Chitra Aiyer 2 April, 2021
Tamaala sells a unique range of handcrafted home decor & gifting products from artisans across India to the discerning consumer through a story-telling method.
Tamaala placed 3rd at the NICE Aarohana Business Plan Competition (BPC) – Early Stage.
Featuring the Tamaala story on NICE Stories.
What does India’s artistic heritage mean to the founders? How do they add value to traditional art and craft? Why is ‘collaboration’ at the core of their philosophy?
All this and more!
Suvarna has a Masters in English Literature from Delhi University. After working in customer care with Jet Airways, she decided to pursue her passion for art. Her artworks are in private collections in India and abroad.
Vinay studied Physics at the University of Madras and Management at NIT, Tiruchirappalli. After working in the corporate industry for about 18 years, he chose to be an entrepreneur. He has worked in Retail – Shoppers Stop, Telecom – Tata Teleservices & Reliance, Media – Radio Mirchi and Amagi.
Read their story.
Vinay: While my ancestral roots are in Bangalore, I was born in Jamshedpur and grew up in Chennai. I speak Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, English and understand Malayalam as well.
I went to The School KFI, one of the schools founded by Jiddu Krishnamurti. My numerous interactions with artisans then as well as later have shaped my ideas of supporting and working with rural and tribal artists and artisans.
Suvarna: Growing up in Calcutta and New Delhi, I am fluent in Bengali, Hindi, Telugu (mother tongue), Tamil, Kannada apart from English and French. My formative years were shaped through philosophical, theological and spiritual discussions at home.
Our love for India coupled with our travels have helped us discover India’s brilliant range of indigenous art & craft. However, we also became painfully aware of the dwindling state of traditional handicrafts.
We figured that the issue was two-fold – the gaps in market delivery as well as the artisans’ lack of understanding of the modern consumer lifestyles and aesthetic needs.
To us, our calling was clear. We wanted to revive the art forms!
What did we need to do? Bring the artisans back to their crafts.
How were we going to achieve that? By creating more sources of revenue and furthering their sustenance.
It was obvious to us – empowering the artisans was key to revitalizing and celebrating India’s rich artistic heritage.
Our deep respect for all things handcrafted and an unending sense of wonderment at the richness of India’s Arts and Crafts are the driving factors behind founding Tamaala.
We saw an opportunity in bringing the arts to the homes of urban consumers. For this to happen, we had to connect lucrative markets to the artisan creations. We shared this idea with our family & friends, who were all supportive. With that, we started Tamaala as an art studio in Bangalore.
Tamaala means the evergreen tree. For us, it is the evergreen tree nurturing indigenous art & craft.
The average artisan earns only a small fraction of the final selling price if there are middlemen or volume buyers involved. We realized that design intervention was key to increasing the perceived value of the creations.
Launching in 2015, we spent the first year and a half in visiting artisans and also creating designs and terribly failing at many! In the first year, we worked with 10 artisans, produced 30 SKUs and served 100 customers.
Over the 6 years, we have grown to work with about 150 artisans across 40 regions in India and produce 300 SKUs. We have about 3000 retail and 10 institutional customers.
Our travels & discussions at the craft clusters continue – it’s a never-ending iterative process! However, we’re much better aligned now.
We bring a unique range of handcrafted home decor & gifting products to the discerning consumer through a story-telling method.
Suvarna: I see the possibility of visual art touching people in multiple ways and extend it to my take on design infusion into traditional & tribal craft – design that enhances the aesthetic & ergonomic value without taking away the inherent craftsmanship.
As part of the story-telling, we bring forth the history, the making process, and a day-in-the-life of the artisan to our unique home decor creations, traditional games and wall art pieces.
Including the story-telling makes the gifting process pleasurable for our customers.
Delivering quality and value is the surest way to grow. We do it by creating a wow design and pricing it cheaper than the perceived value.
Some of our products go viral, especially the innovations! These have brought us both domestic as well as international clients.
Vinay: I am focused on exploring the possibilities of interconnections, collaborations and revenue streams to translate our vision into a sustainable business.
We have tied up with NGOs & crafting organizations to use their resources and co-create designs. They also outsource skilled manpower to us when required. Some recent notable partnerships:
Collaboration, not competition, is the way ahead.
Competing in the cultural space where most of us are evangelizing to create a larger audience is an unnecessary activity. Collaborations will bring heft to the combined effort.
Our cause and our products resonate well with our customers, so much so that we have had several customers stepping in to manage some of our specific projects for no remuneration!
In fact, our website is built by one of our patrons.
In the current pandemic scenario, she’s investing in dressing up her home, creating more at-home entertainment and looking for remote gifting options.
Going forth, we will use the Internet and e-commerce to better effect, cater to the increased stay-at-home lifestyle changes, as well as expand the core customer profile to the younger generation.
We pay our artisans in advance. So, we are always in need of significant working capital. We’re pruning the number of SKUs to be nimbler in our inventory management but still be representative of the clusters we work in.
It has been absolutely amazing for us to be recognized on the NICE Aarohana platform. To be adjudged a worthy business by the highly respected jury is no mean feat!
We thank the mentors for enabling us to sharpen our vision and presentation.
Since this was a first for us, we prepared with our intent as the basis – that we were preserving the traditional art & craft and the livelihoods of our artisans. The mentorship helped us focus on value creation and unit economics, where we focus on higher gross margins & high inventory turnover ratios.
As one of the jury members stated – we can save the handicrafts and the world only if we deliver value to the customer – and we agree!
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Images from Tamaala