Eco Saree Club was launched by Mr. Khitish Pandya in 2020. He hails from Delhi but provides employment to the tribal weavers of Bhagalpur, Bihar.
What started with marketing for an NGO, streamlined into venturing out as a business. Eco Saree Club was founded to sell handwoven cotton and Tussar silk sarees at a reasonable price. The brand feels proud to give employment to the tribal weavers from Bhagalpur.
Abhishansa Mathur was in conversation with Mr. Khitish Pandya, founder of Eco Saree Club to explore more about his two-decade-long journey.
What When and How of The Eco Saree Club
On asking Mr. Khitish Pandya how he founded the Eco Saree club, he says, “I had joined an NGO called ‘PRADAN’, whose primary objective was to create livelihood opportunities for poor people. So, they worked in various sectors like agriculture, horticulture, etc. I came in contact with them in 2000 and I saw that they had a project where they worked with the tribals who were engaged in the production of silk. They had trained women in the village to make yarn. Pradhan had also started a small weaving operation to convert the yarn into the fabric. But they were struggling to market the yarn. I had joined them at this stage. I was involved in the marketing activity. In the first seven years, we tried to stabilize the system, increase the production and the quality. We spent the next few years ideating how to make it a sustainable enterprise. After three years from then, we were sustainable and we decided to form a producer company taking care of all the production work by the villages. Then I formed ‘Eco Tasar’ of which the ‘Eco Saree Club’ is a division. The main motive of ‘Eco Tasar’ is to provide a livelihood to the small producers who are there in the supply chain. Currently, we supply the products across the country along with exporting to other countries. According to an analysis we did two years back, we came to know that 1,954 people were getting livelihood because of us.”
Early life and Qualifications
Mr. Pandya further adds, “I was born and brought up in Odhisha. I did an MBA and my first job was with the Steel Authority of India Ltd. Then, I worked for three years with two different companies. At one company, I sold media on video cassettes. The other one was an industrial company that used to manufacture prefabricated shelters. One of their products was mobile toilet vans that are visible in slums across Delhi. After some time, I had left that company to manufacture the same kind of products like prefabricated guard cabins and office cabins. I ran this business for six years but then, I met with an accident and the whole thing collapsed. So, I was a failed entrepreneur in 1999. But then, education came to the rescue and I started working as a Marketing Consultant. I worked with small companies during which I got connected to NGO PRADAN. I was called to assess for the marketing but then, the CEO offered me to continue as a partner where I started taking business and marketing side for them. After six years, I found my own company.”
The beginning of the ‘Eco Saree Club’
In 2020, Mr. Khitish Pandya expanded and formed Eco Saree Club to reach the buyers directly. “Last year in August, we thought of selling sarees directly which could connect Indian working women. There are various reasons for that too. The sarees are reasonably priced and elegant which women can wear at their workplaces. That was the idea behind it. Since most of the working women are well versed with computers and the internet, we thought of this brand to cater to them in a better way. We also have an idea to create a community of buyers where there will be designs that will best suit that community.”, says Mr. Pandya.
The Pandemic Effect
This doesn’t come as news businesses being affected due to the pandemic. Mr. Khitish adds, “Our business topline has shrunk by 20 to 25%. The number of weavers in Bhagalpur (Bihar) and other parts has also shrunk. Fortunately, the exports did not go down drastically but they reduced by 10% last year, unlike the domestic business that was affected the most.”
Mr. Khitish gives us a sneak peek about their sourcing of raw materials from the local artisans. He says, “We pick cocoons from tribals in villages. Almost 800 women are making yarn and 411 people are working directly with us. Apart from that, we are working with 180 weavers currently. We also buy yarn from Assam where we don’t directly buy it from women who produce it but get it through our collectors. So, these people are not our employees but are independent weavers who we give raw materials and they give the products back to us.”
He further adds, “There have been usual challenges that every business faces. There is a lot of competition on social media and standing out from the clutter is a bit difficult. It takes time and effort. But I believe that once people get to know the brand and the products they start trusting you. Also, here, we are aiming at making a community of people who will buy a particular kind of saree. So, once they are aware of the quality and all that we offer, we can make our place and get out of some clutter.”
The USP of The Eco Saree Club
“Nearly 60% of the sarees in the ‘Eco Saree Club’ are weaved by hand and hand block printing is used. The rest 40% is linen which makes the products look appealing. Apart from this, our brand works with those underprivileged who can work from their home (their villages) because of us and need not migrate to cities like Patna, Varanasi, Delhi, etc for employment. So, since we started as an NGO project, even if ours is a profitable company, we aim to empower the community. We have a good team of professional designers. So, the elegance in our work and the objective of our company make our brand stand out.”, emphasizes Mr. Khitish.
Use of Social media to promote the brand
Mr. Khitish says he doesn’t have much knowledge about social media but knows the power of the medium. He has hired a consultant and has also assembled a young team to make the strategy for social media. He states the brand has got good leads from Instagram and Facebook in the last few months. They have also worked on their website which would have been launched by now but the lockdown was imposed again. However, as of now, through customer engagement on social media, they are able to manage sales.
Mr. Pandya says even if they can have 50,000 members for Eco Saree Club in the next 5 years, the objective of the brand will be met. He says, “these 50,000 need not buy the sarees all the time, but will be aware of the quality and will trust us. In this case, we will be able to support at least 3,000 workers in our pipeline.”
Advice to budding entrepreneurs
“I would like to say that initially, it might be important for you to earn money and make sales. However, ultimately, what remains with you is the good work that you do. I might not be the top 100 handloom exporter of the country, but the amount of satisfaction that I get from my work is just unexplainable. It’s important to make money to survive but one can model the enterprise in such a way that also does good for society. So, youngsters should come forward, take up entrepreneurship in such a way that it also helps its employees and society.”, states Mr. Pandya.