Navratri is the time of the year to worship the Goddess Shakti – the source of unlimited power and courage. The true spirit of Navratri though is to remind humans of their own power once every year. We should let Navratri be an acknowledgment and celebration of human potential to overcome any challenge and come out victorious. Through this article we are taking the opportunity to celebrate the journey of women who use their Shakti everyday to create a powerful change in this world.
This article is a part of the campaign ‘9 mindful women entrepreneurs who are building a healthy future’. Each day, we’ll feature an inspiring entrepreneur and her journey towards a more sustainable future.
Many wondered how a small-town girl from Raipur had become the COO of an Ananya Birla Venture at 25. She set up an online platform CuroCarte – a Mumbai based company that creates and sells premium, Indian handcrafted products and works with the artisan and design community of the country to improve the craft ecosystem. True to her style, Kanupriya let her actions speak volumes and now, she’s working towards taking CuroCarte global.
While other entrepreneurs branched out on their own, Kanupriya, 29, spearheaded an MNC-backed grassroots movement and shows us there’s no singular way to follow your dreams. I could say she’s a rising star with a singular vision but that would be an understatement
Since childhood, I’ve figured things out on my own and thrived on having complete independence. Growing up, my father was working in the forest department in Raipur and we’d travel a lot where I remember meeting many local artisans and craftsmen. Seeing their working condition I felt very empathetic towards them. Even when I was pursuing conventional things like engineering and an MBA, I was clear about wanting to work in the social development sector. After engineering, instead of sitting for my placements I applied for Teach For India, Jagriti Yatra etc. Even though I got through all of them I ended up taking an IT job for a while because of certain family situations.
The job was a trial for me and within a few months, it was clear I was bored and applied for my MBA and got through IIM. But even then, my vision was clear on working with start-ups rather than an MNC or a big corporate. I always looked for ways in which I could use my brain and add value rather than being a cog in the machine. I got debarred because I refused an MNC placement and ended up leaving IIM without a job. I was applying to every start up in the country and at this point, I met Ananya Birla who was running her own successful social enterprise called Svatantra Microfinance.
Even though I was interviewing for a different job role, I was candid with her on my inclination to work on the social development sector and building something from scratch, see it grow and create an impact. In Ananya, I found a kindred spirit and we connected instantly. She’s a musician and entrepreneur herself and was working on a new project where they wanted to bring rural handicrafts by women entrepreneurs to an online platform. Since we shared a common vision, she offered me the project and I started the company from scratch and hired the team. That was in 2015 and now, 4 years later, we have worked with more than 15 countries and are working with the Indian craft ecosystem and building a collaborative movement of the artisan, artist and designer community.
Indian craft has been reduced to a pair of hands
Over the last 100-200 years, Indian craftmen has been reduced to a pair of hands and somehow we feel this ecosystem needs to be saved but that’s not the case. As a company we truly believe in India’s creative potential and we want to work on the art & craft ecosystem of the country, untap its potential and take it to a global level. One look at the work of these creative artisans and you know that all the support they need from us, is a better understanding of the market and quality standards.
We’re also working with many new designers, making them work with the artist on various Indian materials and local indigenous crafts. We want to create products that can be used in any global household and not just traditional ones. Lastly, there is a lot of interesting work happening in the deeper pockets of our country. Many NGOs, designers are working with these artisans, but there is a need to create a strong supply chain model because the crafts industry is very unorganized.
The larger purpose of our work is to inspire people to explore their own creativity
Creativity is a gift and all of us are innately creative but somehow we’ve ignored our creative core and have bifurcated the world into creative and non-creative people. It’s just a matter of a little Inspiration and appreciation through which everyone can tap into their creative energies. Creativity is expression. There is so much going on within us and if we can find a way to express it, that’s being creative.
I have definitely had a lot of challenges and setbacks but I don’t really see anything as a failure
I believe we tend to imagine failure and success as these grand events that take place in our lives. But after going through so many challenges I don’t consider it failure but learning and how we take it is totally on us.
Personally, when I started running the company at 25 within a large group where CEOs are usually 40-45 year old, there were many who didn’t take me seriously. Especially, when I’d talk about the scale of my vision which was about changing and fixing an entire ecosystem. Perhaps that’s why it took me 4 years to finally build a brilliant team and most importantly to develop my own leadership style. Now I have people who believe in me.
