Dang is a small district in Gujarat, economically and geographically secluded from the rest of the state. Seasonal migration is a common phenomenon, and to curb that and provide employment to the locals of the district, Saloni Sacheti founded Baansuli, a bamboo jewellery brand to uplift the local craft and artisans.
Abhishansa Mathur was in conversation with Saloni Sacheti, to understand her journey of founding Baansuli as a project to shaping it into a social enterprise.
Where did it all begin for you?
After having a troublesome fight with my boss, I decided to quit the job. Since childhood, I used to think of doing something for women's empowerment and especially women's financial independence. And that's how I applied for SBI Youth for India Fellowship, the 13-month residential, rural fellowship. Without telling anyone, I applied for it, and one day I got a call for the interview. After the bad interview, I thought I wouldn't be selected and again started searching for other jobs and gave 2 interviews as well, and my parents had fixed my engagement with my then partner. One fine day, I got a mail from them saying you got selected and join at this place. And that time, I remember it was all confusion that I had in my mind. Feeling of joy because of getting into it and feeling afraid to tell it to parents and now to in-laws. The pressure of convincing both the parents was horrible. My then-partner called me and said, "Go and do this fellowship. I will be here only". I told my mom, my biggest supporter, and she was, as expected, happy to hear about it. After that, I told it to my father, whom I thought would react negatively, but in reality, he was happy and asked me how to tell it to your in-laws. My father just told my in-laws without asking about their opinion, and apparently, they were also convinced about it. Baansuli started as a project during my fellowship.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
My parents, from the very beginning, got this thing clear in their heads that they have a rebellious daughter. I am born into the Marwari Jain family in Alwar, Rajasthan. I did my schooling in Rajasthan and then went to Delhi to do my graduation. I Did B. A Hons philosophy from Indraprastha college for women, Delhi university. I am the 1st female in my house to study in Delhi or anywhere outside my hometown. I was highly active during my college days in all sorts of activities, was president of the Philosophy association, and was also awarded the best student. I was active in theatre activities also. After my graduation, I went to Banaras Hindu University to pursue LL.B., and that makes me 1st generation lawyer. During my LL.B. I did an internship in places like MKSS and NCW and various rural areas to study the rural community. After graduation, I was placed in a law firm in dealing, which was dealing with electricity laws. I am a trained Kathak dancer and love meeting new people and learning through them. I initiated Baansuli to give livelihood options to tribal and to promote handicrafts and tribal skills. Artisans who were then indulged in manual labour, and trying to migrate, started working with Baansuli to revive the art and culture and earn a livelihood, and further stop migrating. Coming from a non-design background, I was never less a designer. I always wanted our customers to buy our jewellery because of its appeal, not just because of its cause. When people stop at our counter, seeing beautiful jewellery, and buy them, my reward and seeing my artisans happy are my award. We have won the 3M CII Young Innovator Challenge Award, Best start-up award by NIRD and Ministry of Rural Development, Top 18 Social Innovator by PIC NCSI, and women entrepreneur in the social sector by Dainik Nav Jyoti.
Please share the What, When, & How of starting your brand Baansuli?
BAANSULI – Bamboo Artisan Socio-Economic Upliftment Initiative (Baansuli), is also an acronym of two words, i.e. Beans means "Bamboo "and Hansuli is "A jewellery pattern ". So Baansuli is jewellery made from Bamboo and is a social enterprise that economically empowers the group of tribal artisans making handcrafted contemporary bamboo jewellery in the district of Dang, Gujarat. Baansuli was founded as a project during SBI Youth for India Fellowship with the support from SBI Youth for India and DHRUVA-BAIF, which later in 2019 took the shape of social enterprise. Dangs is situated in the south part of Gujarat with an abundance of bamboo. According to NITI Aayog, Dang is one of India's most economically distressed districts out of 640 districts. 98% of the population is tribal, and 88.83% population is dependent on agriculture apart from agriculture. People were also indulged in a lot of manual labour like MNREGA or which is given by Government agencies. The problem arises after monsoons; due to its hilly terrain, Dang faces water scarcity post-monsoon. This discourages all cultivation practices due to a lack of irrigation facilities. As a result, Dang observes the seasonal migration of cultivators and agriculture labourers for manual labour to the nearest cities. As per the District census 2011, an average of 49.35 % follows seasonal migration. The major issue in the district is of lack of income generation due to lack of livelihood alternatives. When I went there through my fellowship, I actually saw the condition of the people. It made me realize what the problem is and how we can solve it, so I thought of making something really unique and different product which can give livelihood to tribal, with the thought of doing something related to bamboo because bamboo was already in abundance and that's how the idea of bamboo jewellery came in, and that's how Baansuli was born.
