In 2016, Hema Sarda came across a unique piece of Assamese bamboo jewellery at a handicraft fair in Delhi and bought a couple of them to see if she could give a shot at making them.
For the 65-year-old, that marked the start of her entrepreneurial journey.
Based in Mumbai, her direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand Bambouandbunch works with artists from the tribal community of Assam to design and sell bamboo jewellery. Hema explains that the aim of the venture is to amplify the lesser-known crafts of India.
In India, jewellery is synonymous with buying gold, silver and other metals – but not bamboo. Hema tells a lesser-known fact about the plant is that bamboo is considered ‘green gold’ because it can be grown easily, is renewable and sustainable, and has a versatile use.
Now she works with two clusters of artisans; after sourcing quality bamboo from artisans in her Jamnagar, Gujarat, she sends them to artisans in tribal regions of Assam to design the jewellery.
Hema began displaying the products at exhibitions, where word-of-mouth played a key role in generating sales. The products are priced between Rs 500 and Rs 7,500.
Bootstrapped with an initial investment of Rs 15,000, the brand has consistently generated annual revenue of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
The entrepreneur acknowledges that the number of sales has not been very high but assures there is interest among the audience.
“I am also trying to figure out where we are going wrong…but if we post a picture on Instagram, many would inquire about the product and price. They may feel that the products are costly for using bamboo. However, we incur costs while working with artisans in two different locations to ensure the quality,” she explains.
In addition to Instagram, Bambouandbunch is available on Jaypore and Gaatha.
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While Hema has gained experience in running a business for the last six years, she also faced certain challenges “At 65, I struggle with reading about the market, looking for a market space, and the digital activities like Instagram,” she says.
That is where her daughter-in-law Tanya steps in to locate the marketplaces, take care of social media marketing, photography, and create lookbooks.
Now based in London, Tanya is looking for opportunities to sell at fairs and exhibitions and gradually expand in the UK as well.
(Products by Bambouandbunch)
Hema began by drawing up a list of shops online that sell bamboo jewellery and reached out to many of them. A seller connected her to an artisan in Assam.
However, there were challenges like the language barrier which came in the way of communicating the design work to artisans. It also took a great deal of convincing for the artisans to come around and experiment with new ideas and designs.
Another roadblock was the lack of courier services in the tribal regions. Due to limited connectivity, artisans had to travel to the nearest city to receive any packages of raw materials.
Going forward, Hema says it is likely that other brands will copy their designs and products.
“There is a waiting period for any entrepreneur who starts up and mine will be over soon,” Hema signs off.