Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
In 1983, inspired by the artisan community around, this small endeavor started out of a small village of West Bengal, India.
My name is Amit Singha and I am the founder and torchbearer of Anuprerna, an artisanal sustainable textile brand taking this 35+ years old small endeavor to the global market with the mission to support and empower the rural artisans, promote and preserve East India's traditional crafts & textile, use of natural and sustainable fabric and share this incredible tradition with the world.
We are engaged in offering exclusive Textiles Scarves, Stoles, Garments, and natural fabrics such as cotton, Khadi, linen, and East India’s indigenous Handloom silk fabrics such as Matka, Tussar, Mulberry, Ketya, Eri (Peace Silk), etc. We also specialize in a variety of indigenous hand weaving and printing techniques like Jamdani, Batik, Block, and Screen Printing. The story of our products lies around hand-spun, hand-woven crafts produced in an eco-friendly manner.
Our clientele primarily falls into the B2B segment which includes domestic brands & designers. We are gradually reaching overseas and also B2C clients through our online platform, social media presence, and through other third-party platforms across domestic and overseas markets with a focus on US, Japan, UK, and other European markets.
Each of our trades contributes to the empowerment of our artisans, creating a positive and sustainable environment for them, education of their little children, the health of their family, and motivation for the next generation to continue the art form.
We strive to create a recognition for the beautiful handwoven textiles to bestow value onto the ordinary lives of these artisans with extraordinary skills. We believe, once the value is recognized globally, it should translate into higher wages for weavers.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The business has been pioneered and driven by my father in 1983, inspired by the artisans’ community around, started out of a small village in Burdwan district of West Bengal, India. I’ve grown up seeing and speaking to weavers who used to be regular visitors at our place. My father has been working closely with the weavers’ community and connecting the crafts to primarily domestic consumers through small retail stores across India.
Post my education as a computer engineer & an MBA graduate, with work experience of 3+ years in the field of finance & strategy, I decided to spearhead Anuprerna to create a sustainable and eco-friendly global brand to uplift India’s indigenous textile by leveraging various industries like IT, E-commerce, art, music and more.
There has always been an emotional connection I had working on these artisanal crafts. Moreover, I had always wanted to start my own brand. So there seemed to be a good fit I found to take the plunge and start this Brand Anuprerna in 2019. There is a certain meaning to the name “Anuprerna” (Inspiration) that highlights my personal and brand vision as well.
I believe the most effective way to bring in positive change in the world is by inspiring. The vision of the brand is to earn love and respect for East India’s crafts, a growing interest in social responsibility, the use of natural & sustainable material, and share this incredible tradition with the world.
My personal vision was to be an inspiration for other individuals, who are also born & brought up in the midst of the rural Indian culture, to someday work towards contributing back to their roots, empowering the very culture and the people he or she has grown up with.
But it’s more than a business for us as it supports a group of communities, some of which we have been working with my father for more than 30 years now. Although I don’t have any particular background on Textile or Fashion, I did understand there is a definitive appreciation for these crafts and handmade textiles. One thing that needs the most is awareness. For the initial one year, I tried to approach all domestic fashion brands who're looking for sustainable or artisanal textiles. They absolutely loved the textiles we had developed over the years. With that, I started to explore new crafts, new product categories simultaneously with new markets for these products.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the last year, my primary focus was to explore into complete sustainable ways of development along with the ethical commitment that we have already established. We forayed into natural dyes, organic material sourcing in order to establish our path to sustainability. We have already explored multiple crafts of our native West Bengal from Khadi, Jamdani, Shibori, Batik, Block, Hand-printing, natural silk and more; along with fabric, we have expanded our product category into accessories like scarves, table cloth, homewares, Sarees and also into apparels, with help with our tailoring partner.
Simultaneously we are always aspiring to be innovative in our approach of conceptualizing new designs, concepts & ideas using different hues, colors, motifs & threads to create diverse textiles based on the traditional crafts that would appeal to the modern contemporary global fashion market.