Can you walk us through your journey so far?
Baansuli is made to give the tribals of Dang a regular source of income and stop seasonal migration by providing them livelihood opportunities. As mentioned, the people of Dangs are well versed with bamboo and its crafting. They were making bamboo baskets or anything related to bamboo for their own household purpose, but those artefacts were less durable and untreated. When I visited this place, people were living in high poverty with no regular source of income. They were highly dependent on government-related work like building toilets and roads etc. They were sleeping on the floors of their Kucha houses with a minimum amount of food. This actually was the striking point where I decided to work for the community and build a healthy ecosystem for Dang people. As witnessed, we always try to negotiate or ask for a discount from weaker sections of the society if they sell anything particularly related to handicraft. This was when I thought to make this an organization with the urban face to lead and cater the products to the urban market who will actually understand the value of handicraft and its cause. So, we thought of making contemporary Bamboo jewellery as a mainstream lifestyle accessory to the urban market.
After gauging things that can be made from bamboo, we thought of bamboo jewellery to be the most benefitting product. Bamboo jewellery is not new to India, as it is already quite known in northeastern states, we thought of making it contemporary with its USP, which severs both western and Indian outfits.
Our first exhibition was in Dastkar Delhi. People were amused to see such lightweight, trendy, and yet eco-friendly jewellery. We got reoccurring orders from various 5-star resorts, nature shops, souvenir shops, retailers, distributors, tourist spots, fashion designers, Bhujodi, Government emporiums, etc.
Tell us how you source your raw materials for your products?:
We use locally source Manvel Bamboo available in Dang. For other elements like German Silver and beads, we procure it from Jaipur, where our marketing unit is based too.
What are some challenges that you faced while running Baansuli?:
The major challenge was to motivate the artisans to understand the concept of regular income, the introduction of contemporary bamboo jewellery, and get them on board. After visiting the village, I called a community meeting in the village where almost all the villages came. I motivated them with an hour speech. After that, 10 people came to me and shared their willingness to work on this project. I showed them various videos of new techniques and the process of making bamboo jewellery.
As Dang district is very secluded and further we work in a forest village which is almost 150 km from the next city, sometimes travel is a problem, and that's why our marketing unit is in Jaipur so that we can cater to Pan India.
As we are bootstrapped, and our focus is to give the artisans livelihood, we don't have a team who can manage our work. So, all the work is done by me. So, sometimes it becomes a little hard to manage.
What, according to you, makes Baansuli stand out amongst other brands?
We don't only sell the product, we sell the story of our journey, our artisans' journey, and the process of that jewellery. This jewellery is not only a fashion accessory, it consists of the craft, patience, and pain of our artisans.
The major problem that women face is stretched earlobes after wearing heavy earrings. According to experts, more and more women are actually seeking surgery to heal from the damage caused by way-too-heavy earrings, and on average, weight should not exceed 7, maybe 10 grams, even with elaborate designs. Wearing comfort should never be compromised.
Every six months, we introduce new designs. Our first collection was Arya then, Mimansa, Dyuti and Bougainvillea.
How are you using Social Media to promote your homegrown brand?
We keep on posting product images on our social media handles like Facebook and Instagram. We regularly do the promotions of it.
What is your 5-year plan for Baansuli? :
We are expanding the product range by incorporating anklets, Rakhis, hot plates, coasters, lamps, impact gifting, etc., with bamboo. And apart from bamboo, we are trying to onboard other artisans of the village. Our view is to adopt the entire village and start a crèche for the kids.
Can you share your business model with us?
We started with B2B, but due to COVID, we are catering B2C as well.
One advice/suggestion you'd like to give aspiring entrepreneurs out there.:
Try to be an example of a setter rather than looking for examples. Just follow your passion, and design is everywhere around you. Try to get inspired by the things around you. Love what you are doing or find what you love. You don't need to be the best but what you need to be is loyal, dedicated, creative and honest to your work, then you will surely be big in your own eyes and to the rest of the world.
Baansuli is backed by Her&Now-Empowering Women Entrepreneurs, implemented by GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in partnership with the Government of India’s Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MoSDE).