Embracing Cultural Heritage and Sustainability: An Interview with Terracotta by Sachii
What inspired you to pursue a career in the premium pottery and home decor industry, particularly focusing on Longpi pottery?
My biggest WHY behind what I do is my passion for all things handmade and natural, something I have had in me right from childhood. The exposure I received to rustic craft clusters practicing indigenous local styles of pottery during my Industrial Design post-graduation at NID stayed with me, inspired and encouraged me to go back to these clusters and work with them using local materials, tools and age-old techniques when I decided to start on my own! It is my vision to bring the indigenous pottery crafts into the main stream and help people live healthy, sustainable and environment friendly lives by going back to the roots through natural and earthy terracotta ware, while also sustaining the artisans into these age-old crafts and helping preserve an integral part of India’s cultural heritage!
While I have been working with several traditional clusters across India, Longpi Black Pottery craft from Manipur is one of the most sturdy and elegant indigenous Indian pottery styles, beautiful as well as functional. It is the most in demand not just from within the country but also from across the world, and we are therefore today not only manufacturing this to meet demands from our own customers, but also producing for other sellers.
The last 15 years of my life were spent with clay, and I vow to dedicate the rest of my life to the same, returning to it thereafter! Here I would like to also quote my Guruji Shri Gir Raj Prasad :
Paanch Tatva ka Satva Hai
Ye Hai Maati ka Khel,
Ant Samay bhi Mera Hoga
Isi Maati se mel...
Can you share a specific moment or experience that made you realize this was the path you wanted to take?
I resigned from my last corporate job as a merchandiser back in 2019 to focus on my studio pottery practice along with some corporate gifting work I was doing with potters in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar Potters’ Village. During my yearly exhibitions and shows alongside master craftsmen from pottery clusters across India, I had formed bonds with these artisans and their families. A few calls to some of these artisans to offer support in the trying times post COVID made me realize that they needed work in order to retain them in the craft and help the heritage survive! At the same time, interactions with a bunch of potential buyers revealed that post the pandemic, people were in fact looking for eco-friendly, natural and sustainable products in organic materials like terracotta, but were unable to easily find products that matched their taste in both aesthetics and functionality. This is when I decided to bridge this gap and take the plunge into entrepreneurship (with NSRCEL IIM Bangalore's Women Startup Program as the wind beneath my wings!).
How did you develop a passion for sustainable and eco-friendly products?
I grew up watching my mom hand-make most of the things we used/needed. We lived simple and sustainable lives using mostly eco-friendly products. At the same time, every single interaction with our distant relatives and friends living in villages helped me realize they lived far more sustainably than urban people! My passion to go back to basics, to go back to our roots deepened with all this, and also with all the talks around environmental changes and the impact human activities are causing on nature during my growing up years!
What role does your personal connection to the environment play in your decision to offer eco-friendly alternatives?
My personal connection to the environment, formed during my upbringing, is the foundation for my decision to offer eco-friendly products. Terracotta is the most basic of all-natural materials. It literally means baked earth. Ever since the discovery of the wheel, human beings have been shaping lumps of clay on the wheel, hardening the products in a fire, and using them for cooking and storing food. Clay pottery has been in practice since the Mesolithic age! While it was not unusual to cook and eat out of clay ware a few centuries ago, growing industrialization has taken us farther and farther away from our roots!
What motivated you to specifically focus on promoting Indian crafts and supporting local artisans?
India has a rich history of crafts, and different regions across the nation have their own distinct and very unique indigenous styles of terracotta pottery crafts – like the Molela Craft of Rajasthan, Black stone Pottery from Manipur, Painted Pottery from Kutch, and many more! However, there has been a decline in the number of artisans practicing these heritage crafts over the years – and while the COVID pandemic has only worsened the situation leaving many of these people without work, the good news is, it has also shaken and woken us up to go back to our roots, and post the pandemic, people are in fact looking for eco-friendly, natural and sustainable products in organic materials like terracotta! This gives us an opportunity to bring back the natural, humble, sustainable, and bio-degradable clay into our everyday lives just like those of our ancestors, in the form of contemporary, functional as well as decorative lifestyle accessories that include cookware, serve-ware, home and wall décor and even architectural accessories like tiles, furniture, building material!
Have you always been drawn to traditional crafts, or did your interest develop over time?
Traditional crafts have always attracted me since childhood.
How do you see your business contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage?
By popularizing indigenous craft forms through contemporary everyday products, we create a demand for traditional craft products, sustaining artisans and preserving India's cultural heritage.
Can you share a story or interaction with an artisan that had a profound impact on you?
When during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, I called up a Kutch-based artisan whom I had met at the prestigious Kala Ghoda Arts festival earlier in the same year, he told me they were completely out of work as there were no markets to sell, and this skilled artisan was therefore forced to resort to other occupations such as truck-driving, scrap dealing and working as a laborer on construction sites! This had a huge impact on me and I vowed to bring him and other artisans back into their sustainable craft practices!
How does your business align with your personal values and beliefs?
My business operates on ethical values, including understanding buyers' needs, compassion for artisans, fair wages, integrity in providing quality products, honest communication and sustainable practices.
What do you find most rewarding about running this business?
Have you encountered any challenges or obstacles in pursuing this career, and how have they shaped your journey?
Managing the supply chain in an unorganized sector has been a challenge, but we are learning to navigate this path.
How do you handle the balance between running a business and staying true to your values?
I believe sticking to our value compass no matter what helps other things automatically align to the same.
How do you educate and raise awareness among customers about the benefits of sustainable and handcrafted products?
We are doing this through content marketing on social media. I am also often blessed with opportunities to share any knowledge I have gathered on these subjects over the years, through several forums, and I happily take these up!
Can you share a success story where you saw your business making a positive impact on artisans or customers?
Yes, I feel happy to share that the artisan who was forced to drive trucks and autos, and deal in scrap, is now working in pottery full-time again! Another artisan who was sitting with a huge inventory and unable to sell when we started with him, today is full of work all the time! Customers also mostly come back to us with feedback on how our earthen cooking and serving ware are helping them stay healthy!
What future goals do you have for your business in terms of growth and impact?
To become a global name for Indian terracotta pottery, impacting the world.
Are there any specific dreams or aspirations you have for the artisans or the craft itself?
To ensure artisans make a sustainable living, inspiring future generations to carry on these legacies.
How do you stay connected to the local community and engage with customers who share your values?
Do you have any mentors or role models who have influenced your career path?
Yes, so many mentors: Shilp Guru & National Awardee Potter Shri Girraj Prasad Ji from Potters' Village New Delhi; Professor Suresh Bhagwatula, Ashok Suyal Sir, Ms.Malavika Harita, Naga Sir, Mr. Suman Sasmal, and many more from NSRCEL IIMBangalore; Ms. Pallavi Tak, Professor Chintan Bakshi from CIIE.CO IIM Ahmedabad incubator; Professors from IIM Vishakhapatnam incubator IIMV Field - Professor Sushil and other professors;
Role Models: Ms. Kirti Poonia (ex-Okhai Head); Ms. Aditi Bhutia Madan (Yangkiez & Bluepine Foods); Ms. Payal Nath (Kadam Haat); Mr. Siva Devireddy (gocoop.com) to name a few!
How do you measure success in your business beyond financial goals?
Positive impacts on artisans' lives, adherence to UN's SDGs, and positive impacts on customers' lifestyles are important metrics.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs passionate about sustainable and ethical businesses?
FUTURE IS SUSTAINABLE and HANDMADE! Go out, find your tribe, network, collaborate, co-create, start small, come together, and make it big! Now is the time, Take the LEAP of FAITH NOW!