Neeraj Sharma, a resident of Jhajjar in Haryana, quit his city life to go back to the village and start Mitti, Me Aur Aap to revive the traditional pottery techniques. Today, his venture earns him lakhs.
Few may know the perils of using non-stick utensils, which may provide ease of cooking. They have been found harmful to both the environment and us.
But what is the alternative? While the market is flooded with products that make tall claims of not adversely impacting the environment, one must still exercise caution.
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Earthenware utensils seem like a safe bet but fake products, made using non-traditional methods, are looming large. Several earthenware products are being made with a die-cast mould with a chemical coating on it.
Such earthenware might end up causing more harm than we know of.
To bring back traditional pottery, Neeraj Sharma, a resident of Dawla village in Jhajjar (Haryana) was inspired to start his own business named ‘Mitti, Aap Aur Main’ (mud, you and me).
This business is now yielding a monthly turnover of over Rs 2 lakh.
Back to basics
An engineer by qualification, Neeraj spent the last two years of his life in his native village. It was here that he learnt how to make traditional utensils without the use of any die-cast moulds or chemicals. Speaking to The Better India, he says, “I started this journey by working with two potters from my village and today there are more than eight potters who are associated with the organisation. The products we make are shipped pan-India.”
He continues, “Now with an increased level of awareness about the harmful impact of non-stick and plastic utensils, people are actively looking for traditional products. That has helped us immensely. To give our work more weightage, I have also tied up with nutritionists and doctors who often speak about the benefits of these utensils and the harm that the other utensils cause us in the long run.”
Neeraj completed his engineering from a college in Rohtak in 2016. After that, he got a job with a corporate in Gurgaon where he stayed until 2019. “While I was in Gurgaon I was always troubled by various health issues. If left to my own devices I would have returned to my village earlier on. However, for the sake of my family, I continued in Gurgaon. I went back to my village and told my parents that I would spend the time preparing for the civil service examination instead.”
Neeraj had made up his mind about not returning to the city. He intended to find some business to engage in while staying in the village.
An idea that germinated from home
At home, he started noticing various kinds of earthenware. While some would break rather easily most others were sturdy and had lasted a long time. Intrigued he made a trip to a factory near his house where these earthenware products were made. The assumption he went to the factory with was that he would meet many artisans working on these products.
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However, what he saw left him stunned. “I entered this factory and saw various kinds of machines churning out these products. Several die-cast moulds were being used and there was no human input at all,” he recalls. This seemed like a great business idea given the demand for such earthenware. With this in mind, Neeraj returned home and decided to start a business dealing with these products.
He says, “Initially, I also used the moulds and dyes to make the products. However, I soon realised that large amounts of chemicals like caustic soda and soda silicate were being used to make these products. With some basic research, I also found out that these were harmful chemicals.”
Thus began his journey of finding a way to go back to the traditional way of pottery.
This led him to some of the traditional potters from the village who had lost their jobs with the advent of machines. “I started talking to these potters and realised that while many of them had lost their jobs, they were all looking for an opportunity to put their skill to use again. This is how the idea of the business struck me,” he adds.
A rocky start
At first, with just two potters who saw merit in Neeraj’s idea, he adds, “Even though the utensils that we were making were not colourful and attractive to look at, we knew that they were good products with absolutely no chemicals in them. It took us a while but once people started understanding that we used no chemicals more and more people came to see our work more out of curiosity than anything else.”
To spread the word Neeraj also started using social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube to speak about the products and their qualities. “It was difficult to find customers on Amazon since we found that most of them were attracted towards the good-looking and shiny utensils,” he says. However, nothing deterred Neeraj and his team. They kept working.
Attending local festivals and organic fairs also helped in spreading the word. At these events, Neeraj met doctors and nutritionists who were very impressed with the products and started speaking about them. Slowly, people from the city started visiting the unit to buy directly from Neeraj. He says that a lot of the traffic that his business gets is courtesy of the videos he puts up on his channel on YouTube called – ‘Mitti, Aap Aur Me’.
With over 1,34,000 subscribers, Neeraj says that he uses the platform to create awareness, talk about the benefits and educate people on using good quality earthenware products, especially for cooking.
Neeraj takes immense pride in having returned to his village and working with these artisans. “Being able to employ so many artisans has been my biggest achievement so far.”
One can buy planters, kitchen utensils and even cookware at prices starting from Rs 250.
The qualities that make these products stand-out include:
1. The clay that is used to make these products are sourced from the foothills of Rajasthan and Haryana.
2. The soil from the fields is not used to make any product. This is to avoid the contamination of the products by the fertilisers that farmers use in their fields.
3. Going back to the traditional method of using clay without the use of any chemicals or moulds.
To buy these exquisite handcrafted pieces, click here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)