The co-founder of an Indian online retailer named Jaypore, Shilpa Sharma is creating a niche with one venture after the other, proving that the current rising trend of women entrepreneurship is more than just a passing fad. Jaypore features curated collections of handmade apparel, jewellery, home textiles and accents, traditional and contemporary art and more from across India.
With a customer base spread across over 60 countries around the world, Jaypore today caters to buyers in India, North and South America, UK, Europe, Australia and UAE among others. She has also launched Breakaway, with which she unearths what is waiting to be discovered and experienced, through travel to known and unknown destinations in India.
Her latest venture is a concept restaurant in Goa named Mustard, which is an outcome of a shared passion for food and unique experiences. It offers Bengali and French cuisine as both have mustard as an essential ingredient. Excerpts from an interview:
Q. How did the idea of Jaypore come about?
The products that people generally see at bazaars and craft fairs don’t always reflect the finest craftsmanship that India actually produces. Thus Jaypore is the outcome of a crying need for the rich Indian textiles and craft heritage to be showcased in such a manner that it makes us feel proud as Indians.
Q. Why did you choose the name Jaypore?
Jaipur represents India’s most beautiful products and architecture, and internationally when people think about India, it is one of the top three destinations after Delhi and Agra that they recall. “Jaypore” is the British anglicised pronunciation, which adds a certain premium range and helps make a point about fine design and quality.
Q. Who are involved in making the products-are they big designers or ground level artisans?
We work in a big way with craft communities-individual artisans and organisations representing them. We work with designers who in turn are working with textiles, which are sourced directly from crafts groups and individuals. There is a representation of retailers and designers who work with certain crafts forms. For example, some from Odisha working with Bomkai saris or from Andhra who work with the Bidri craft form and we work contractually as well.
Q. How much are foreign customers enthusiastic about Indian handicrafts?
The appreciation for handcrafted materials outside India is much more than in our country. International customers are gravitating more and more towards natural, environment friendly and socially conscious kinds of products. They account for about 25 per cent of our business.
Q. What do you think about the current scenario of Indian handicrafts-is it on the back foot or are adequate measures being taken for its revival?
If crafts have to be coveted by people then it has to constantly keep reinventing itself in terms of application. I think the future of craft in our country is going to be driven largely by the ability of the people in the marketing space to keep the craft relevant with the changing needs of the customer. With the Internet opening up opportunities and giving exposure to people, the environment today is much more dynamic. Now the question is about how to raise the demand, say for traditional Bidri, if a customer doesn’t want it. For that Bidri as a crafts form is now making its way to desktop accessories, staplers and USB drives. Saris are being reinvented today in so many ways to stay relevant among the present generation. They have become far more fashionable, than the way traditionally our mothers or
grandmothers wore a sari.
Q. Do you feel that craftsmanship is a secured profession for artisans?
The government is not doing enough to make them feel secure or get their work to be recognised. Rather they are coming down heavily on them in terms of bringing them within the ambit of GST, which has been a huge setback. The complex system of GST is making it even harder for a country like India where the literacy rate is low, thus not encouraging people in crafts to stay with the profession. They are just earmarking big funds to skill upgradation and development is not really translated into results.
Q. As an entrepreneur you have tried your hands in many creative ventures. What inspires your ideas?
The philosophy that I have only one life and hence have to do it all inspires me. There’s so much to do. In my various ventures personally there’s a lot of synergy between the one and the other. I avoid doing anything mainstream. I always believe that until and unless one has a very strong idea, which is different from what everyone else is doing, one will always be seen as an also-ran. I don’t want to be an also-ran but somebody who has a distinctive proposition, be it in travel, food or products.
Q. Share some of your future plans.
We had three successful runs of Jaypore open houses in Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi and are going to be in Chennai next week. Over the next six months we see ourselves participating and hosting a series of open houses in India to be able to bridge the gap of what the customer perceives of us in the online space and what the actual experience is, because the objective is to draw customers into the open houses and then get them to go back and shop online.