NATASHA C ACHARYA – BORN TO INSPIRE AND TO EMPOWER
Natasha C Acharya is an entrepreneur, designer, curator, traveler, writer, photographer, and handloom, and handicraft evangelist. After a successful 15-year stint in the ITES sector, Natasha moved into the craft sector with a passion to collaborate with craft communities across the country. Her work in the past 10 years has brought Indian handloom and handicrafts from the interiors of rural India into the urban global landscape.
Natasha believes that businesses should not be just about creating wealth for one organization but collaborating with communities that impact and improve their lives substantially. Her enterprise is committed to ethical sourcing and paying the artisans a fair price. She works with several organizations that engage people with disabilities, underprivileged women, and tribal groups to produce crafts that secure a source of livelihood for them. She believes in promoting organic, eco-friendly products and encourages sustainable fashion.
Her e-commerce enterprise, “Of Indian Origin,” was recently awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
Of Indian Origin: a woman-led social enterprise
Of Indian Origin is a women-led social enterprise that works with a collective of artisan-based cottage industries, providing a platform that promotes hand-crafted products made in India to a global audience. They currently work with over 100 artisans and as many craft traditions. Their online store, ‘Of Indian Origin,’ showcases a mindfully curated or co-created product line that articulates cultural identity. It is an effort to reclaim our extraordinary heritage by engaging with an audience that understands the history of these crafts and the need to patronize not just the crafts but the artisan communities that struggle to keep them alive.
To inspire and be the face of change, needs a leader and a team with passion and vision. Here is an excerpt from the conversation we had we Natasha when we interviewed her.
What is the idea behind the enterprise?
“As younger generations of artisans seek employment in other unskilled jobs, we are slowly losing craft traditions that are age-old and part of a heritage that needs preserving. We are losing our cultural identity in a bid to be a homogenous part of the global citizenry. There are so many examples of craft traditions that have dwindled to a single-family practicing it today, and a few years from now, when the next generation has no incentive to carry them forward, it will be lost to the world.
A solution cannot be achieved without an approach that clearly understands and addresses the challenges endemic to working in this industry, where product quality, production consistency, delivery timelines, and professional business practices need serious process intervention to make it into an organized supply chain business.
The idea is to create a model which will provide quality craft that is relevant, build artisan communities that are organized and professional, and create an audience that will engage in long-term and volume transactions. This holds a big potential for self-employment and wealth creation at the grassroots level and truly empowers the community both socially and economically.”
What’s your story?
“I have always struggled with the question – What’s the story? What was the turning point in your journey? No, I was not sitting under a tree when the apple fell, and I embraced gravity. In fact, I was sitting in my much-coveted corner office with a view of the woods and the river, 2 large monitors on my desk, pouring over excel sheets, managing a team of 300… when I gave it all up to pursue my long-held dream of working with artisans.
I have been travelling since I was an infant, but in the last 20 years, my travels have led me to the most remote parts of the country, giving me an opportunity to live and work with artisan communities, and tribal communities. The woods were there sometimes, at other times a river, and sometimes a narrow lane crammed with people and products, but the corner office was replaced by a chai kitapri.
And while I sat there chatting up with the locals, I would spy merchants on scooters piled high with bundles, their limbs akimbo, barely managing to keep the balance. And while none of them have seen an excel sheet in their lives, their wives are wearing diamonds to the sabzi mandi. I developed a disdain for PowerPoint presentations. I was naïve, I know. Now my life seems to be revolving around Pitch Decks and presentations. Life has a wicked sense of humor. What can I say?
It has been a learning experience, every step of the way. In the early days, pre-selfie days, to be sure, I remember living in places where there were no roads, no electricity, no toilets, no water. You had to walk in the dunes for miles to reach the neighboring village cluster and would be very lucky if you stumbled upon a camel who was willing to offer you a lift. Needless to say, I soon befriended all the camels in the area. We were on a first-name basis. The locals had never seen a train in their lives.
There was no television there. I remember, courtesy of my short hair, the women would actually feel me up to ensure that I was a woman before admitting me into their inner sanctum. These people were illiterate, but they had the wisdom of the earth. They are so grounded and so generous. It was a humbling experience. I felt so connected and at ease with them that I was drawn back to them over and over again. That really is my story of transformation that led me to wanting to work with them and for them.
I have seen this industry transform from the time when the artisan had never travelled outside his village to the present times when they participate in international exhibitions and fashion shows. There may have emerged a few award-winning craftsmen who are doing well for themselves, but the situation for the community at large remains unchanged.
Of Indian Origin’s mission is to disrupt the quantum of impact that transforms the livelihoods of artisans and artisan communities. We plan to do this by bringing in an intuitive technology-driven process and a digital platform that lends structure to a currently unorganized sector. The vision is to make technology and thereby, a global market accessible to even the remotest artisan in the country.”
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