‘Blue Banyan’ Promoting Eco-friendly Rural Jewellery with Modern Embellishment

Innovative Synthesis Gaining Popularity Globally

Post By : Diamond World News Service On 03 October 2009 3:36 PM

Diamond World: Why have you chosen the name ‘Blue Banyan’ for your company? Shuchi Pandya: The Banyan tree is said to symbolize eternal life, because when the original trunk grows old, the younger, inside trunk protects it, making it an eternal tree. The Banyan tree has both deep and wide connotations in Indian history and mythology. The extensive branching of the Banyan tree represents in our mind the width of the far reaching traditions and crafts that spread all over India. The structure of its roots, which penetrate into the earth depict the depth with which these traditions have shaped our culture, our history. In Hinduism, Rishis would take penance under the Banyan tree thereby making it sacred, and in Buddhism it is considered to be one of the species of the Bodhi tree, under which Gautam Buddha gained enlightenment. The color blue in my mind represents confidence and boldness, which relates to our design style as well as the characteristics of the young urban woman we aim to target through our products. She is a bold, independent woman who is looking for a product that defines her individuality. Diamond World: What are the materials used in this jewellery? Shuchi Pandya: We use materials that are easily available to the rural artisan – wood, glass, low quality semi-precious stones, bamboo, lac, rudraksh, etc. We are also in the process of getting recycled silver certification for our jewellery. Diamond World: How the jewellery is crafted at Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: It depends on the type of jewellery made. If the base material is wood, the first part of the design is crafted in the village and then sent back to us. In our factory here, we then add embellishments in silver, glass, semi-precious gemstones to the wood. On the other hand, if the jewellery is of lac, then the silver design is crafted first in our establishment in Mumbai and sent thereafter to Jaipur to mold the lac. We choose colors based on seasons. Being in the fashion industry, we are well aware of the latest colors for that particular seasons. Sometimes customers give us their choice of colors. For example, our client Fab India prefers more earthy tones. Bombay Electric prefers funkier and brighter hues. However, they do here a lot of flexibility. Diamond World: Before starting Blue Banyan, you studied the rural industry. Can you share some of the insights on the functioning of businesses in rural India?

instance, if I am selling a jewellery piece for Rs. 5000/- in a retail store and I see that the rural artisan has contributed maximum of the value, we ensure that he or she gets that value. At the end of the day, an artisan should feel well-satisfied and that his own art is appreciated by those around him. Most of the material is purchased by the rural artisans themselves, allowing them to take margins on the materials purchased. We are also in the process of tying up with solar light companies to provide solar lights to the artisans. This not only improves their productivity by 40%, but will also replace kerosene lamps, which are both harmful and expensive. Diamond World: Have you faced hiccups in this one year? Shuchi Pandya: It has been a long rollercoaster ride and a learning process. Language not being such a big problem, there were some other hitches in terms of communication and transportation. As most of these villages have very few fax machines or cyber cafes, most of the designs have to be couriered. This would often delay the process. But every step is a learning process for us, and we are now better equipped to pre-empt such problems and avoid delays. Diamond World: What is the price range of your jewellery line and how has the response been? Shuchi Pandya: Our jewellery is easily affordable and starts from about Rs. 650/- and goes upto Rs. 5000/-. The response in the domestic market has been great and we supply to 120 retail outlets in India including Fab India and Bombay Electric. This year we sponsored the jewellery for one of the contestants at the Gladrags Megamodel Contest. Diamond World: How has your association with Pratham proceeded ? Shuchi Pandya: Pratham is our network partner. Pratham has a network in 21 states in India and is the largest NGO in India in the field of education. I am also currently spearheading their Entrepreneurship Development Program, funded by Barclays Bank. This project will conduct business plan competitions in villages each month to select 100 rural entrepreneurs and artisans and provide them with financial and incubation support. Diamond World: What are your expansion plans?

