The Handicrafts Sector Was One of the Worst Hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic
The handicrafts sector which is largely unorganised but providing employment to thousands of artisans, designers and craftsmen was perhaps one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. With a complete lockdown in place across countries and no transportation occurring either domestically or internationally, the sector witnessed numerous order cancellations leading to loss of livelihood for the artisans and their families. Moreover, they were sitting on idle inventory with no idea about how or where to get it liquidated. Witnessing their plight first hand, some millennials like Manav took it upon themselves to breathe new oxygen into the sector, revive it and restart the revenue streams which were completely stalled till now. This has not only led to the revival of this sector but has also played a major role in enabling our artisans to live a dignified life where their children can get educated and their communities can get developed along with the rest of country.
Trunkin' – Supporting India’s Artisans Producing Exquisite Handcrafted Home Décor Products
A few months into the lockdown Manav was horrified to know the impact of the pandemic on the artisans. With no money in hand and piling worthless inventory of handicrafts, their condition was simply unbearable. Manav, only a law student, visited the artisans personally in their villages and heard their stories of miseries and extreme despair. Manav took it upon himself to help the artisans in whichever way he could. This is how Trunkin was conceived and founded in 2020. Manav purchased whatever inventory he could from those artisans and then tried his best to liquidate it using e-commerce platforms like Amazon, etc. Fortunately he was able to sell his entire stock within 6 months. The small idea of helping the artisans had now grown into something much bigger. Today, Trunkin as a brand is listed on Amazon, LBB and Meesho, launching shortly on Flipkart, it has its own website and is also doing great B2B business in the US through its subsidiary company. Providing relief to the artisans and their communities remains at the core of the idea behind Trunkin. We caught up with Manav to understand the challenges he faced on the way.
Within 6 months of starting operations Trunkin' sold it’s entire inventory and provided the much-needed revenue stream to over 500 artisans and designers in the collective! As the situation deteriorates in India and elsewhere, we have resolved to double-down our support for these artisans and bring their products directly to consumers across North America through the launch of Trunkin' India in the US.
Manav Bhatia – Founder, Trunkin'
Interview with Manav Bhatia, Founder, Trunkin'
- Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
- I am 21 years old and in May 2020 after the first lockdown I actually ran into these artisans in my dad’s office who were discussing the really grim situation due to COVID-19. They had leftover inventory due to cancelled orders from the US and elsewhere. To liquidate some of their stock I decided to buy 20-25 of their products so that I could list them on Amazon and gauge the customers’ response to these products. I received a stupendous response and this is how it all started. I named my company “Trunkin'”, which comes from the word ‘laden’. The concept being that I take stuff out from my trunk, sell it and then put the unsold items back into the trunk. Trunkin' has been launched on Amazon, LBB and Meesho and we are launching it on Flipkart shortly. We have also launched our own website. After gaining tremendous traction in India we are now present in the USA as well. We have a distribution centre based out of New Jersey and our products are available on Amazon, Wayfair, HC, etc.
From the revenues generated we are giving it back to the artisans in 2 ways – 1. We are sponsoring their daughters’ education and 2. We are organising eye check-up camps for our artisans since they need very good vision to do embroidery and other intricate work.
- Q. So, you started off literally buying the stocks that these artisans had crafted. What is the process now? How is a new product introduced and who designs them?
- Being in this segment for more than a year I now have a fairly good idea of the market in India. The market has geographic segmentation based on colours – for North India we look at gold, silver and smoke grey whereas for South India we look at red, green and yellow as the primary colours. Currently, I am designing on my own. We have launched our corporate gifting collection this Diwali, and we are also launching our catalogue.
Primarily we are into home décor and table accents which means place-mats, runners, napkin rings, etc. In addition to this our artisans also come to us with stocks of glass votives, notebooks, pens, etc. but our primary focus is on home décor and table accents. Also, the second lockdown resulted in us getting more stocks from our artisans as industrial use of oxygen was completely stopped and we ended up helping the artisans a second time and ensuring that all their stocks was distributed across online platforms and that it generated revenues.
- Q. What were the challenges you faced of launching a brand mid-pandemic?
