Negotiating a fair trade between discerning consumers looking for high-quality products and the talented craftspeople producing them can be tricky in today’s consumer-driven, budget-conscious world. Without a direct marketing channel, many craftspeople are forced to compromise on price or environmental preservation to get there goods to market. Likewise, consumers are looking for beautiful, sustainable products that support local artisans, but don’t want to compromise on quality or pay a premium in order to be “charitable.”
Pallavi Singh Keshri hopes to solve these problems as a social entrepreneur through Eyaas, a pure-play, online-only store that helps local crafters get a better price for their beautiful, quality goods through profit sharing and commission sales structures. We asked her about her experience as a budding social entrepreneur.
In a nutshell, can you describe what Eyaas is all about? Can you describe the origins of your enterprise’s name?
In a single sentence, Eyaas is an online platform connecting grassroots to mainstream international consumer markets. We connect individual and organizational producers of handmade and handcraft items directly with consumers. We are creating an alternate channel to reach the consumer for grassroots products as a means to increase income and improve standards of living for craftsmen and artisans all over the world. The platform also allows us to give access to our producers to better amenities like clean energy, potable water, health, education, etc. With increased income and access to amenities, the producers have a choice to improve their standards of living.
Eyaas is an Arabic word for the bird falcon. It is the female falcon used for the sport of falconery which has now been declared by the UN as an endangered art form. When I was looking for the name of the website I had basic requirements in terms of keeping the “e-factor” for the online business and somehow incorporating the art and craft sector. It was a matter of chance when I was looking for names in different languages that I came across the name eyaas in Arabic. It kept the cultural factor, the art-form factor, gave me the e-factor and kept the name of the holding company (Falcon International) all in place. It was very fortuitous.
What is Eyaas’ business model?
Eyaas is a channel for the producer segment. Hence we work on two parameters for the producers:
a) We charge a commission on sales. For each product we maintain stock, generate sales and manage logistics and once the sale is completed we charge a percentage as fee for completed transaction.
b) We purchase stock and look at profit sharing. This usually happens in case of individual artisans and craftsmen from whom we buy stock upfront at a price point suggested by the producer. We negotiate the units as opposed to buy-out price. We then sell the products and the profit earned on each SKU sold is shared with the producer again. So we try and give back to the producers and groups as much as we can.
How do you qualify crafters and partners for inclusion in your project? Do they need to meet minimum production goals or green standards or labour practices?
One of the key factors of including producers (groups and/or individuals) is to first qualify them as handmade. In this regard we have even tied up with the only certifying organization in India, called CRAFTMARK, which certifies that a product is handmade in India.
The second is to identify if the craft form is endangered or unique. Unique is once again looked at in terms of coming from a specific region and/or community. The third step is relevant to producer groups and organizations, where we identify who owns the groups and how the benefits get channelized. This is where we have chosen to work with non-profit and non-governmental organizations which are using handcrafts as a means of income generation to support community development initiatives like health and education. Some of them work with special groups like women, disadvantaged children, uniquely-abled individuals, etc and this allows us to support these marginalized segments in our own way.
We maintain green practices on the product level – almost always handmade goods are “green” because machinery and electricity is very rarely used. Plus the materials used are also green materials like clay, recycled cloth, sheared wool, hand-woven fiber and textiles etc. We use paper bags and recycled cloth bags and we support clean energy like solar energy even within our producer groups where we facilitate their access to green energy, health and education.
There are several pure-play economic ventures in the space. One of the reasons why we are looking at a hybrid model and therefore being classified as a social enterprise is because of focus of our enterprise. We are working for the artisans and non-profit organizations. We are a channel to support their work and increase their market and their incomes.
It is about giving benefits to the producers. The pure play models from before have resulted in huge economic variations. The big players are getting bigger and the smaller players are getting marginalized and dying out. At the same time, the margins are being taken by the retailers/re-sellers. The producers get a very small part of the total value paid for by the consumer. We are looking at profit-sharing and commissions which allow for maximum profits to go back to the producer. At the same time we create a channel for them to access products and services like energy, health, education etc. for getting a higher standard of living.
On the environmental level we have our work cut out. At the very basic level, the easiest and surest ways of increasing income is to produce more and sell more. In the case of handicrafts this becomes a problem because almost all craft and handmade activity in the developing world is related to agriculture (seasonal activity and/or raw material used). As an example, wild grass woven baskets are very popular products but they are made using “wild grass” which, if cultivated wildly, gives more income, erodes soil nutrients very fast. Hence production of green handmade products have to be monitored and produced in such a way that environmental balance is maintained.
What were the biggest challenges to getting Eyaas off of the ground?
One of the first and most difficult steps for us in the beginning was to get organizations and suppliers on board. There is a sense of awe and cynicism attached to online businesses. Then there is the model. We are a hybrid organization which is an evolving space especially in India. So there are many areas on the business and organization side which therefore become a challenge. Not to mention hiring staff on low or no money.
Is Eyaas self-funded?
We are currently a self-funded organization; we have not received any funding. We are only a year old and now that we are on firm footing, we can now look at some sources of funding and financing.
What methods do you use for marketing Eyaas?
The most important factor of a social enterprise is the base – who are you serving? For us, it was artisans and craftsmen. It was easy to identify this gap because when we came into the picture there were no other players in the online space. In the international market there is only one website which is fairly consumer centric in its market approach. So as a social enterprise wanting to support the artisanal community it was a very clear gap which we have chosen to fulfill.
Who is your target consumer?
Our target customers are women and men on the international networks, wanting to make a difference to the world but do not want to be “charitable.” We are looking at socially conscious consumers with average to high disposable income in USA, Canada, UK, etc.
From feedback you’ve received from clients, what aspects of your products do consumers appreciate most?
In order of preference:
- Supporting small craftspeople
- Unique handcrafted products
The one thing our consumers really get excited about is that the earnings go back to the producers, especially if they are women producers.
Are there any mistakes you’ve made as a social entrepreneur that you would like to share with others like you?
I think I am still making them. It is a very nascent industry. There are discussions and changes all around in this sphere. One of the things that we learned on the way is that even though we might want to bring sound economic and business principles into practice, and we might be able to achieve those objectives, the tricky part is that the rate of return is not the same. It is much slower to respond and generate a wave than the pure-play segments. Patience and perseverance is needed in double doze to manage the changes.
What lessons can you convey to other social entrepreneurs?
If you think you can change the world then do it. Be at it. Persevere.