What makes the textiles and fabrics from the Northeast stand out amongst all the other diverse costumes belonging to different states in India?
Besides the elegant weaves and intricate embroidery, what is fascinating and lesser known to most people across the country, is the fact that every tribe from each Northeast state has a textile legacy that has been handed down through generations and no weaving pattern of one tribe is similar to the other.
This aspect makes the cottage industries of the Northeast even more noteworthy for their sheer ability to stand out as a cultural symbol and more importantly, as an identity that personifies weaving and creating handicrafts as a way of life.
However, not many people in the country are well versed with the diverse clothing culture of the Northeast, which continues to exist as an underdog even within the ambit of its regional spaces with local artisans finding extremely few takers due to the lack of proper platforms to sell their crafts in this digital age.
This had been one of the primary reasons that led a 25-year-old young man from Assam to build an e-commerce platform through which locally crafted ethnic and traditional handicrafts from the Northeast could finally be available to the rest of the country just like any product that you buy from Amazon or Flipkart!
Brahmaputra Fables is an online shopping portal founded by Guwahati-based Dhruba Jyoti Deka on March 14, 2017, which allows one to purchase genuine curios and textiles from the Northeastern states straight from the local artisans.
The Brahmaputra is the mightiest river coursing through the Northeast, and Dhruba chose to christen his venture after it, for its significant presence in the lives and livelihoods of countless people living by its banks.
“Everything you purchase from Brahmaputra Fables is inadvertently laced with countless stories and fables from the region,” says Dhruba Jyoti to The Better India.
What makes the enterprise unique like its moniker is the clause Dhruba has incorporated in his work ethics—that artisans can team up without any registration charges. “The whole idea of setting up zero registration charges was to instate better livelihoods for local artisans, who are more often than not underpaid and exploited by middlemen,” he explains.
Dhruba was motivated by the entrepreneurial idea during his post graduation days in Pondicherry, thanks to the immense interest that his friends displayed when they came across traditional costumes and handicrafts.
“During my time at Pondicherry University, we used to organise small fests at the campus that celebrated the cultural heritage of the Northeast. Each one of us set up stalls with traditional products from our own states, and we found a great demand for these articles. At that time, the idea did take root in my head, but it became more pronounced once I headed back to Assam after my course finished. Plus, the start-up culture in Assam had begun to boom, and I was like, why not?” he remembers.
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Interestingly, Dhruba has a postgraduate degree in Chemistry, and not one person in his family has ever engaged in an entrepreneurial venture. “My late father was a teacher, while my mother is a homemaker who always used to promote local handicrafts and textiles. Maybe that’s where the appreciation for my culture and traditions took form,” Dhruba states.
Dhruba started out with Brahmaputra Fables with an initial investment put together with his own pocket money and a small loan.
“Since I hailed from a background completely unrelated to e-commerce, I realised that to take this to the Internet; I would require someone to help me develop the website. So I put this up on social media and one of my friends from school instantly reached out and offered to develop the website pro-bono,” he adds.
As for finding local artisans, Dhruba started out with his own hometown of Sarthebari, a village located in Barpeta district in Assam which is quite famous for its brass and bell metal handicrafts.
Fortunately, many of his Northeastern friends from the university helped him out further in finding local artisans from their states and collaborating with Brahmaputra Fables.
“So far, I have not done any kind of paid promotion for the website or I should say, I didn’t need to. That is the advantage of social media where anyone can market themselves seamlessly. Once the logistical aspects fell into place, the enterprise began to do quite well, and I can proudly state that in a span of a year, we have managed to send products to customers in almost every state in India,” Dhruba says.
Dhruba’s entrepreneurial genius found its way straight into the top 3000 Start-up/smart ideas across the country organised by IIM Calcutta Innovation Park in a Smart Fifty Contest organised in association with the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India in New Delhi last year.
He was also one amongst the top 10 entrepreneurs under 30 recognised by The Indian Awaz in 2017.
In his venture, Dhruba is currently assisted by college going interns. “I’m looking for more interns, especially those from financially weak backgrounds from Guwahati itself. My idea is not just to mentor young students and but also help them with a small allowance,” he mentions.
From here, what Dhruba envisions for Brahmaputra Fables is to establish itself as the go-to option for traditional products and handicrafts from the Northeast with customers not just limited to the country. The online shopping platform is also available as a mobile app on Google Play.
“There is so much more to the Northeastern states, about which the rest of the country has no idea. In my endeavours, I hope to shed a better light on our diverse and eclectic culture through these locally handcrafted products,” Dhruba adds.