- The biggest challenge we faced was competition and finding the demand. We were very new and there is already tremendous competition from the established brands in the home décor segment. Fortunately, our pricing is very competitive as we are not interested in making profits. Certain initiatives like our eco-friendly jute bags packing also reduces our costs and these bags can be recycled by the customer in many ways after receiving the products. Over the past 1 year I also learned channelling my products correctly on different platforms so as to tap the customer demand accurately.
Initially I didn’t have anyone supporting me but now I have a team of 4 people who handle my inventory and logistics, social media accounts and other marketing initiatives.
On the personal front, driving a start-up from scratch in your student life along with your academics is a big challenge. But if you enjoy what you are doing, you will find time for doing both and one activity will not end up dominating the other.
- Q. What is it that you are trying to achieve? You said that you are not that interested in making profits, so in the long term what is that you feel Trunkin' will be doing?
- Helping artisans with their livelihood and well-being and ensuring that they are living a dignified life is the core philosophy of my start-up. Without losing focus on this belief we want to become one of India’s established and finest home décor brands.
Trunkin' also wants to focus on millennials who are graduating every year, moving to new cities and homes for their employment. They are really interested in home décor, furniture, etc. for their new homes and I feel that this market is ready to explode. We want to aggressively tap this market.
My immediate focus is however to get the 4 phases of the eye-testing camp successfully organised for my artisans and then we will move on to another project of helping them.
- Q. You started with trying to sell the idle stock of artisans lying with them due to order cancellations. How do you ensure quality and that every product which goes out is of a certain quality?
- Initially, I was doing everything on my own – order verification, dispatch, payments, etc. At that time I was doing the quality check myself. The Indian market is very particular about the quality and we used to get a lot of customer returns. Now we work with a very reliable set of artisans who produce quality products. A little imperfections here and there are the beauty of handcrafted products, so that are acceptable. I check that the piece is clean, pasting has been done properly, etc. Sometimes I also subject certain products like napkin rings to drop tests. For the export shipments going to the US we have implemented secure double packing and pre-despatch drop tests to ensure that every product reaches there safely.
Now we have appointed a person specially for conducting quality checks. It is his responsibility to ensure that every product getting shipped out is thoroughly checked before despatch, including conducting a drop test if needed, and only then effect the despatch.
Trunkin's Most Trending Products
Glass Bead Embroidered Placemats (Set of 2)
These intricately hand embroidered table mats showcase India's traditional bead embroidery craft. With brightly coloured beads embroidered on the top, the placemats have a generous 14 inch diameter and are backed by dupion silk and satin back to protect your table top finish. A set of 2 is available for ₹ 849.00 and you can buy it from here.
Peacock Jewelled Napkin Rings Set of 4
These exquisite napkin rings are handcrafted in a village on the banks of River Ganga. They are made of glass, metal, wooden beads and numerous bells, shells and rhinestones. These napkin rings are not only conversation pieces but products of the finest Indian traditional crafts and cultural heritage. Attractively packed in a gift box, a set of 4 costs ₹ 599.00 and you can buy it from here.
Burgundy Glass Votives Set of 2
These beautiful burgundy glass votives to be used with T-light candles can enhance the beauty and ambience of any home, whether they are placed on a dining table, window sill or sideboard. They are also a perfect party favour gift and your guests will be delighted to receive them. A set of 2 costs ₹ 449.00 and you can check them out here.
Where Can You Find Them?www.trunkin.in
Interview with Manav Bhatia (Contd.)
- Q. In the highly competitive home décor market what would you say distinguishes Trunkin' products from those of other brands?
- First and foremost our extremely competitive prices which we are able to offer because we don’t take those big commissions in the middle as others do. The other factors which distinguish Trunkin' from other brands are our packaging, photography and our presentation.
Our packaging is very innovative. Every product comes with a tag attached to it. On one side of the tag we tell the story of the product – where and how it was made and how I came in contact with the artisans making that product. The other side tells the Trunkin' story and has a QR code which will take our customer to our website or a video which details our entire souvenir line.
