Woman Entrepreneur From Odisha Crafts A Gainful Future For Rural Artists

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Bhubaneswar: Thanks to an initiative by a start-up company ‘Folkmate’, more than 25 rural artists, including women, living near Bhubaneswar have been gainfully engaged in making invitation cards, jewellery boxes, home decors and utility items from palm leaf for around two years now.

The brain behind the start-up is Shiny Khuntia, a native of Alisha Bazar in Cuttack. “I thought of starting this business to promote the art of Odisha,” said the young entrepreneur.

Shiny, who has done her MBA from Indore, did not choose a comfortable job in a metro city like others. Instead, she returned home and decided to work for the development of folk art and artists from Odisha.

“Everybody in my family was shocked when they came to know my decision. But, I am emotionally attached to my place and so thought of doing something here,” she recounted.

That is when Shiny zeroed in on a village named Khamanga near Balipatna in Khurda district. “More than 200 Pattachitra artists live at Khamanga. They are really experts in painting. But they were doing their business through middlemen. As a result, they were earning less profit for their labour,” said Shiny.

This is when she stepped in to help the artists in the village by setting the start-up Folkmate in December 2017.

Initially, she organised a design development programme at Khamanga. “I met many artists to attend my programme and unite them. Initially, it was really very difficult to unite them owing to some local issues. However, I started organising programmes and slowly the villagers started attending them,” she informed.

“Earlier, the artists were facing difficulties in communication and also struggling to market their products. Though, the demand of Pattahitra has increased in the market, but that of palm leaf has decreased. I tried to use the palm leaf in making utility items and home decors in a modern way,” said Shiny.

“Boxes are in great demand now in the market. Girls use them as jewellery boxes and people use them for dry fruits. These items can also be used for corporate gifting,” she said.

“Besides, Pattachitra paintings, you can find Soura and Gond arts of Odisha in my products,” she added.

“Though I am not an artist by profession, I can conceptualize things as per market trends and give ideas to the artists. I help artists by giving them raw materials and design development programmes. If I will support them to earn their wages, then they will support me as well.

“There are many artists at Khamanga village. I wanted to explore their work, so that the village can get recognition. There are many villages like this in Odisha that people should know about,” the entrepreneur said.

She also said, “The demand for my products have increased. Now we have capacity of keeping orders of 500 per month. When I will have capacity to invest more, my number of artists will increase as well.”

Shiny has also employed many women artists and trains them too.

“I have a dream to make a cluster which would provide employment to thousands of artists. I want to make a brand for my products,” she said.

“I have seen that handicrafts in Rajasthan, Indore and Gujurat have developed. They are producing mass products. In comparison to them, Odisha is not visible. We have a lot of potential, but we are not exploring them. That is why people of outside states cannot know about our talents. Moreover, it is eco-friendly,” said Shiny.

“We need a better marketing of our products in Odisha, following which, the artisans can be benefited directly,” she added.

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