Maithree Venkatesan 2 March, 2022
Nool Magic is a cultural enterprise that brings sarees directly from the hands of the weaver to that of the customer. Spanning Indian weaves from Gujarat’s well-known Patola to Telangana’s quaint Puttapaka, Nool Magic has it all. They have an extensive catalog with 30 types of sarees sourced from the artisan ranging from Bihar’s Bhagalpuri silk, Kerala’s mural-painted sarees, Maharashtra’s Paithani, Orissa’s Sambalpuri and more.
Founded in 2015, Nool Magic has a customer base of over 10,000 that resonates with its mission. Founder Vidhya Raman shares with us how Nool Magic has become a force in promoting fair-trade for the weaver community. Read on to find out.
Curating my Collection: My Love for Artisan-sourced Sarees
Sarees have been an integral part of my life since my childhood. Wherever we took a pit stop on road trips, my husband, sons and I would enquire about the artisans of that village. We would then visit them and observe their craftsmanship – the saree weaving, art, handmade crafts and more. It was fascinating to see the skill that we often take for granted. In this way, I visited an abundance of weavers and made a lot of contacts. I eventually completely stopped buying sarees from big shops located in my city.
It began during Navratri in 2010, when I decided to start wearing 10 new sarees for the 10 days. I posted my drapes for each day on my Facebook feed, and my friends from all over the world would admire my wardrobe in awe. Facebook served as an exhibitive platform for my saree collection.
My friends would then request me to get them one of the sarees I was wearing, and I would proceed to reach out to the artisan and deliver the same to my friends and family. It started out as a simple act of bringing joy to the weaver, the buyer and myself.
It All Begins with an Act of Kindness: The Birth of Nool Magic
The idea of Nool Magic came very organically to me. In December 2015, a weaver from Jharkhand reached out to me saying that he was finding it very difficult to sell in the local market. The traders who would come there often asked for bulk quantities at a price that was making it difficult for him to sustain. He asked if I would be able to help him out in any way. I reached out to a few friends and explained the weaver’s situation and sent them pictures of his work. A few good samaritans picked up some sarees, and helped alleviate his situation.
I then decided to expand this circle and make an informal organization to help the other weavers I knew, who were in a similar situation. I made a closed group on Facebook and asked my friends to add like-minded people. Within three weeks, through word of mouth, the group hit a 1000 members. I had not expected this kind of overwhelming response.
I published and spread the mission and purpose behind Nool Magic to help people resonate with this cause. I then connected with my roster of weaver contacts and asked them to begin sending me pictures of the sarees they had in stock.
My model is to directly connect the weavers to the customers and ensure maximum benefit for the weaver. I retain a small margin on the sale of sarees to cover my effort, expenses like courier charges, and taxes, and the rest goes to the weaver. I also post the price of the saree along with the picture, as it is a standard rate for all. I aim at working towards fair trade for both the customer and the weaver.
Threads That Came Together: Establishing a Network of Genuine, Self-Sufficient Weavers
I began to expand my circle of weavers through the handloom clusters that the government has created in India. I have a list of 30 artisans and weavers and have personally visited 20-25 of them. Through interviews and conversations, I have understood their problems and established their authenticity.
I often ask my weavers to send me short videos of them at work, and their workstation and feature them on the Facebook group. These videos not only ensure full transparency from my end but also let my community get a first-hand look at what goes on behind the scenes. This helps them understand the value they get out of buying the saree directly from the source.
A Stitch in Time: Helping Hands that Alleviated the Weaver’s Plight
Handwoven Saree culture has picked up since 2015. My international buyer community is always the first to extend a helping hand if any of my weavers are in financial trouble. When the pandemic started, one of my weavers was in deep trouble and asked me for help. He sent me a picture of his shelf loaded with about a thousand unsold sarees. I proceeded to post this on the group and create awareness. A group of customers from Cary, North Carolina immediately mobilized themselves and bought 50-60 sarees to generate immediate cash flow for the weaver.
Last month, 6 years after its inception, the Facebook group hit 10,000 members. It brings me great joy that there are 10,000 passionate supporters of this mission who are willing to help my weaver community.
Going Six Yards Ahead: Plans for Expansion
For the first two years of Nool Magic, I focused solely on selling sarees. However, that soon became a limitation as my customers required additional alterations and paraphernalia to be done. I then decided to bring a tailor and seamstress on board who were responsible for blouses and falls respectively. I am very proud to say that the pandemic did not affect them or their income.
For 9 months during the pandemic, when people lost their jobs, Meenal, the seamstress, was the sole income earner in her family. Irshad, my tailor, has also been a pillar of support whilst also getting steady business. It is wonderful to see these two families who are being helped right in front of my eyes. The credit for this goes to every customer in the group who kept their workflow constant.
My long term vision is to convert this into a weaver’s cooperative. I want to make a self-sufficient community of weavers. The most satisfying outcome from Nool Magic is being the bridge and seeing the impact on both ends. It is reassuring to know that the money reaches the right hands, and the buyer is happy as well.
Since Nool Magic is a closed group on Facebook, access is restricted. If you are an interested buyer who wants to be a part of the Nool Magic community, please feel free to reach out to Vidhya Raman at email@example.com. Please cite the article, and express your interest.
If your cultural enterprise is in any of our five focus sectors and you would be interested in being featured, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org