Shuchi Pandya: During this year, we have worked with artisans in Lac, Wood, Meenakari, Thewa and Dhokra crafts. Currently we are working with rural artisans in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and are in the process of tapping other states in India. We are already bridging the gap that exists between urban and rural areas. Our next goal is trying to bridge rural to rural areas. We want to see whether we can create a cross-synthesis of different arts, cultures and stories from all over India, to create unique product. For instances an artisan in Orissa collaborating with another artisan in Kerela to create something different. That really excites me. Though jewellery will always be our core product, we are planning to enter into bags and other handcrafted products also. Diamond World: You are from a family of diamantaires and exporters. How much support have they provided you in your initiative? Shuchi Pandya: My family has been the pillar for everything I do. They have provided me with the infrastructure along with the ability to capitalize on the resources I have. The idea of giving something back to society I have imbibed from a very young age. My mother has been instrumental in encouraging me to work for social causes. “Reach for the stars, but always help those who are less fortunate than you” – is what she would always tell me. My grandfather has also been involved in social causes and various charity programs across India. But for us, this is just the different beginning here at Blue Banyan; we still have a long way to go.

Since its inception in August 2008, Blue Banyan as an organisation, has connected rural and urban India via exquisite, eco-friendly jewellery. The organisation provides market access and designs to the rural artisans, besides offering the young urban Indian woman jewellery that makes her stand out from the rest. In an interaction with Diamond World, Shuchi Pandya, CEO and one of the founders of Blue Banyan talks about the company, the unique jewellery and its philosophy behind promoting rural Indian creativity. Diamond World: When and how did Blue Banyan start? Shuchi Pandya: It all began in January 2007 when a few friends and I had gone to Kutch on a vacation. While touring around, we spotted a very tiny village where Banjara tribal women were making intricately designed fabrics using mirror work and colorful threads for sarees. These artisans knew their art so well, but they were unable to market them in an urban context due to lack of exposure. I saw this as a good business opportunity to bridge the urban-rural gap, by designing jewellery, which incorporated these traditional arts as well as used modern techniques to target the young urban woman. However, I did not know rural creativity therein. I worked (and continue working) with an NGO Pratham for almost one and a half years and started to understand the way artisans are financed. In August 2008, I chalked up a rough business plan and contacted my friend and colleague at Pratham Nikhil Dalmia. I told him of my plan to start a project related to adding a modern twist to jewellery from rural areas to be sold in urban market. He showed keen interest and was ready to invest. We started with a small group of artisans from the Lakhara community in Jaipur. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Shuchi Pandya: When I had first visited Kutch, I was more focused on my family’s export business. Rural crafts in India were completely new to me. The domestic jewellery market has been growing at over 15%, and offered tremendous opportunity to tap it. At the same time, I also knew that the urban Indian woman was always looking for a traditional product, but with a unique and modern twist. What I didn’t know was the rural scenario. I started working with Pratham for one and half years on their microfinance projects in rural areas. In order to provide access to markets to any rural artists, one must first provide them with access to finance. The social structures in rural India are complex, and infrastructure is often a problem. In order to shift out of poverty, it is necessary for these rural artisans and youth to generate income. Using their art as a means of self employment, is a crucial form of promoting village based activities and increasing their disposable income. As I learnt of these complexities and developed a deeper understanding of the problems, I felt more confident to start a business in rural India. Diamond World: Did you face any complex issues when dealing with the rural artisans? Shuchi Pandya: When you are providing market access to an artisan, you are telling them “This is a design that would work and sell in any of the big stores in cities. So, make it.” But you need to understand that these artisans have known their art for over 400 years. You cannot just go in and change their ways, expecting them to adjust. You need to be collaborative in your approach, respect their art and involve them in the process of making the jewellery. Artisans want to expose their art to the world and reach greater heights, but almost all of them are simply not exposed to the urban market and do not know what sells and what does not. This is where Blue Banyan steps in and engages with them to help their income rise. Diamond World: How many people are employed by Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: We have got a base of 100 artisans all over the country. Here in Mumbai, we have a team of 20 people trained by us in using metal tools for casting, polishing and filling of jewellery. Diamond World: How is the pricing fixed with the rural artisans? What are the other benefits that you provide to these artisans? Shuchi Pandya: Blue Banyan is a ‘for profit’ organization. We work with rural artisans to fix the labour prices and give them 30 per cent advance as well. Our aim is that the rural artisan should get the value he deserves. For

