Did you know, that there are 2 types of sarees and they are differentiable in term of the art and cost? Well I did not know till I came across Bharatstali. Founded 6 months back by the Gogna Family, along with a few believers in this industry. Their main aim is to showcase hidden/niche handloom sarees through a digital platform, so that people are aware of the difference between a handloom and industry loom saree. In short Bharatsthali is an exclusive marketplace only for sarees! Whether you are looking for sarees for workwear or for a wedding, they have them all. The sarees are sourced directly from the weavers and marketed to all of you out there.
How did Bharatsthali come into existence- story by the founders
Have you ever gone to saree shopping with the female members of your family? It is exhausting beyond words. Looking for one saree that has the perfect border, that doesn’t overdo the bling and is yet festive while promising to be what it is – this is tiring and takes the joy out of one thing that every woman can claim to love- shopping.
Everywhere you go, it is a different story with a similar outcome. It is difficult to ensure that you are buying an authentic saree even after paying a bomb. And you don’t really get sarees in one place. One store offers only bridal and gaudy sarees and another one just the regular, mundane patterns. This is when the founders (Sumati and Pulkit) realised the huge gap between the supply and demand. People love handloom. While, it is still the crème de la crème customers that are most interested, it is gaining momentum among masses too. There are weavers who are struggling to reach out, while there are people who don’t get authentic handloom products. This is how Bharatsthali idea was born; a marketplace for handloom sarees for every occasion.
This is not an easy product to sell
The quest of finding an authentic handloom saree gave birth to the idea of Bharatsthali. However, as they say, execution trumps the idea, the team realised there are a lot of things that need to be straightened out. Firstly we had a preliminary idea of handloom being expensive but we barely knew, why? There are a handful of weavers spending weeks and sometimes, even months to weave a six-yard wonder for you. Their efforts, perseverance and time need to be respected and one should pay for the craftsmanship. Since there are so many options available today, it is difficult to convince them. You can see how they use their Facebook and Insta to enlighten their customers regarding the higher prices of the handloom sarees. And it is also full of the conversations and interests that fizzle down solely because of the price point.
While sourcing the sarees from the weavers wasn’t much of a problem, convincing people and interested buyers about handloom sarees is a difficult task. The industry loom sarees are much cheaper and easily available. So, why go the difficult way? However, the industry looms don’t have the rustic charm, the human connection or the festive charm one can associate with a handloom saree. A handloom saree is forever. It is an heirloom whereas an industry loom just robs away the weaver community of well-deserved honour and you of the sheer charm you beget upon wearing a handloom six-yard stunner.
Solution was found, but took lots of effort to execute it
The team is trying to be patient and educating people about why a handloom saree costs more. “Be it a series of blog posts, V-logs and Facebook updates, we tell them you don’t really pay extra. A handloom saree is forever and given the span of time it is going to be with you, you are in fact, paying a fraction of the cost. Besides, the ‘wows’ and the heads it is going to turn- you can’t really put a price on that now! Can you?” says the team, when asked about the quick fix.
The other challenge that keeps coming up now and then is the returns says the team. “A dharmavaram saree takes several weeks to prepare. A team of weavers toils away for endless hours to weave stories on the canvas of silk. They are made to order and of course, high-end piece of clothing. Once a customer orders a saree and returns it for a reason or another, everything- from efforts to time, is down the drain. This is why we offer returns and exchange only on select products. In the world of ‘slide-and-move on’ and the fast fashion, it is quite difficult to make them understand why aren’t we so generous about the policies despite being trying to. “
This is how the team is fixing it/fixed it “Every time, we receive a special order, we call the customer and explain everything in detail. From the colour to the crafts, we tell them what they are signing up for and what should they be expecting. This helps us to avert issues later on. It takes time but is worth it. We believe that we aren’t just an online portal of selling sarees, we are their one-stop source of knowledge related to all-things saree. Which saree to wear on a particular occasion, which saree they can sport from desk to drinks and how they can feel at ease in a saree, it is all part of our job. If you want to know anything about the handloom sarees, Bharatsthali is the place to be. “
This is how the team came together to work on a common idea – Sumati’s side of the story
Every time we went to saree shopping, which was happening a lot due to a wedding in the immediate family, we kept on wondering, if only we could get sarees online too. Not just random regular sarees or industry loom, the ones that can be a part of bridal trousseau and festive occasions. That was when my mother-in-law, (Mrs Veena Gogna), suggested why would anyone limit the sarees so just festive occasions? She has been wearing sarees all her life, be it in the kitchen or to the grocery store, and this seemed to be just the valid question. Why not sarees for the women from every walk of life and toevery walk of life?
While we kept on tossing and turning over the idea among the family members to gauge the pros and cons of shouldering such a huge responsibility, we planned the trip to South India. The rest just happened on its own. Once we were back with a couple of silk sarees, linen and cotton, we decided to set up. We started from the garage (After all, who doesn’t romanticise Steve Jobs or Microsoft kinda stories) because we had a lack of space and no massive money piled up for the lease. We started taking interviews and asked the candidate to wear sarees!
Mainly because we had to ensure that they are comfortable wearing and flaunting the only thing they had to promote for a living.
Meet the team of Bharatstali
Sumati Gogna: Sumati is the brains behind and face of Bharatsthali. She pulls it all together and brings the delightful interface to you.
Veena Gogna: The source of energy, positivity and bubbliness, she is the one who holds us all together. When everybody else is running from pillar to post, getting all frenzied and worked up, she is a wave of calm.
Prerana Sharma: She is a designer and oversees the visualisation of Facebook and Instagram images. We believe that aesthetics forms a major part of our business and having Prerana onboard ensures that our sarees look beautiful on-screen the way they look off-screen!
Samiksha Gaur: If you want to know about the inventory, the weavers or have any website related issues, she is your go-to lady!
Pulkit Gogna: Sumati’s husband, and the backbone of the team, he worked from design, to which sarees to pick, and promote. He gave a big boost to the team, with his experience of his other startups.
An interesting fact about the team
“My mother-in-law, Pulkit and I (Sumati), hired a cab and drove to the farthermost parts of South India, Bihar and Banaras to meet the weavers and artists. We learnt the differences and nuances that make a dharmavaram or kanjivaram saree what it is. It was too much to absorb initially and more often than not, in an unstructured pattern. The reality that weavers are struggling to keep their head up and various arts of weaving are at the verge of extinction, they are not getting paid and have their profits eaten by the middle channels – it was sure lot to absorb and experience. “
Story till now
It has been a rollercoaster ride so far for the team. Off to a bumpy start but they have established themselves over the months. The organic visits are increasing day-by-day and the responses on Instagram and Facebook are improving. Now seeing positive response outside India too. A steady stream of orders is being received from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.S.A and U.K. too.
The team is boot-strapped which makes things difficult, and challenging to a great extent. “We don’t have an insane stream of revenue to stock up but in hindsight, it does help us to bring only the exclusive and select handloom sarees and fabrics to the fore. We can maintain the quality. We aren’t answerable to a handful of stakeholders but hundreds of customers who have trusted us and our sarees.” says Sumati.
Future looks bright
Things are looking up as they just completed 6 months into the domain. They are learning, moving and expanding with each step. The future plan involves having open houses across the world for people, who still want to feel the fabric and see themselves in the mirror to gauge how it looks. An ‘order and try-at-home’ feature for select cities is also in the offing, which includes ordering the sarees on our website and trying it before finally buying them. They are also planning to extend our catalogue to handloom fabrics.