Home / Specials / Digital Edge /  Showcasing the craftsmanship of slum dwellers at Dharavi

Mumbai: Many a big brand has successfully tapped the online market. In this crowded space, a new e-commerce initiative is trying to make a mark, selling products made by residents of Mumbai’s Dharavi, considered to be one of the world’s largest slums.

With the aim of showcasing the craftsmanship of slum dwellers and providing them easy access to the local and global markets, former journalist and urban planner Megha Gupta started the initiative.

The e-commerce site, which became operational in August last year, sells handmade items such as shoes and bags made by the residents of Dharavi.

Gupta said it has been a “magical experience" and the popularity of the portal and its products have grown manifold.

She stumbled on the idea of Dharavi Market while working as an urban planner for several architects and architectural firms in the city. Earlier, after a year-long stint as a journalist with a newspaper where she covered infrastructure in Mumbai, she headed off to study urban planning in the UK.

While researching on various slums in Mumbai, she found that Dharavi stood out in terms of the talents and skills of its dwellers.

She said she was impressed with the quality of handicraft skills that people in the area had. Given the right opportunity and proper guidance, they could earn a living using their skills, she said.

“I believe in equal opportunity. I found that there are talented craftsmen in Dharavi but the only thing lacking was the marketing skills and the opportunity to reach outside their community," said Gupta, who currently deals with more than 300 craftsmen in the area.

Gupta explained that the e-commerce initiative is aimed at making the skills of slum dwellers accessible to middle- and upper-class consumers while providing the local craftsmen and artisans direct access to markets across the country and overseas.

At present, Gupta has a team of 10 people, which manages and markets the products. The site earns a percentage on every item sold.

While most of the products are sold through the official site (Dharavimarket.com), products are also sold through other websites such as Snapdeal and Amazon.

“We handle all the marketing aspects of the products. We get orders from across the globe. Our effort is to cut down the number of middle agents and provide a direct opportunity for them to earn. We just take a certain percentage out of every sale that is made," she said.

The initiative won a Manthan award in 2015.

In the past year, the orders and popularity of the products have grown manifold. Orders come either in bulk for a particular item or with as a request for customization. “Our job is to coordinate with the craftsmen and help them in delivering those orders," she added.

Till now, Gupta’s initiative has sold around 5,000 products—hand-crafted leather items and non-leather items ranging from apparel, gifts and accessories—to countries in five continents. It is currently working on launching its own label called Dhama in the next six months. It plans to sell through various physical stores in the city as well.

“We thought of starting a brand. It will be something similar to Fabindia where items made by local craftsmen are sold," she explained.

Dhama comes from the words Dharavi Market and also means shelter in Sanskrit, she said. “We have started supplying to various stores. We are currently doing our product sampling. We will be launching it soon," Gupta said.

The initiative is close to bagging its first seed funding of around 2 crore. “We have been looking for funding for some time now. We are in talks with some investors. It is in the final stages. We hope to get it soon," she said.

With funds expected to roll in, a new beginning awaits Dharavi Market.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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