Diamond World: Why have you chosen the name ‘Blue Banyan’ for your company? Shuchi Pandya: The Banyan tree is said to symbolize eternal life, because when the original trunk grows old, the younger, inside trunk protects it, making it an eternal tree. The Banyan tree has both deep and wide connotations in Indian history and mythology. The extensive branching of the Banyan tree represents in our mind the width of the far reaching traditions and crafts that spread all over India. The structure of its roots, which penetrate into the earth depict the depth with which these traditions have shaped our culture, our history. In Hinduism, Rishis would take penance under the Banyan tree thereby making it sacred, and in Buddhism it is considered to be one of the species of the Bodhi tree, under which Gautam Buddha gained enlightenment. The color blue in my mind represents confidence and boldness, which relates to our design style as well as the characteristics of the young urban woman we aim to target through our products. She is a bold, independent woman who is looking for a product that defines her individuality. Diamond World: What are the materials used in this jewellery? Shuchi Pandya: We use materials that are easily available to the rural artisan – wood, glass, low quality semi-precious stones, bamboo, lac, rudraksh, etc. We are also in the process of getting recycled silver certification for our jewellery. Diamond World: How the jewellery is crafted at Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: It depends on the type of jewellery made. If the base material is wood, the first part of the design is crafted in the village and then sent back to us. In our factory here, we then add embellishments in silver, glass, semi-precious gemstones to the wood. On the other hand, if the jewellery is of lac, then the silver design is crafted first in our establishment in Mumbai and sent thereafter to Jaipur to mold the lac. We choose colors based on seasons. Being in the fashion industry, we are well aware of the latest colors for that particular seasons. Sometimes customers give us their choice of colors. For example, our client Fab India prefers more earthy tones. Bombay Electric prefers funkier and brighter hues. However, they do here a lot of flexibility. Diamond World: Before starting Blue Banyan, you studied the rural industry. Can you share some of the insights on the functioning of businesses in rural India?

instance, if I am selling a jewellery piece for Rs. 5000/- in a retail store and I see that the rural artisan has contributed maximum of the value, we ensure that he or she gets that value. At the end of the day, an artisan should feel well-satisfied and that his own art is appreciated by those around him. Most of the material is purchased by the rural artisans themselves, allowing them to take margins on the materials purchased. We are also in the process of tying up with solar light companies to provide solar lights to the artisans. This not only improves their productivity by 40%, but will also replace kerosene lamps, which are both harmful and expensive. Diamond World: Have you faced hiccups in this one year? Shuchi Pandya: It has been a long rollercoaster ride and a learning process. Language not being such a big problem, there were some other hitches in terms of communication and transportation. As most of these villages have very few fax machines or cyber cafes, most of the designs have to be couriered. This would often delay the process. But every step is a learning process for us, and we are now better equipped to pre-empt such problems and avoid delays. Diamond World: What is the price range of your jewellery line and how has the response been? Shuchi Pandya: Our jewellery is easily affordable and starts from about Rs. 650/- and goes upto Rs. 5000/-. The response in the domestic market has been great and we supply to 120 retail outlets in India including Fab India and Bombay Electric. This year we sponsored the jewellery for one of the contestants at the Gladrags Megamodel Contest. Diamond World: How has your association with Pratham proceeded ? Shuchi Pandya: Pratham is our network partner. Pratham has a network in 21 states in India and is the largest NGO in India in the field of education. I am also currently spearheading their Entrepreneurship Development Program, funded by Barclays Bank. This project will conduct business plan competitions in villages each month to select 100 rural entrepreneurs and artisans and provide them with financial and incubation support. Diamond World: What are your expansion plans?

