Small step to help slum dwellers

Small step to help slum dwellers

Dharavi reminds people of one of the biggest slums in India and the life there has been a source of inspiration for many movies. The slum also inspired Oscar-award winning movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Now, winds of change are blowing and many developmental activities are quietly happening and changing the face of the slum. One such activity is e-commerce. Alongside contributing to a culture of travel-less shopping, the e-commerce boom in the country has provided an additional sales platform to the craftsmen from Dharavi market, who mainly depend on conventional local markets. 

Some online platforms have facilitated  many entrepreneurs and start-ups to gain recognition. Likewise, has helped products from the streets of Dharavi reach homes all over India and even abroad.

This platform has helped some of the registered craftsmen, if not all, increase their sales by at least 30 per cent, said Megha Gupta, a journalist-turned-urbanologist and the founder of the portal. The website was launched in August 2014 and so it is too early to comment on the impact it has made on the lives of craftsmen, she added.

Sashikant Patwa, owner of Mangal Garments in Sion, is extremely satisfied with his sales from the website. “It has been just over four months since I started supplying to the website and I am more than happy. We keep getting orders multiple times in a month. Even though for a dozen or two at a time, it has helped boost our sales. Now, the products are being exported. Just hearing about it is music to my ears,” he said.
Mangal Garments offers a variety of cotton trousers, from Bermudas to Capris and Pyjamas. The 28-year-old said till sometime back, their sales were limited to footpaths all over Mumbai, but has made them international and sales have gone up by 20 per cent.

On the plus side, their sales are highest in summer. Patwa is looking forward to a busy period ahead. He added their products cost between Rs 100 and Rs 200 and they earn Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 daily from the local sales.

Husain, a maker of leather products, is familiar with the online platform and said it has substantially increased sales. “The monthly earnings from Dharavi­ varies from Rs 80,000 to over Rs 1 lakh, which was unexpected. We are able to sell 80-90 pieces online per month,” the 22-year-old said. He had tried his luck on eBay earlier but used to sell one or two pieces per month.

Husain took over his father's business of leather and non-leather goods four years ago and they manufacture jackets, belts, office bags, laptop bags, handbags, women’s skirts and men's trousers. Their monthly sales from the shop range between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh and the online sales has helped increase turnover by at least 30 per cent, he added.

While the younger generation from Dharavi has kept up with the trend, the middle-aged craftsmen are not far behind in catching up with technological advances. Rafiq, a bag maker from Dharavi who has been in the business from 1984, said his sales have surely gone up after he registered with the website, but he does not know by how much as it has not been a substantial increase.

The 40-year-old  said it was too early to say as he started selling bags online from only six months back and summer was an off-season. Rafiq said their products mainly sell between September and December, as it is peak tourist season. “I supply to shops across the city. We have a showroom in Sion. The products from my workshop are sold in Goa during the carnival in December and that’s why the sales go up during the end of the year,” he added.

He said after working for decades, he started his own workshop two years back and he expects the online platform to help boost sales in the coming months. He makes women’s bags from various materials and currently sells 150-200 pieces a month. “Leather bags range from Rs 1,200 and Rs 2,000 and others between Rs 700 and Rs 1,000,” Rafiq added.

Speaking on the initiative, Megha said: “Dharavi happened to be one of my
research projects for urban planning and that’s how I got the idea. So, I just thought I should provide a platform and opportunity to the slum dwellers and in return develop a business for myself too. We aim to clear misconceptions about slums through this venture.

“We deliver worldwide and have clients in the US, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, France, etc. So far, 200 craftsmen have registered, a minuscule entity out of the 10-lakh Dharavi population. But many of them have other jobs during the off-season,” she added.
Megha has plans to create a designer collection of products handcrafted by Dharavi craftsmen and sell on multiple websites. “They have been approached by other e-commerce sites, but the process of registering and executing the orders requires some literacy skills, address proof and several documents which the illiterate slum dwellers here are sceptical about giving. We have a very simple process of verifying and we don’t ask for any documents," she added.

On whether women were involved in the production, Megha said: “Women contribute a lot in the pottery sector. Work is community based here. Since potters are from Gujarat, they have a culture of women doing the art work on pots. Leather is largely the Muslim
community and not many women are seen in these workshops. But women do contribute in leather workshops too, the numbers are few though.”