With the second generation now in charge, 40-year-old Jaipur Rugs, a social enterprise that employs about 40,000 weavers across five states, has opened up its first Mumbai store, hoping to capture a larger audience.
The two-loom carpet business, set up in 1978 by social entrepreneur NK Chaudhary, started out as a B2B company. Three years ago, they moved in to the B2C space, launching physical stores as well as an ecommerce channel. Jaipur Rugs has one store each in Jaipur and Delhi, and launched a new, museum-style retail space in Mumbai’s mill district last month.
The company now has to deal with a different audience from when it first started out: Its main challenge, then, is to cater to a contemporary market. The brand already has its reach in about 45 countries including India, the US and China.
The next-gen duo, siblings Kavita and Yogesh Chaudhary, are focusing on giving the artisans a platform to showcase not just their art, but also their leadership and management skills.
“To us, the future means actually going backwards. That means going back to the roots of our business: Our weavers. It was this network that led us to starting the business in the first place. We are now trying to re-establish them [as the artisan network] at a much larger scale,” says Yogesh Chaudhary, director, Jaipur Rugs.
One of Jaipur Rugs’ initiatives in this regard is the Manchaha Project, in which weavers can create their own designs. Here, artisans use leftover yarn to craft their own, signature, one-off pieces, and are given complete control of patterns, inspiration and timelines. This also helps financially empower these weavers, says the company, and keeps the art alive.
“Our human story is always at the centre, and the product comes around it. There have been times when we have had a lot of neutral-coloured ranges, and our artisans have come forward to say we need to add more colour, which we then did,” says Kavita Chaudhary, the company’s head of design. “We work to make sure that customers understand the importance of each artisan, and that there is more to each product than the rug.”
Over the years, the carpet industry has evolved, from being dominated by Kashmiri manufacturing, to becoming an open field for modern designs. Currently, the biggest competition for the brand is machine-made rugs. “But we are trying our best to provide customers with an authentic, handmade experience and unique design options,” says Yogesh.
Catering to a Mumbai clientele is different from that in other cities, they add. “In Mumbai, the taste is more international, as opposed to the Delhi crowd, which likes more colour and more velvet. Our core products are very compatible to the Mumbai audience. So we actually had to adjust our product line for the Delhi store, but not for Mumbai,” explains Kavita.
According to Yogesh, in the past few years, rugs have become trendy again. He says, “Now, even for homes with low budgets, people use professional help. Designers and architects are realising that rugs not only have a functional value, but also work as a design element; they tie everything together.”