Shuchi Pandya: During this year, we have worked with artisans in Lac, Wood, Meenakari, Thewa and Dhokra crafts. Currently we are working with rural artisans in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and are in the process of tapping other states in India. We are already bridging the gap that exists between urban and rural areas. Our next goal is trying to bridge rural to rural areas. We want to see whether we can create a cross-synthesis of different arts, cultures and stories from all over India, to create unique product. For instances an artisan in Orissa collaborating with another artisan in Kerela to create something different. That really excites me. Though jewellery will always be our core product, we are planning to enter into bags and other handcrafted products also. Diamond World: You are from a family of diamantaires and exporters. How much support have they provided you in your initiative? Shuchi Pandya: My family has been the pillar for everything I do. They have provided me with the infrastructure along with the ability to capitalize on the resources I have. The idea of giving something back to society I have imbibed from a very young age. My mother has been instrumental in encouraging me to work for social causes. “Reach for the stars, but always help those who are less fortunate than you” – is what she would always tell me. My grandfather has also been involved in social causes and various charity programs across India. But for us, this is just the different beginning here at Blue Banyan; we still have a long way to go.

Since its inception in August 2008, Blue Banyan as an organisation, has connected rural and urban India via exquisite, eco-friendly jewellery. The organisation provides market access and designs to the rural artisans, besides offering the young urban Indian woman jewellery that makes her stand out from the rest. In an interaction with Diamond World, Shuchi Pandya, CEO and one of the founders of Blue Banyan talks about the company, the unique jewellery and its philosophy behind promoting rural Indian creativity. Diamond World: When and how did Blue Banyan start? Shuchi Pandya: It all began in January 2007 when a few friends and I had gone to Kutch on a vacation. While touring around, we spotted a very tiny village where Banjara tribal women were making intricately designed fabrics using mirror work and colorful threads for sarees. These artisans knew their art so well, but they were unable to market them in an urban context due to lack of exposure. I saw this as a good business opportunity to bridge the urban-rural gap, by designing jewellery, which incorporated these traditional arts as well as used modern techniques to target the young urban woman. However, I did not know rural creativity therein. I worked (and continue working) with an NGO Pratham for almost one and a half years and started to understand the way artisans are financed. In August 2008, I chalked up a rough business plan and contacted my friend and colleague at Pratham Nikhil Dalmia. I told him of my plan to start a project related to adding a modern twist to jewellery from rural areas to be sold in urban market. He showed keen interest and was ready to invest. We started with a small group of artisans from the Lakhara community in Jaipur. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Shuchi Pandya: When I had first visited Kutch, I was more focused on my family’s export business. Rural crafts in India were completely new to me. The domestic jewellery market has been growing at over 15%, and offered tremendous opportunity to tap it. At the same time, I also knew that the urban Indian woman was always looking for a traditional product, but with a unique and modern twist. What I didn’t know was the rural scenario. I started working with Pratham for one and half years on their microfinance projects in rural areas. In order to provide access to markets to any rural artists, one must first provide them with access to finance. The social structures in rural India are complex, and infrastructure is often a problem. In order to shift out of poverty, it is necessary for these rural artisans and youth to generate income. Using their art as a means of self employment, is a crucial form of promoting village based activities and increasing their disposable income. As I learnt of these complexities and developed a deeper understanding of the problems, I felt more confident to start a business in rural India. Diamond World: Did you face any complex issues when dealing with the rural artisans? Shuchi Pandya: When you are providing market access to an artisan, you are telling them “This is a design that would work and sell in any of the big stores in cities. So, make it.” But you need to understand that these artisans have known their art for over 400 years. You cannot just go in and change their ways, expecting them to adjust. You need to be collaborative in your approach, respect their art and involve them in the process of making the jewellery. Artisans want to expose their art to the world and reach greater heights, but almost all of them are simply not exposed to the urban market and do not know what sells and what does not. This is where Blue Banyan steps in and engages with them to help their income rise. Diamond World: How many people are employed by Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: We have got a base of 100 artisans all over the country. Here in Mumbai, we have a team of 20 people trained by us in using metal tools for casting, polishing and filling of jewellery. Diamond World: How is the pricing fixed with the rural artisans? What are the other benefits that you provide to these artisans? Shuchi Pandya: Blue Banyan is a ‘for profit’ organization. We work with rural artisans to fix the labour prices and give them 30 per cent advance as well. Our aim is that the rural artisan should get the value he deserves. For