I initiated the concept of clicking photographs in a Mac shell. For all our products like place-mats, glass votives, etc. I take photographs around fountains or rocks. This is a very unique and interesting concept.
We also present to our customers how we are actively engaged in the welfare of the artisans working with us, from conducting eye-camps to supporting their livelihoods we touch many facets of their lives. This enables our customers to see the bigger picture and gravitate towards Trunkin' and buy our products rather than going to other home décor brands.
I am also on the board of e-Nurture an initiative of the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) where I interact with artisans first hand and also give lectures on how to promote their business online by themselves without waiting for any external assistance. This includes selling products on Amazon, setting up their own export operations, etc.
- Q. Tell us a little more about your background – where are you from and how did you become so closely connected with the artisans?
- During the lockdown I read about the artisans’ condition on Google and saw it on news channels. I asked my father, who has his own export business, whether someone could introduce me to these artisans as I wanted to help them. I got in touch with 2-3 people and then I want to meet them in Sikandrabad, Rampur and Modinagar. The plight of the artisans was really very bad as they were sitting on idle inventory and no money. My Uma aunty who was accompanying me helped me understand which products I could pick first for trying to sell them on e-commerce platforms. I stuffed as much of placemats, glass votives and other home décor items as I could carry with me. I remember buying 2,000 different types of placemats from 4 artisans in December, 2020 which I was able to liquidate completely by July, 2021.
- Q. How is the condition of these artisans now?
- Whatever stock I picked up I was able to liquidate on various platforms and even in the US. Today when I go to Sikandrabad these artisans are happy and hopeful that I will be able to sell out all their available stock. They are grateful that I have removed the stress and tension from their lives. This feeling of being able to help someone is the most fulfilling feeling of the entire start-up project. We have even started selling handcrafted notebooks, something which we had not done in the past. We are really happy and proud that we have created an identity for ourselves. Unlike other exporters, we pick up products which are already lying unsold with the artisans and then help them sell these products off.
- Q. What are your own interests and what do you like to do in your free time?
- I am a big time Manchester United fan. I love to watch my team’s matches once or twice a week. It has a very calming experience on me. I also love music and am an accomplished tabla player. I love to listen to songs from the ‘70s-‘80s particularly Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd, etc. I also like to play golf once a week either alone or sometimes with my father. Normally my entire day is either spent in attending my classes or planning for Trunkin'. I have to keep planning for the next day one project at a time, so that my team has a clear idea of what is supposed to be done.
- Q. Anything else you would like to add?
- I am very grateful to my mother for keeping my morale up and ensure that I don’t get too affected by the bouquets and the brickbats. She advises me to remain focussed on the larger picture. Golf is a wonderful game which teaches me humility as you don’t win every game in golf. You have to learn to take your losses in your stride as well. I am blessed to have a family which supports me and to Uma aunty for her guidance in taking us where we are today.
Trunkin's Future Plans?
- Q. What’s next for your brand and for yourself? Do you intend to keep juggling both these things?
- Answering your second part of the question first, I will be graduating in May 2023. I plan to take Trunkin' places but would also like to further my education by pursuing a master’s degree. I would then like to take up a job somewhere to increase my understanding of the corporate environment and how it works.
As far as Trunkin' is concerned we want to make it big in the B2B space in India and the US. Trunkin' has been approached as the first vendor for the Expo-Bazaar being organised by EPCH in India and the US. My next major shipment is also leaving for the US and we are very excited about it. The festive season from Diwali to Christmas is a great time to do business and we want to grow Trunkin' as well. Our corporate gifting catalogue is now ready. Along with the business I have to ensure that the 4 eye check-up camps scheduled for the artisans go ahead as per plan and there are no hiccups there.
As Customers We Need to Promote Our Artisans and Craftsmen
Trunkin' has provided a great platform to our artisans and craftsmen to showcase their immense talent. We as customers also need to pitch in and do our bit by purchasing home décor handicraft products which have the fragrance of our rich culture and heritage. This will not only keep our ancient arts alive but will also enable numerous artisans to earn a livelihood with dignity. Share your experiences of buying products from Trunkin' and stay connected for more such engaging content.