Her heart beats for local art & craft

Her heart beats for local art & craft


The itch to do something ‘different’ first surfaced three years ago. And it was neither the stifling air in her office cubicle, nor the  routine nature of her work in a corporate firm that pushed 30-year-old Veena Hegde to get out and get started on a meaningful, fulfilling journey.

“My job was good and it paid very well, but I knew this was not what I wanted to do for the next 30 to 35 years of my working life. I was convinced that my skills as an MBA graduate could be put to use in an area that needed it,” says a self-assured Veena.
Veena Hegde (30), daughter of a banker, is the proud owner of a brand of South Indian handicrafts and jewellery called ‘Masmara’ — an idea intended to bring little-known rural crafts and  handcrafted products which sustain and promote quality craftsmanship to a global audience.

‘Masmara’ thrives on the fact that its products are eco-friendly, original and handmade.
“I didn’t have a plan when I quit my corporate job. My husband I decided to take some time off. We travelled around the country, buying more time to decide on what could be my next course of action.”

It was during her travels to Belgaum, Pattadakal and Bijapur that she realised that  the arts and crafts of Karnataka were mesmerising but deserved a wider market.

“We usually see handicrafts from Rajasthan and Gujarat at exhibitions and boutiques in a city like Bangalore. There is very little visibility for artisans from South India.”

 Veena then began toying with the idea of creating a platform for craftspeople  who worked largely with raw materials like sugarcane pulp to create jewellery, handicrafts,  home decor products, and more.

“My family was a huge support. My brother-in-law and I would brainstorm for weeks on how to get the ball rolling, figuring out costing, expenses, sustainability charts, etc. It helped that they all come from a business background, unlike me. My mother-in-law chose the name ‘Masmara’, which meaning ‘mesmerising’,” she says.

Identifying talent and skill among the local population was the easy part because talent was available in such abundance. But creating a professional team to run a  sustainable venture was the real challenge. Veena began by making regular visits to Sirsi and Belgaum, where she interacted with women who had the creative skills to design exquisite crafts using locally available materials but lacked the ability or resources to find the right market.

Her work involves meeting artisans directly, discussing design ideas and suggesting changes to aesthetics, if necessary, and managing and marketing their products for an urban market.

“The local artisans were very forthcoming and I recognised the need for a supplier of these products for the urban buyer. I decided that I would fill the gap,” she says.
Cashing in on the online web space, Veena and her husband Govind soon registered their company and flagged off a promising start with a website. The site offers the buyer a peek into a wonderful collection of handmade products that range from jewellery made of paper, cotton and seeds to home decor products made of fibre, betel nut and sugarcane. It is also an interactive platform between the buyer and the artisans involved, and an option to buy products off the web rack.

She adds, “Most of the  craftspeople we work with are agriculturists and seed savers. I started with just five women in Karnataka and now ‘Masmara’ has extended its operations to Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, with the aim of bringing local designs and handicrafts to the forefront.”

Although she admits that India is a price-sensitive market, she believes that if the products are not priced right, there is little scope for growth for the artisans. “The self-help groups that I work with need not just the appreciation but cash flow to sustain themselves. The aim is connect the creator with his/her ever-widening audience.”
Maintaining quality and consistency are her big challenges. “I also try to get the artisans to understand their buyer better with each order that is placed. This can be slow learning curve,” she adds.

Her own learning curve, she says, was very steep, as she moved to an industry where she had limited prior experience. So the first year with ‘Masmara’ was largely learning by trial and error.

“There were times when I missed that fat pay cheque that landed on my desk at the beginning of the month, but on most other days, I am proud to have not only saved myself from a state of inertia but to have found a creative path that fulfills the task I had set out for myself,” she says with a sense of satisfaction.