Diamond World: Why have you chosen the name ‘Blue Banyan’ for your company? Shuchi Pandya: The Banyan tree is said to symbolize eternal life, because when the original trunk grows old, the younger, inside trunk protects it, making it an eternal tree. The Banyan tree has both deep and wide connotations in Indian history and mythology. The extensive branching of the Banyan tree represents in our mind the width of the far reaching traditions and crafts that spread all over India. The structure of its roots, which penetrate into the earth depict the depth with which these traditions have shaped our culture, our history. In Hinduism, Rishis would take penance under the Banyan tree thereby making it sacred, and in Buddhism it is considered to be one of the species of the Bodhi tree, under which Gautam Buddha gained enlightenment. The color blue in my mind represents confidence and boldness, which relates to our design style as well as the characteristics of the young urban woman we aim to target through our products. She is a bold, independent woman who is looking for a product that defines her individuality. Diamond World: What are the materials used in this jewellery? Shuchi Pandya: We use materials that are easily available to the rural artisan – wood, glass, low quality semi-precious stones, bamboo, lac, rudraksh, etc. We are also in the process of getting recycled silver certification for our jewellery. Diamond World: How the jewellery is crafted at Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: It depends on the type of jewellery made. If the base material is wood, the first part of the design is crafted in the village and then sent back to us. In our factory here, we then add embellishments in silver, glass, semi-precious gemstones to the wood. On the other hand, if the jewellery is of lac, then the silver design is crafted first in our establishment in Mumbai and sent thereafter to Jaipur to mold the lac. We choose colors based on seasons. Being in the fashion industry, we are well aware of the latest colors for that particular seasons. Sometimes customers give us their choice of colors. For example, our client Fab India prefers more earthy tones. Bombay Electric prefers funkier and brighter hues. However, they do here a lot of flexibility. Diamond World: Before starting Blue Banyan, you studied the rural industry. Can you share some of the insights on the functioning of businesses in rural India?

instance, if I am selling a jewellery piece for Rs. 5000/- in a retail store and I see that the rural artisan has contributed maximum of the value, we ensure that he or she gets that value. At the end of the day, an artisan should feel well-satisfied and that his own art is appreciated by those around him. Most of the material is purchased by the rural artisans themselves, allowing them to take margins on the materials purchased. We are also in the process of tying up with solar light companies to provide solar lights to the artisans. This not only improves their productivity by 40%, but will also replace kerosene lamps, which are both harmful and expensive. Diamond World: Have you faced hiccups in this one year? Shuchi Pandya: It has been a long rollercoaster ride and a learning process. Language not being such a big problem, there were some other hitches in terms of communication and transportation. As most of these villages have very few fax machines or cyber cafes, most of the designs have to be couriered. This would often delay the process. But every step is a learning process for us, and we are now better equipped to pre-empt such problems and avoid delays. Diamond World: What is the price range of your jewellery line and how has the response been? Shuchi Pandya: Our jewellery is easily affordable and starts from about Rs. 650/- and goes upto Rs. 5000/-. The response in the domestic market has been great and we supply to 120 retail outlets in India including Fab India and Bombay Electric. This year we sponsored the jewellery for one of the contestants at the Gladrags Megamodel Contest. Diamond World: How has your association with Pratham proceeded ? Shuchi Pandya: Pratham is our network partner. Pratham has a network in 21 states in India and is the largest NGO in India in the field of education. I am also currently spearheading their Entrepreneurship Development Program, funded by Barclays Bank. This project will conduct business plan competitions in villages each month to select 100 rural entrepreneurs and artisans and provide them with financial and incubation support. Diamond World: What are your expansion plans?

