Couple Behind Itsy Bitsy Left Australia to Assist 1000’s of Girls
Whereas working as a confectionery purchaser for a big low cost retail chain in Sydney, Australia, Harish Closepet would frequent villages throughout Karnataka, UP, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to obtain Indian-made merchandise.
He remembers that these travels, which lasted from 1996 until 2004, made him very conscious of the rampant poverty and unemployment that persevered within the areas he visited.
“The households had been at all times in debt, there have been whole villages the place the rainfall was too meagre for agriculture. And the situation of the womenfolk was worse, as they had been confined inside the 4 partitions of the home. Being employed was unimaginable for them and plenty of suffered abuse by the hands of in-laws as properly.”
On the identical time, he seen that lots of them had been actually gifted. “Expertise and poverty shouldn’t be going collectively,” Harish tells The Higher India.
Throughout these years, Harish and his spouse Rashmi, who labored in wholesale for a similar firm, had began envisioning a enterprise of their very own in India, which would offer sustainable employment for rural girls.
Typically, taking a leap of religion is the one method a dream can kick off. So sooner or later in 2004, after ten years in Australia, the couple bought their home in Sydney, packed their luggage, and moved to India with their two daughters, aged two and 10 on the time.
India’s introduction to scrapbooking
At this level, remembers Rashmi, their solely purpose was to begin a socially dedicated enterprise that might empower rural girls. “Contemplating our restricted sources and the potential talent set of the ladies we had met, we determined to get into the export of handmade paper flowers to western markets, since scrapbooking was extraordinarily in style within the West.”
They selected to start their work within the Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka.
The following step was to persuade the ladies right here to work for them, which Harish remembers was extra sophisticated than they’d imagined. “The ladies didn’t belief us initially. Apparently, individuals typically approached them with claims of empowerment, however they might find yourself being cheated. We had nothing to point out at that time, so we sought the assistance of native organisations, and so they step by step got here round,” he notes.
They began off small with a cluster of 20 girls who would make paper flowers and gildings for export to western markets within the districts. “The work was straightforward for the ladies, and so they could possibly be educated in every week’s time,” says Rashmi.
Across the identical time, Rashmi seen that every time her elder daughter had a craft venture at school, discovering appropriate uncooked supplies for it in native outlets was not possible. “We discovered an enormous hole between demand and provide of high quality craft merchandise, and a possibility to begin a one-stop store for all artwork, craft and passion provides.”
She continues, “That’s once we determined to attempt retail.”
“We opened our first craft retailer with scrapbooking merchandise in Banashankari, Bengaluru, in 2007. We named it Itsy Bitsy.”
The duo remembers that the preliminary interval was difficult, as a result of whereas individuals had been curious, nobody actually knew what to do with Itsy Bitsy’s merchandise, leading to few gross sales. Furthermore, not many in India had heard of the idea of scrapbooking on the time. Harish and Rashmi began conducting free workshops on scrapbooking in house complexes and faculties, and their efforts slowly paid off.
Since then, enterprise has picked up, and right now Itsy Bitsy runs 36 shops throughout India, and is arguably the biggest craft retailer within the nation. In addition they export their merchandise to greater than 30 nations together with the US, UK and South Africa, and likewise to Australia and Europe, and have an anticipated turnover of Rs 100 crore by the following monetary yr.
Their product vary consists of uncooked supplies for scrapbooking and card-making, but additionally soap-making, resin artwork, macramé, quilling, and extra.
Empowering rural girls, in their very own areas
Past introducing India to the intricate artwork of scrapbooking, Itsy Bitsy additionally has 4 factories in Hessarghatta, Mandya, Gabadi and Kanakapura in Karnataka, the place they make use of 1,000 native girls straight, and a pair of,000 not directly.
The oblique employment is thru the making of handmade paper from T-shirt waste, which they accumulate from Tirupur and ship to Sanganer, Rajasthan, the place native girls convert it to paper.
“We’re the most important shopper of handmade paper within the nation and hope to maintain alive the dying business,” Harish says.
In the meantime, 50% of the merchandise of their shops are handmade by girls, and 90% of their workforce are girls; in addition they function the equipment within the factories.
“We did our analysis and picked essentially the most backward of districts for our factories. The benefit is that the ladies get to work from their very own villages, and the arrogance of being self-reliant is palpable,” says Harish, including that the one distinction now could be that they’ve to come back to the factories; whereas, they used to work from small clusters in rented homes earlier than.
However essentially the most heartening facet of all of it is the adjustments they’ve seen within the girls, Rashmi tells us. “We nonetheless do export of handmade merchandise and the ladies are proud and excited that what they make goes to different nations. Once we first met them, they weren’t sending their youngsters to high school and plenty of had been staying in abusive marriages for the sake of the kids.”
However as soon as they began incomes with Itsy Bitsy, lots of the girls who had been thrown out of their homes by in-laws had been later invited again.
“However then they refused to return. Nearly all of them began sending their youngsters to high school, and one girl advised us about how her daughter is now learning engineering. All of them need a greater future for his or her youngsters, are capable of finding a protected house to work together with one another, and speak about their issues throughout work,” Rashmi says.
Rashmi phrases their enterprise as a type of ‘urban-rural partnership’ as properly since each city and rural girls profit. “There are city girls who purchase our uncooked supplies, make craft objects out of them, and promote them in flea markets and their private web sites. Our prospects are additionally joyful that they’re serving to rural girls with each buy; it seems like we’ve got come full circle,” she says.
What labored for Itsy Bitsy and their girls staff, the couple says, is that their merchandise are all handmade and but mass-production pleasant; inexpensive and but match for the worldwide market. “With each retailer we open, we’re in a position to make use of 20 extra girls. We hope to open 500 extra within the subsequent 5 years.”
They needed to take successful when COVID struck, however they refused to let go of their staff. Harish says, “As an alternative, we reduce down on margins and moved our principal manufacturing facility from Bengaluru metropolis to the outskirts. We’re nonetheless small, however we’re proof that you would be able to run a worthwhile enterprise by using rural girls. If extra firms did this, it might make such a distinction to our economic system per se.”
Edited by Divya Sethu; Picture and video credit: Itsy Bitsy