Mithila Paintings, also know as Madhubani Paintings is among the oldest art forms in the world. However, they are largely in the unorganised hands. In this backdrop, a young management lady, Ruchi Jha quit her job and started paintings' work - with a brand iMithila - with a group of 100 artisans on home decors and cloths. She has opted the modern days e-commerce platform to reach out the painting lovers across the world. She talks to Mohd Mustaquim about her one and half year old journey, success and future plans
How did the idea of iMithila evolve ?
I have always taken pride in being a Maithil and we are a proud Bihari company. During one of my visits to my native place, Mithila, I had the privilege of meeting a few National and State Awardees for their contribution in Mithila Paintings. The beautiful shades of the painting stuck a chord and generated the passion to take it to the every corner of the world. And that’s how iMithila Handicrafts and Handloom came into existence.
What are the products being developed by iMithila?
iMithila is the fastest growing brand in Madhubani product category. Madhubani Paintings, also known as Mithila Paintings, is among the oldest art forms of the world. We have worked towards expanding these painting designs from traditional mural form to new more widely used modern products like wall clocks in home decor to sarees and stoles in apparel category. Today, we have the largest collection of ethnic wear like Madhubani handpianted sarees, stoles, dupattas to home decor products like paintings, handpainted kettles, trays , coasters , cushion covers and so on.
How has been the growth of the organisation since its inception?
The passionate team of iMithila has always been geared up for the challenging task we had in hand. On product side, we work on creating design forms and end products which are modern day contemporary in usage but ethnic Madhubani in design form. Then, we also have to create the market for these never seen products before. Our customers wish to stand out from the crowd. After an initial slow response, today we are growing by over 500 percent month on month in an e-commerce market which has grown by only 5 percent last year. iMithila offers the largest Madhubani painting product portfolio online.
What challenges did you face while venturing into completely new kind of start-up and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge that we have faced is to work on product management. It is about making the choice on which product categories to enter into and at what price points. Since most of our products are innovative with out-of-box designs, we also have to make the tough decision of which designs will be liked by the customers. This catch 22 situation has been tackled by our internal team and industry veteran business advisors. Before entering into any category, we do a thorough research of the scope and test the products in market. From inception to be able to reach the market in any new category, our time cycle is six to nine months. Our strong business plan helps us overcome the challenge of uncertainty we face.
Any other challenge which you are still facing in product development to reaching out to the market?
The Mithila art form is known for its paintings. Its visibility in other categories is not very high. For example, not many people search for a Madhubani Decorative Wall Clock on Google. Hence, the biggest challenge that we are facing today is on brand and art form awareness across the spectrum of product categories we have ventured into. We are solving this by increasing brand and category awareness through targeted advertisements.
What was the funding model while initiating the venture?
We are a bootstrapped company and will prefer to remain that ways. iMithila is about lot of research, patience and long term investment. It is difficult to find investors who will understand our motto of doing business and share similar passion with long term vision.
Do the governments in the Centre and in the State provide support financially or other ways to such initiatives?
We are a socially responsible commercial company and will not like work on aids and charity. Both, Bihar government through Start-up Bihar and Central government through Start-up India have the intent to support. The execution of the intent can be made simpler. As a start-up, we work on meagre manpower resources and spending that resource in getting government support may not be a prudent decision at times.
How does iMithila promote paintings?
We have expanded the reach of the Mithila paintings. Long ago these paintings were done only on home walls (mural paintings) for decorating homes in Mithila. Then, it expanded to handmade paper. Today, we have more than 12 product categories on which these painting design forms are handpainted and sold. We are working on another three product categories. Thus we are expanding the scope of Mithila paintings as an art design form. The design on a Serving Tray will be different from a Saree or a Wall Painting. This also helps us to reach to new set of customers who may not be an art lover. We are taking Mithila Art form to a different level.
How many artisans are currently associated with iMithila? How has the association or coming together increased their incomes and livelihoods?
We work with more than 100 artisans in doing painting for us. All our products are manufactured in Bihar. The necessary skill development training is imparted to our business associates and at times we also support them financially for running their business. For example, our Clutches are all Made in Mithila and not imported. By being able to generate sales, we are able to continuously generate job work for our artists. We are a socially responsible organisation and firmly believe that a profitable business will create multiple job opportunities and increase livelihood. We have zero attrition in the organisation of our artists and we continuously work towards bringing the smiles on faces of internal and external stakeholders. Our artisans are a part of our internal team.
What model do you apply for reaching to the consumers?
We have our own online store as well as sell through major market places. We also plan to expand into exclusive and multi brand outlets in near future. We do run advertisements on social media for bringing traffic to our website and increase brand awareness.
Bihar is said to be an economically backward state which creates forced migration. How do you see such types of ventures can curb the migration and generate livelihoods in their own homeland?
Bihar has been a developing state in last decade. It is at a stage of trade cycle wherein it can only export its labour to other markets. In another decade, Bihar will enter the next stage in this trade cycle, wherein this migrated labour sets up business back at his ancestral home. The migrated labour will also bring in his industry experience and knowledge to create multiple business venture and use the cheap labour back home to increase their profitability. iMithila is one such initiative. It is a small step in this trade cycle which will eventually happen.
What are other areas where one can focus on venturing start-ups in Bihar?
Bihar is a virgin territory in business. Today, there is a huge gap in Bihar's consumption in any category versus its own production. For example, how many garments (of all types) are sold in a Bihar in a day and how much of that is made in the state? It is less than 0.05 percent. Hence, there is no industry and venture which does not have scope in the state. We need thorough planning, business research and a business plan for a successful venture. Bihar has been climbing the growth ladder and is currently India's 12th largest state in terms of GDP. So the scope is great and future is bright.