Working with these craftsmen brings a sense of emotions, culture & tradition that come through these beautiful textiles that we develop. With the brand and our newly launched online platform, we are trying to bring new design concepts on these traditional textiles by collaborating with designers across different continents merging the designer 's cultural exposure with East India's traditional textiles.
From the logistics front, we have tied up with some of the well-known logistic partners like FedEx, Aramex, DHL to cater to our domestic and international deliveries. Being situated in a remote area, it was difficult to find the right logistic partner. After going through multiple logistics companies, Online logistic aggregators, we are at the present satisfied with DHL express service along with another logistic aggregator for our domestic shipment needs.
Describe the process of launching the business.
It took an immense amount of researching to plan out our online platform. Few customizations I was looking for on the website to differentiate our product offerings. First of all, I wanted to portray the story of our artisan clusters, crafts & processes in a transparent manner as I wanted to connect with users through the stories along with products.
Moreover, I wanted to keep the focus on wholesale business so I had to introduce the ability to order swatches of fabrics, able to see the updating wholesale availability of products we have, and the ability to pre-order available fabrics or any new customized textiles with us. Additionally from a designer perspective, we kept the feature to create multiple storyboards based on theme/season they are deciding fabrics on, ability to share these storyboards with anyone, and ability to order swatches for all the fabrics on the board with the click of one button.
Planning this customization took me around 6 months’ time and then 6 months to implement them. I chose to go with a custom website building using PHP as the core language which might be difficult in the beginning but can help me offer further customization at a later stage. Although I had a technology background, I stopped working on technology after my MBA. So I worked with another developer but I supervised all the nitty-gritty from design to functional aspects of the platform.
Get a glimpse of our platform here.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
After using direct relationships, email, offline channels for building our B2B business so far, we started working on online channels like social media, SEOs, email marketing to strengthen our online presence. I majorly focused my marketing on Instagram and emails to connect with my existing and new customers.
Simultaneously I was using LinkedIn, some third party sustainable platforms like Common Objective to connect with B2B customers. Additionally, I absolutely loved the concept of direct relation, just shooting an email, calling and arranging a meeting, and visiting face to face. You can always forge a better relationship through more personalized face to face meetings than online, especially for bigger B2B clients.
Another platform I simultaneously started approaching is through bloggers & online magazines writing about sustainable ethical products. I’m still exploring and trying to connect international bloggers to reach relevant users. At an initial stage, it’s always good to explore all possible ways before finding what’s really working for you.
In the initial phase, to ensure repeat customers, communication can be a major key. Especially during the lockdown phase due to pandemic, we receive multiple orders through Etsy and our website. Later on, we found out the logistic fees the international couriers are charging 3-4x more than usual due to the pandemic situation. We had to postpone deliveries up to one and a half months till we finally found a stable logistic partner at a considerably affordable price point.
All this while, I kept on informing customers about the effort we are putting in to dispatch their orders at the earliest. So even though they received their orders after such a delay, most of them showed their satisfaction with 5-star reviews.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Due to our primary B2B presence, we have majorly focused on direct relationships with fashion designs & brands. With the customization service we provide on our textiles, we retain the majority of our clients and continue having a long term work relationship. Although we maintain a healthy gross margin of ~60%, we need a lot of working capital and investment in the raw materials for the wholesale business.
Due to market & seasonal variation, there is a varying demand from the client-side. Although on the vendor side, we support our artisans through continuous work, so we had to maintain a continuous production process that can put pressure on our working capital sometimes.
But now with the launch of our new platform, we are delving into a more stable approach to our production process. Along with online marketing strategies, we can plan out on the inventory clearing, sale process, and Preorder process to have a balance financing strategy for our business.
At the moment we are using email & social media as the primary marketing channel for growth. We are yet to fully utilize our online platform. At present, the majority of our sales come from offline channels. Although some of these sales resulted from relationship building through our online channel.
We are always aspiring to be innovative in our approach of conceptualizing new designs, concepts & ideas using different hues, colors, motifs & threads to create diverse textiles based on the traditional crafts that would appeal to the modern contemporary global fashion market.
