TBI Blogs: How a Brother-Sister Duo Helped Manipuri Artisans Triple Their Earnings in 9 Months

Traditional Indian crafts and artistry can benefit greatly through access to online and urban markets via social enterprises. Ziveli is such a social enterprise, bringing the kauna craft-work of Manipur to the world.

Traditional Indian crafts and artistry can benefit greatly through access to online and urban markets via social enterprises. Ziveli is such a social enterprise, bringing the kauna craft-work of Manipur to the world.

Fair-trade, earth-friendly, sustainable, creative, handmade, unusual, affordable, and geared to revive traditional Indian crafts and artistry, with a bohemian personality to boot. What more can you ask for from an enterprise? Meet Ziveli, the brainchild of brother-sister duo Kehaan J. Saraiya (27) and Tanvi J. Saraiya (30).

Ziveli means “live long” in Serbian, and this creative enterprise looks all set to do just that, while ensuring the same for its employees—about 150 Manipuri artisans who make lifestyle products by weaving kauna, a reed that grows in water. Since its inception in April 2016, Ziveli has already tripled the artisans’ monthly income and multiplied its workforce, while staying true to its ethics of fair trade and environmental responsibility.

One of their artisans, Ibeni Devi, won the National Award for Most Skillful Crafts Person for her Kauna craft.

Ibeni and her husband Naimchand are the only two artisans who use a specialized technique of splicing the kauna reed into four parts and weaving it with a needle. This produces a highly intricate design. This bag took 15 days to make, with every detail handcrafted to perfection.

What began as Kehaan’s final-year business design project at Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology developed into a full-fledged thriving social enterprise. Kehaan is a product design graduate from Srishti, and Tanvi has studied and worked in the field of hotel management. As a designer, Kehaan says he fell in love with beauty of the craft and the people making it.

As part of research for his project, the brother-sister duo spent two months in Manipur, spread over two visits. The first visit was to touch base, study the cluster of artisans, and get to know them. They studied the Manipuri artisans’ livelihoods, their process, their social behaviour, and the crafts in neighbouring clusters. Through this process, they gathered enough information to set up their own enterprise.

Tanvi saw this as a beautiful opportunity for them to start their own lifestyle brand with a cause. Kehaan designed a range of products, and Tanvi handled the managing and marketing. Thus, Ziveli was born.

Kehaan says, “We at Ziveli believe in sustainable living through environmentally-conscious lifestyle products and crafts heritage. We are on a pursuit to integrate India’s rich arts into day-to-day life. By working with artisans first-hand, we are trying to restore the art to its former glory. By bringing the artisans to the fore, we also help them have a link to the urban market. Our products are carefully designed and delivered with the highest level of craftsmanship.”

At present, Ziveli employs about 150 artisans from Manipur, most of them women.  About 300 local villagers have been trained in the craft.

Master Artisan Premila

In Ziveli’s first nine months, the artisans’ monthly wages have shot up by 150 %. Also, the cluster size of artisans working in the kauna craft community has grown from 50 artisans to 150 artisans.

The enterprise began with 50 artisans making ₹2,500 per month, and now employs 150 artisans who make ₹7,500 per month. Kehaan’s final-year project document helped them receive grants from the JRD Tata trust to help mobilize and sustain the craft cluster under Odesh (an NGO which works to enhance the livelihood of the weaker sections of Manipur through skills training). Ziveli has gotten this far with absolutely no funding from any external sources, with the founders incurring all costs from their own pockets.

However, the budding enterprise faces its own share of challenges. Transportation of goods from Manipur is a big challenge, as are the communal problems in Manipur. To cater to bulk orders, Ziveli also requires a warehouse set up in Manipur. Though it has completed total sales amounting to ₹3.5 lakhs in the past nine months, the enterprise’s net profit has been only ₹25,000.

About 40 % of the proceeds go back to the artisans, and 40 % is spent on the transportation of goods.

Some of Ziveli’s products at a pop-up in Bangalore. The price range is between ₹150 to ₹3,000.

Ziveli’s aim is to associate with more Indian arts and crafts, and bring the artisans to the fore through environmentally-conscious fair-trade lifestyle products. Now, the siblings have also begun collaborating with other designers on a regular basis. They plan to eventually gather a team of like-minded people to take Ziveli forward, and set up their own retail store.

As someone once said, every time you spend money, you cast a vote for the kind of world you want. Ziveli seems a great place to cast a conscious vote.

To know more about Ziveli and their products, you can reach out to them via Facebook, Instagram, or their blog.

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