Through the ups and downs the biggest thing I’ve discovered was my own unique leadership skills
I don’t like to be told what to do, I need my absolute freedom. Therefore, as a leader I don’t adopt an authoritarian style, I am more collaborative in my approach. I like to give people their own space to figure out things. Thankfully, that has worked out for me and my team. I also run a creative business without having any creative background but now I find myself efficiently working with designers and craftsmen. So, slowly, I’ve worked on breaking these stereotypes of a typical entrepreneur and my challenges were the things that helped me grow.
Mantras of good leadership
- Don’t try to copy any leader in anyway. Take the time to recognise and develop your own style.
- I don’t think people can work without freedom anymore. Build a healthy team who takes ownership and accountability towards their work, then you’re moving towards a collective vision which can bring something very powerful to life.
- Often people get lost in numbers and data. While data tells you which direction to go, it’s intuition that lets you create a system with vision.
- Empathy is very important. When you have a team, it’s important to really connect with them and understand what they want to do. Eventually it’s about aligning their vision to yours.
- To nurture creativity, it’s very important to have a good balance between travelling or resting in nature and work. While I am travelling, new ideas, perspectives and inspiration come in and when I’m back at work, it gives me time to reflect on those ideas and thoughts. Rest and recovery is essential to any entrepreneur.
Post colonization crafts started getting considered as the job of a labourer.
Not long ago, India contributed to almost 35% of world trade and so became one of the highest contributors. Pre-colonization, the craftsmen were people who catered to their neighbours and knew their audience well. Be it their King or their fellow citizens, they knew their distinct taste and made customized art. But colonization changed a lot. The quality of our indigenous materials has already been appreciated whether it’s cotton, terracotta or indigo but, somehow, crafts got cast aside. It was perceived as the job of a labourer.
Much has changed since independence though; many pioneering companies and designers have slowly worked on Indian craft style and helped revive the industry. Statistically though, India still contributes to less than 2% in the handicrafts market which is poised to be a 1000 billion dollar industry. Craft sector is also the highest employment generator after agriculture and India has about 7 million artisans, unofficially this number is about 22 million. You can see the untapped potential here especially when there’s so much trade happening at a global level.
Our plan is to be able to organize the craft sector to make it ready for the global market
Indian artisans don’t know their customers anymore. Work is dumped on them by exporters who function like a manufacturing unit. Artisans are unaware of the latest trends and, hence, are outdated. The need of the hour is to bridge the gap between artisans and their customers. In fact, designers bridge that gap well because they know the market requirements. So we’re trying to create a co-creative type of model where customers, artisans and artists can connect.
Quality of raw material is another point of concern. We are working on supplying the right raw materials to them and hence improving the quality of the end product. We’re also working on using technology to help with their working conditions. I don’t want to live in a romanticized world where handcrafted products don’t use technology which can be efficiently used to make some parts of the process easier for artisans. Not every step should require hard labour and human effort. We’re also doing lots of work with an extensive designer community. So, essentially, our idea is to improve the end to end value chain of the entire ecosystem.
Our work in the global market has also begun, especially in the UK. Our plan is to define the Indian aesthetic and to better represent our craft on a global platform.
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP- a need of 2019
I think it was the need of yesterday to work on more sustainable practices. Craft is the most sustainable sector in the world. If we focus on staying local, working with local communities and materials we can create market opportunities, globally. This way, we could reduce the carbon footprint by working with all natural, biodegradable and eco friendly materials.
At CuroCarte, we’re working on creating a foundation which will work towards reversing the effect of industrialization. We don’t need so many machines and transportation, all we have to do – go local.
We don’t need to keep on launching collection after collection in a year
Reuse-Recycle is basic hygiene today. Low consumption must be promoted. Instead of launching collection after collection in a year, a company could choose to have a slow cycle. Most importantly, as a social entrepreneur, the focus should be to bring a change in mindset and value systems. The world of commerce is driven by pleasing shareholders and increasing their value, instead we need to consciously shift towards value generation for the ecosystem.
Most importantly, competition needs to be replaced with compassion and we need to practice enjoying and living in the moment – we take things too seriously and we need to let loose.
Kanupriya stands as an inspiration to many young girls of the country. Her desire to work hard and work right and her values about freedom and enjoying the moment is something we must start inculcating in our lives, from today. You can follow CuroCarte’s journey on Instagram @curocarte and to shop with them go to www.curocarte.com
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