At present, we are working with some of the famous sustainable fashion brands across India and abroad. We have taken a new initiative to partner with textile designers from the west to incorporate new design ideas into our traditional crafts. Also, we have collaborated with fashion designers from the west to implement our crafts into modern contemporary western apparel.
To test our B2C international market reach, we have a moderately successful presence on Etsy where we have received wonderful reviews along with some repeat customers. Stats of our one month of our sale coming from Etsy channel where we have only listed a limited number of products to test the market. But we have seen significant growth from last year.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
It’s been two years since I stepped into this entrepreneurship arena. In hindsight, I feel the best thing about owning your business is the freedom to make your own mistakes. Of course, risks are involved but as long as you are keeping your eyes on the stars, you are allowed to take such analyzed risks. For this, I have always focused on the ability to make it scalable with a unique approach to differentiate.
By nature, I’m a realistic person. And I have learned over the years that the plan you envision, the effort you put in can be exciting at that moment but with time, it might not look that significant because you are delving into a new industry & market. With experience, you start analyzing the problem with an improved perspective. Therefore, poor decisions, mistakes actually make sense when looked from a different or rather futuristic frame of reference. At the present moment, you can just ensure to try your best and use your best judgment.
So using my best judgment, I expanded into the online channel with a focus on the international B2C segment. I truly feel it was a good decision because of multiple reasons. The primary reason is my love for technology and I believe in its potential.
Second, with an already established B2B infrastructure, expanding to B2C diversify the risks, bring stability without adding much complexity to the daily operations. The only thing required was your interest in the medium to be used. And as stated, I loved to explore the digital approach for the same.
Regarding the trends & opportunity, there’s no doubt digital presence is the future for all industries. Especially for a developed country like India, the growth opportunity is very high with more and more users gradually moving towards using digital media for their daily needs.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For the customization I was trying to bring into my platform, I decided to develop a custom website using PHP as the core language with the help of a developer. Also, I had a few plans to use this standard model to launch a few other brands in the future which I’m working slowly. So it’s a well throughout plan I’m still exploring. Time will tell if I can also claim that they will be well executed.
Other tools I’m using:
- MailChimp for Email marketing
- Canvas / Illustrator / Photoshop for graphics design, social media designs
- Microsoft To Dofor quick planning & allocation of weekly, daily tasks
- Evernote for planning & capturing ideas for long term goals
- Trello for project-wise collaboration
- Vimeo for videos updates on the website
- Paypal & RazorPay as Payment Gateway
- Shiprocket & Vamaship as a logistic aggregator
- Google Analytics , Facebook Analytics, Google Tag Manager for analyzing website traffic
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m yet to explore this area. So far I occasionally browse through successful entrepreneur talks available on youtube, social media hosted on trustable platforms like TEDx, prestigious business schools, etc.
Another platform I am yet to explore that connect to the successful entrepreneur of your choosing for a one to one live session - BigShyft
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Well as I stated, it’s a difficult path no doubt but it provides you the freedom to make your own mistakes. So probably starting out early would certainly help. Whenever you start, you need to be prepared to face the challenges and have the patience to overcome them. As much as you can feel discouraged sometimes, you will feel encouraged and excited as well.
You can listen and watch successful people get encouragement, motivation, and advice but in the end, everyone will experience their own journey and it’ll be different from the rest. As long as you are enjoying the journey, excited about your vision, I believe it’s a great life to live. Be it’s through learning from your mistakes or achieving the taste of success.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
As I have shared earlier, We have recently launched our platform to collaborate with designers across different continents to bring cross-culture designs, merging the designer's cultural exposure with East India's traditional textiles.
We are currently working with one designer from Finland and looking for other experienced designers with an open and creative mindset to conceptualize unique trends, expertise in designing modern, contemporary, and designs.
If your interest aligns with our mission to bring artisanal textiles and sustainability together to offer something unique to the world and in the process Support And Empower The Rural Artisans, Promote And Preserve East India's Traditional Crafts & Textile, we would love to connect with you.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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