Handloom is the new style statement in the fashion world. From the Prime Minister to marquee designers, everyone is talking handloom. In the handloom space, Weavesmart, founded by Nishita Manne (CA & CS), Prashanth Manne (ISB alumnus) and Shilpi Singh (ISB and IIT alumnus) is the start-up to watch out for.
Started in early 2015, Weavesmart is an online aggregator platform that allows Indian weavers and artisans to display and sell their products to customers around the world. It is the first e-commerce handloom store approved by the Govt. of India to deal directly with the weavers. Weavesmart is also an e-marketing partner for the Ministry of Textiles for promoting India Handloom Brand and Handloom products.
“Weaving, after agriculture, is the second largest profession in the Country. We happened to closely interact with the weavers in the Pochampally village and realized the big opportunity that is unfolding for the handloom sector in the online space. Quickly, we conceptualized and launched www.weavesmart.com.” says Nishita Manne, the Founder & CEO of Weavesmart. She also happens to be a diehard fan of handloom and would not trade her handloom full closet with anything.
Nishita further adds that “There are lot of online market places that connects vendors and shop owners to customers in the online space, but there is no platform that exclusively focusses on connecting weavers directly to the customers. The arts, crafts, and skills of weavers are left underappreciated and underpaid. Traditionally, weavers have been selling through local shops, dealers and middlemen. Weavesmart is an effort in providing access to weavers to directly reach out to customers and help in improving their earnings.”
“At first, it wasn’t an easy start for Weavesmart. Weavers hesitated to share photos of their products for displaying on the website. They hardly had any exposure to online business. They could not believe that products can be sold by just displaying their photos, specifically clothes. They used to ask, “Where is the touch and feel factor, which Indian consumers are so used to? Weavesmart carried out extensive education and awareness among the weavers. First, only a handful of them came onboard.
Initial sales happened through family and friends. Later, customer base expanded through referrals, word of mouth and quality service. Overtime, increase in sales, and education, awareness and training programs by the team helped in growing the weaver network. Today, Weavesmart has more than 3000 weavers in its network and has clientele spread across not only in India but overseas as well including USA, Canada, UK, Australia and middle east.”
Initially started with one weaver cluster, the Company now has expanded in 10 weaver clusters in five states and have uploaded more than 20,000 products on its website till date.
Weavesmart is a venture with a social angle as it helps weavers to earn better margins for its products by eliminating middlemen. All products sold on their website are high quality and authentic as they are directly sourced from the weavers. Weavesmart is gradually establishing its brand in the mind of customer for quality and authenticity, which is validated by the fact that it sees 40% repeat traction from existing customers.
Weavesmart says “Today, there is no online market place like Weavesmart. All others are either inventory led models or are not exclusive to handloom. We did not want to be an inventory model as we see it a limiting factor both in terms of weaver reach and collection. In a market place model, there is no limit to growing the weaver network and thus bringing wider collection to customers and at the same time impacting lives of more weavers. Customers like niche and premium and that’s what Weavesmart is offering them in the handloom category.”
Slowly, the team’s efforts are being recognized. In November 2016, among tough competition, Weavesmart was successfully featured among the top five startups in the accelerator program being run by Indian School of Business and SAP Labs. On National Handloom Day 2016, Ministry of Textiles recognized Weavesmart as the handloom start-up with highest sales in FY16.
The Founding team believes in the opportunity and is working hard to make Weavesmart a global brand in handloom space, a brand which is synonymous for quality and authenticity in the hand curated and handmade market. In the words of the founding team “Success will only come if you believe in yourself and keep sticking around”.
Weavesmart covered on DD National TV on National Handloom Day, 2016: