Crafty business

One of the nicest things about shopping at the handicrafts website Itokri.com is the hand-written note that accompanies your order. The message is generic enough—"Thank you for shopping with us, we would love to see you back"—but it’s the fact that such a note exists, and is accompanied by a small gift when you place your first order. Despite getting between 50 and 80 requests for curios, fabric, bags, jewellery and stationery every day, the team behind the Gwalior-based Itokri tries as far as possible to personalize transactions. “We want to keep the communication real and besides, people are forgetting to write by hand," says Nitin K. Pamnani, one of the people behind the one-year-old website.

Pamnani and his wife, Sakshi, set up the site because there “wasn’t a single source for getting such products online", he says. India’s rich craft and textile traditions usually reach their patrons through government-run emporia or travelling exhibitions, but it’s not easy to buy products from non-profit groups or design studios. Products by the Delhi-based crafts organization Dastkar, for instance, or its offshoots in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, are rarely available outside the Capital.

Pamnani, a documentary film-maker who moved to Gwalior two years ago, decided to take advantage of his father’s unused godown to store the products you find on Itokri. “Opening a website is the easiest thing, but most of the sites do only listings and don’t have products," Pamnani says. “The people at Dastkar told us that if you have to sell crafts online, you have to maintain a warehouse model, since the craftsperson cannot hold the inventory for you."

Itokri is comprehensive—it has products by such groups and companies as Bindaas, People Tree, Either Or, Jalpari, Potliand Haathi Chaap. The site also stocks documentaries. “We have already quality checked the products—it is like Flipkart but in a really small way," says Pamnani, who directed Black Pamphlets, about student elections in Delhi, and Main Tumhara Kavi Hoon, about the poet Ramshankar Yadav “Virodhi". But the site is not complete, and doesn’t want to be. “We are a curated store," Pamnani says. The team carefully selects the merchandise rather than allowing anything and everything to be sold.

“Everything spreads through word of mouth—we are spending nothing on marketing," Pamnani says. “There is so much growth potential. We have tapped only 2-3% of what is out there."

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