E-commerce market places are usually keen to expand their product portfolio and hope that buyers splurge when shopping.

Craftisan, an online artisan marketplace platform, turns these well-established goals on its head. “We display only a limited number of items so as to highlight the products. And we advocate consci(enti)ous purchases by buyers, rather than encourage mindless shopping,” says Mahesh Subramaniam, founder of Craftisan, a social enterprise that aims to promote traditional Indian art and craft.

Promoting craft Mahesh, who moved to India over five years ago after entrepreneurial successes in the US, says he was ‘charmed’ by the richness, intricacy and uniqueness of crafts in remote Indian villages. He realised that online platforms could offer a great opportunity to reach a wider audience that may be interested in the works of traditional artisans.

He launched the start-up in 2013 as a virtual exhibition platform and premiered with an online feature of the finest masterpieces from 18 award winning master artisans in Jaipur.

Mahesh deliberately decided to go slow before starting large-scale operations. “The works of the artisans and crafts persons we want to showcase are very specialised. We visit remote villages to get a feel for the culture behind the creations, interact with artisans to understand their style and background. The products are then hand-picked by the team,” he explains. The site has expanded beyond the Jaipur region to include over 60 regions from 15 States representing over 62 art and craft forms.

Buyers get to learn about the unique features of products and catch a glimpse of its creator and the rich heritage of the region. The aim is to enable them to view the product in the right context and background. Mahesh, a professional photographer whose works have been exclusively exhibited, is insistent on classic display online. Also, the company does rustic and hand-crafted packaging that brings out the elegance of the product.

Impacting artisans Craftisan continues to experiment with form, content and products. For instance, data collected on customer preferences are used to provide feedback to crafts persons.

One example was their insight that buyers opted for thematic designs that are keeping with the times as was reflected in a unique Taj Mahal jaali motif inspired apparel and accessories collection from master Ajrakh printers in Bhujodi, Gujarat.

Producers may choose to alter the design, type, and quantity of products they make based on these inputs.

Artisans receive fair trade prices within 30 days after their product is sold. Unsold items are returned after 90 days of display, on average.

The self-funded company has so far reached over 150 artisans and producer groups and been the market place for over 2,500 products ranging in price from ₹500 to ₹50 lakh.

Mahesh says that the company clocks healthy user engagement as reflected in a unique visitor spending over six minutes on the site and an average order size of over ₹4,000.

The company plans to include ethnic work from the North East and recently signed a multi-year agreement with Nabard. Craftisan will power a nationwide online artisan marketplace initiative called “Shilpi Haat – Crafting Livelihoods” to organise a fragmented supply chain using high-impact scalable models and provide new-age market linkages to artisans across India.

Mahesh notes that crafts industry is India’s second largest employer and technology can be a great enabler to promote tradition through trade.