SHEROES 29 Aug 2017 . 7 min read
Most of us have a certain image of successful businesswomen - graduates from B-Schools, savvy in every way with a finesse that matches no other.
But, have you ever noticed that a housewife has all the management training she needs, which she acquires by running a household? And when these women turn to running a business of their own, there’s no stopping them.
One such woman is Pabiben, belonging to a nomadic tribe from Kutch, who runs a women artisans' enterprise (which sells Indian handicrafts online) - that has a turnover of over Rs 20 lakh - by gifting traditional and indigenous handicrafts of Kutch to the world through her website pabiben.com. This is her story...
"With the hand-embroidery ban in place, my marriage was fixed at the young age of nineteen. As was the norm, the match was arranged by my family elders; my to-be husband worked at a kirana shop.
If I look back, it is fascinating to see how my journey as a homemaker, that began subsequently, was inextricably linked with my entrepreneurial journey.
A group of foreigners, charmed by Indian traditions and handicrafts, happened to attend my wedding. They saw the bags crafted by me and were extremely delighted by the craftsmanship. Seeing their fascination, I decided to gift them a bag. Little did I know at the time that this innocuous gesture would lay the foundation for my entrepreneurial journey.
This little bag that they carried back with them later went on to become an international hit and was christened the ‘Pabi bag’.
In the meantime, as I settled into my new role as a homemaker, I also started working for an NGO that saw great potential in the bag and started to market it domestically. They would pay me around Rs 60 for every piece and I happily started to earn money while managing my household.
After working with them for several years and witnessing the popularity of my bags did I begin to consider the possibility of branching out on my own, in order to give more voice to the craft of my community and to be able to earn better.
I must admit that I was very apprehensive of starting out on my own. While I was adept at creating the products, I was not at all confident about the selling aspect as I had little experience of dealing with buyers.
While my husband kept encouraging me to branch out, I somehow could not garner the confidence to do so. The thought remained in my head for almost five years before I finally took the first step towards my entrepreneurial journey.
I remember how it took me a while to decide the name of my enterprise. I have always felt that the artisans who actually create the beautiful products do not get enough recognition for their craft. Itwas with this thought that my eponymous brand, Pabiben, came into existence.
In the digital world, since no business can exist without an online presence, it got rechristened as pabiben.com. As for its tagline, ‘Rediscover the Artisan’, it was born out of seeing women artisans forsaking their traditional craft.
In fact, ever since the massive earthquake that rocked Kutch, life here had undergone dramatic changes. In a bid to rebuild their lives, many women artisans had joined industries as daily wage labourers. I was really pained to see this and thought it was time to reconnect these artisans with their craft.
Once I set out on my journey, things started falling in place and I was grateful to see many people coming forward to help me. I remember getting my first large order worth Rs 70,000 from a showroom in Ahmedabad, followed by an international order of over 1000 pieces.
In fact, in the very first year of operations, my venture had a turnover of Rs 20 lakh. It wasn’t so much the money but the fact that I was doing something meaningful for the craft of my region that gave me a huge high.
My husband, who so far used to help me out in my work as and when he could, now gave up his job at his kirana shop where he earned a salary of Rs 15,000 a month and joined me full time. His support has been of huge help to me. I am very fortunate to have been blessed with a partner who has always encouraged me to seek my own path, even at the cost of facing ridicule from members of the tribe.
Women in my community are generally not allowed to work outside the home, leave alone go outside the village selling items. When I first started to go for exhibitions all over India, people used to make fun of my husband, telling him that if he gave me so much freedom, he could be certain that his wife would run away some day. But my husband refused to pay any heed to these baseless comments and remained steadfast in his support.
Now that I am successful, the same people who used to taunt my husband earlier keep telling him how proud they are of my achievements and are now ready to extend support to my endeavour as it is benefiting our community immensely.
The one lesson I have learnt; is that beyond a certain point, one needs to follow one’s own trajectory without bothering too much about what people say. I have also been lucky to get a lot of support from my relatives—for instance, my aunt and cousin came to help me out at an exhibition in Surajkund this year, after which we set up a stall at the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai.
I have also been lucky to have support at home when it came to raising my children. With all three of her daughters married, I was worried about my mother living alone and had brought her to live with me; although, the community did point fingers at me for breaking yet another custom.
I was, however, unfazed as my mother’s well-being was far more important to me than some age-old custom that forbids her from living with her married daughter.
I must admit that in the beginning there were times when my own mother used to spend nights worrying about what I was doing travelling all over the country alone. However, I assured her that I would never do anything to break her trust. Today, she is my biggest cheerleader and is the greatest support system I could ask for."
This inspiring excerpt is taken from the book ‘Millionaire Housewives’ by Rinku Paul and Puja Singhal, which is now available in major book stores. The book can be ordered online at amazon.in and flipkart.com.