When 24-year-old Ranodeep Saha, a native of Kolkata, was a child, his parents often encouraged him to spend his time painting. “I used to hate it at the time, and didn’t consider it as something I would pursue long term,” he tells The Better India.
But things changed when Ranodeep fell for a girl during his college days. “I started painting for her. She rejected my proposal, but I found a new love — painting kulhads,” he says.
This love eventually led to his startup, Rare Planet, which provides indigenous handicrafts made of terracotta, copper, wood, ceramic, brass, and marble. The company, co-founded by Vijay Kumar, has involved over 10,000 local artisans from all over India.
Rare Planet’s journey began in 2015, during a college fest, where Ranodeep put up his painted terracotta kulhads for sale. “I bought them from local artisans, and painted them with vibrant colours and designs. After the fest, I received several inquiries, which helped me understand how interested people were in hand-painted kulhads,” Ranodeep says.
Age is just a number
He decided to sell these kulhads at an Oxford book stall near his home. “For one shelf’s space, I had to pay Rs 50,000 to the stall owner. I didn’t have many savings, and came from a middle-class family that couldn’t afford the huge amount. So, I made an agreement in advance with the owner, which stated that the rent of the store could be paid by the end of the month. Fortunately, the shopkeeper agreed,” he says.
Ranodeep started by selling the products with his father’s help, because they did not have enough money to hire workers. In the first month itself, he was able to earn Rs 1.5 lakh. He then used this money to hire more employees.
Simultaneously, he began selling the products in other book stores in Kolkata. But this wasn’t always easy. “Many bookstore owners were unwilling to give me shelf space because I was a student and they thought I wouldn’t be able to run a business. I had to literally plead,” he recalls, and adds, “Some doors closed, but some opened.”
Ranodeep worked on terracotta kulhads that were twice baked in the furnace, and then kept out in the sun to harden and become durable. They were coated to make them non-sticky, reusable, and microwave and dishwasher proof. With help from a college friend, Ranodeep started Rare Planet’s website, and started selling his hand-painted products to customers online.
In 2016, he approached Kolkata airport with a proposal to open a store within the premises. But the airport manager discouraged him, saying he was too young for business. However, he did help Ranodeep connect with WHSmith, which has stores in airports across India. The same year, Rare Planet began operations in Kolkata Airport’s WHSmith. Today, 85% of his products are sold across WHSmith stores in all airports.
In 2017, Ranodeept opened a book stall in Kolkata, after noticing that people’s love for books has not faded in this digital age. “I noticed many people perusing their favourite books at the stores our products were kept in. This gave me the idea of starting one of my own,” he says.
A year later, Ranodeep graduated from college, but was unwilling to take up a corporate job in a reputed company. He went ahead with expanding his startup instead. In 2019, he met Vijay, who had years of experience in retail and lifestyle.
“Today, Rare Planet’s products are available across 100 stores, including Crossword, Starmark, WHSmith, and SAPNA Books. The company’s valuation has crossed over Rs 100 crore, and the products are sold outside India as well, including the US and Australia,” Vijay tells The Better India.
“We are planning to expand our company. Our first priority will be becoming more digitally accessible. This will help customers order products easily. Secondly, our focus is on opening more stores in airports. Third, we will focus on shopping stores. We now have stores in over 100 locations, and are working towards opening more,” Vijay adds.
‘An army of artisans’
“Initially, I was Rare Planet’s only artisan, but now we have over 10,000. They come from 18 clusters, including Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat. We work like an army, and every artisan is equally important here,” Ranodeep says, adding, “Our company works a little differently. We pay the salary to the woman member in the family, as most of the men who work here spend the money for liquor.” The men are more than happy with this unique idea, and often agree themselves that the money would be in better hands if it went to their wives.
Rare Planet uses innovative ways to keep their team motivated. Last Diwali, they gave their employees’ homes a vibrant coat of paint with intricate designs. “We make sure we pay them within three days of the beginning of the month, so they can reinvest in making their next product. We also provide them with medical insurance,” Ranodeep says.
Apart from terracotta kulhads, the company also makes jewellery, pottery, bottles, handicrafts, stationary and home decor products. The products can be bought online through the company’s official website or on Flipkart, Amazon, and MensXP.
Edited by Divya Sethu