In the heart of India’s handicraft community, rural artisans are sculpting simplistic earthenware with the skill of their hands.
The process begins when the clay is meticulously sieved and churned to the right consistency in a homemade contraption. Every product shaped from this mud is dried, and then fired in a kiln rising to infernal temperatures ranging anywhere between 600 and 1,000 degree celsius.
Alongside, two 20-year-olds from the pink city of Rajasthan are working to deliver these anachronistic beauties to your location, while helping sustain the art of terracotta pottery.
Abhinav Agarwal and Megha Joshi’s Mittihub is an online store that sells earthenware delivered directly from artisans to buyers. What’s unique about the venture is its allegiance to those 25 potters back home, who are now receiving a monthly income of up to Rs 40,000 from an art that was expected to get lost amid machine-made bulk production.
A concept with a cause
“It all began in 2020 when we were asked to build an ecommerce platform for a college project. Conversations about the dying art of handmade terracotta had been flying in my house, and I decided to take the topic up,” Abhinav, a student of the Global Centre for Entrepreneurship and Commerce (GCEC), tells The Better India.
The artisans of rural India carry the dual weight of hand-crafted art as custodians of heritage and pallbearers of economic livelihood. With the advent of industrialisation, consumerism has shifted to machine-made mass produced goods, leaving behind the delicacy of uniquely crafted products. “What little these people are able to earn is taken away by middlemen as commission charges, which soar up to 50% of the total revenue,” he says.
The duo collected all this information through research and on-ground conversations with the potters of different communities.
Getting together a team of seven undergraduates, the duo got down to setting up a new customer base for their terracotta products. Initially, they had five artisans on board for the venture.
“We pooled in an initial investment of Rs 50,000 from our own savings as well as loans from friends and family and got down to business,” he says.
Aggregator delivery services were on-boarded for shipping, a website was created, and artisans were trained to deliver products of consistent quality.
Meanwhile, the startup was also selected by the Catalyst cohort of Atal Incubation Center as well.
Abhinav says the strategy was to get enough pre-orders to make the business profitable from the start. This was done by employing organic marketing strategies like word of mouth.
Finally, when Mittihub launched in 2021, the team was already working on about 30 orders.
Today, 25 artisans from Ramgarh in Alwar, Uttam Nagar in Delhi, Haryana and Agra are earning steadily with this social venture. They produce cookware, tableware and a variety of decorative merchandise that is shipped pan India.
According to the founder, these people have seen a 40% raise in their monthly incomes.
Tej Singh, one such terracotta artist from Rajasthan, is only 23 years old. Earlier, he used to rely on seasonal art exhibitions where he would keep his fingers crossed to make a sale. Since meeting Abhinav at Dastkar Nature Bazaar, he has been blessed with a fixed amount of money that comes his way. “Where earlier I used to earn around Rs 15,000, today I get a monthly income of up to Rs 40,000 with Mittihub,” he says.
The social enterprise has seen a fruitful first six months with a total revenue of Rs 3 lakh. For each sale that is made, 45% of the total revenue goes to the artisan, Abhinav says.
What keeps things rosy is the youth’s effort to create a solid customer base for rural artists who earlier had no helping hand to cope with marketing illiteracy. This also posed to be one of the major challenges for Megha and Abhinav, as each maker had to be taught how to use applications like WhatsApp for smoother operations.
Apart from this, getting business to business orders meant custom designs had to be made to meet the product requirement. Abhinav says Sreekrishna, a member of the team, creates 3-D models of such designs for visual aid, as mere verbal instructions often get lost in translation during briefings and training sessions with the potters.
To keep expanding the artisan’s business, these students have partnered with various restaurants and retail stores like Tapri, Jaipur; Mega Store, Delhi; and Barbeque Company. Two consignments have also been delivered to London and the USA respectively, while talks for future prospects continue.
Abhinav sheepishly admits to low attendance in college but proudly shares that the business has taught him lessons that aren’t available in books.
To browse through their beautiful product range, you can visit Mittihub’s website here.
Edited by Divya Sethu