini promised that she would sell, in order to help those weavers. Slowly, Nandini realised that if she would keep up the flow of supply of such saris, then it would benefit the poor weavers much more; and that’s how ‘The Charkha’ emerged.
Initial Investments and Branding
“Initially I used to save little money from my monthly expenditure to buy saris. But when The Charkha emerged, more investment was needed. I had a little gold jewellery from my wedding, some gold jewellery which I got made for my daughter’s marriage and some small amount of gold that my son had received in his thread ceremony. I kept all this gold as mortgage and took a loan against it”, recalls Nandini.
Since Nandini was dealing with desi accessories and handloom saris, she wanted a traditional name for her brand too. The brand name ‘The Charkha’ was suggested by her son, Sabyasachi, who, in fact, also created the company logo.
Nandini believes a beautiful smile can win a heart but not trust. The challenge she faced most in her line of work was winning the trust of her customers. Nandini explains, “Initially I used to buy one sari from each pattern and type from my own stock to make sure that the colour did not bleed. I cancelled out all those vendors whose sari’s colour and/or quality was not fast. To gain more knowledge, I went to Kolkata and studied the market. I went to all the well-known sari shops in Kolkata that are known for their quality and reasonable price for hundreds of years. That’s how I understood and priced my products accordingly.”
She further continues, “All my vendors who live in villages in West Bengal are mostly men. Here, women don’t know that they are capable of doing just as well, if not better than, all men. So they don’t even think that even women deserve the same respect. When The Charkha was formed I ordered a huge consignment. Instead of selling it to me at a wholesale rate, they sold it to me at the retail rate, by saying that the prices had increased exponentially due to GST. So I sent some people to those shops to understand what the actual scenario was. When I confronted my vendor about the price, they told me that since I was a woman, I was not capable of knowing anything about the market. I replied by saying that I was enough for them and that I would be cancelling their consignment along with stopping all the payments”
When Nandini launched The Charkha, only the people she knew used to buy saris from her. She recalls how one of her clients, an old lady used to frequent her house to buy saris. Two to three days later she suddenly started returning back the saris, saying that she didn’t like the colour. She recalls, “Intuitively, I started feeling something is going wrong. I kept all five saris aside. Later on, I caught her red handed when she tried returning a sari with the fall stitched on and mud on the lower border. From that time a new rule was established by us: no return no exchange.”
“Earlier mostly non-Bengalis used to buy saris from me. But now after opening my boutique, I received a lot Bengali clients as they find my collection of saris as good and as reasonable as the ones available in Kolkata,” smiles Nandini.
Products and Price Range
The Charkha mostly promotes handloom saris from West Bengal and was formed for a noble cause for helping the poor weavers of West Bengal.
Here are the various products available at The Charkha-
- Pure cotton printed saris (Chapa) ranging from 350/- to 550/-
- Cotton Tangail (commonly known as Kolkata cotton) price-650/- to 850/-
- Fancy saris with Jari and Resham work at 1,000/-
- Cotton silk, cotton silk with jute work, soft cotton Gamcha cotton- from 1,100/-to 2,300/-
- Garad silk saris ranging from 2,200/- to 3,000/-
- Cotton Dhakai, Soft cotton Dhakai up to 2,800/-
- Linen saris ranging from 2,600 to 3,800/-
- Kantha work on Tasar silk and Bangalore silk – from 5,000/- to 9000/-
- Printed pure silk and Jari work saris from 3,800/- to 4,500/-
- Dhakai Muslin starting from 3,800/-
- Banarasi silk beginning with 4,000/-
- Tassar silk from 2,500/-
- Kanchipuram silk ranging from 4,500/- to 13,500/-
- Baluchari silk starting from 9,500/- to 11,000/-
- Ethnic jewellery and Kolhapuri chappals available too.
Nandini recommends Baluchari and Kanchipuram silk for a wedding and her favourite Dhakai sari for any sophisticated gathering, or puja, political meeting, in school, office meetings, or even in kitty parties. In fact, The Charkha’s cotton silk and linen saris are the most sold products. In just two months, Nandini had to restock cotton silk and linen saris at least four times which she says, ‘they sell out like hot cakes!’
What makes The Charkha unique?
Nandini says, “The Charkha is different from other brands only because of its mission. It took birth from a lady who forgot how to dream and to live for some other reason which is much bigger than her household chores. So, The Charkha is for all those people who are struggling to stand up and struggling to breathe.”
The Charkha team has 5 members- Nandini, her husband Sudipto Banerjee, their daughter Bhaswati, their son Sabyasachi and Nandini’s assistant.
“When The Charkha’s wheel started spinning, my husband used to live abroad, but he was immensely supportive. Whenever I held an exhibition and if he could, he would make sure that he would accompany me and help me run it successfully. My daughter studies in a different city in India but, she too provides immense moral support whether it’s regarding selection of saris, jewellery or joining me in exhibitions whenever she is in town. My son at that time was in 9th grade. He named the company The Charkha and made the logo for it. Without his physical and mental support, this company would not have been able to reach the position where it is now. My assistant Darshana, is also a huge support. From showing saris to clients, folding them, keeping the mannequin ready, cleaning, preventing shoplifting and keeping records of sales, she does it all. She is just a little angel for me”, beams Nandini with pride.
Future Plans & Response so far
With such a positive response, Nandini now plans to introduce more saris from other parts of India as well. She says, “The response, from the time of my boutique’s launch, has been great! People are coming in by the droves and they all end up really appreciating the entire collection. The journey has been a little challenging, in terms of the different kinds of customers that come in, but my family has been immensely supportive and they help me in any way they can.”
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