Shuchi Pandya: During this year, we have worked with artisans in Lac, Wood, Meenakari, Thewa and Dhokra crafts. Currently we are working with rural artisans in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and are in the process of tapping other states in India. We are already bridging the gap that exists between urban and rural areas. Our next goal is trying to bridge rural to rural areas. We want to see whether we can create a cross-synthesis of different arts, cultures and stories from all over India, to create unique product. For instances an artisan in Orissa collaborating with another artisan in Kerela to create something different. That really excites me. Though jewellery will always be our core product, we are planning to enter into bags and other handcrafted products also. Diamond World: You are from a family of diamantaires and exporters. How much support have they provided you in your initiative? Shuchi Pandya: My family has been the pillar for everything I do. They have provided me with the infrastructure along with the ability to capitalize on the resources I have. The idea of giving something back to society I have imbibed from a very young age. My mother has been instrumental in encouraging me to work for social causes. “Reach for the stars, but always help those who are less fortunate than you” – is what she would always tell me. My grandfather has also been involved in social causes and various charity programs across India. But for us, this is just the different beginning here at Blue Banyan; we still have a long way to go.

Since its inception in August 2008, Blue Banyan as an organisation, has connected rural and urban India via exquisite, eco-friendly jewellery. The organisation provides market access and designs to the rural artisans, besides offering the young urban Indian woman jewellery that makes her stand out from the rest. In an interaction with Diamond World, Shuchi Pandya, CEO and one of the founders of Blue Banyan talks about the company, the unique jewellery and its philosophy behind promoting rural Indian creativity. Diamond World: When and how did Blue Banyan start? Shuchi Pandya: It all began in January 2007 when a few friends and I had gone to Kutch on a vacation. While touring around, we spotted a very tiny village where Banjara tribal women were making intricately designed fabrics using mirror work and colorful threads for sarees. These artisans knew their art so well, but they were unable to market them in an urban context due to lack of exposure. I saw this as a good business opportunity to bridge the urban-rural gap, by designing jewellery, which incorporated these traditional arts as well as used modern techniques to target the young urban woman. However, I did not know rural creativity therein. I worked (and continue working) with an NGO Pratham for almost one and a half years and started to understand the way artisans are financed. In August 2008, I chalked up a rough business plan and contacted my friend and colleague at Pratham Nikhil Dalmia. I told him of my plan to start a project related to adding a modern twist to jewellery from rural areas to be sold in urban market. He showed keen interest and was ready to invest. We started with a small group of artisans from the Lakhara community in Jaipur. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Shuchi Pandya: When I had first visited Kutch, I was more focused on my family’s export business. Rural crafts in India were completely new to me. The domestic jewellery market has been growing at over 15%, and offered tremendous opportunity to tap it. At the same time, I also knew that the urban Indian woman was always looking for a traditional product, but with a unique and modern twist. What I didn’t know was the rural scenario. I started working with Pratham for one and half years on their microfinance projects in rural areas. In order to provide access to markets to any rural artists, one must first provide them with access to finance. The social structures in rural India are complex, and infrastructure is often a problem. In order to shift out of poverty, it is necessary for these rural artisans and youth to generate income. Using their art as a means of self employment, is a crucial form of promoting village based activities and increasing their disposable income. As I learnt of these complexities and developed a deeper understanding of the problems, I felt more confident to start a business in rural India. Diamond World: Did you face any complex issues when dealing with the rural artisans? Shuchi Pandya: When you are providing market access to an artisan, you are telling them “This is a design that would work and sell in any of the big stores in cities. So, make it.” But you need to understand that these artisans have known their art for over 400 years. You cannot just go in and change their ways, expecting them to adjust. You need to be collaborative in your approach, respect their art and involve them in the process of making the jewellery. Artisans want to expose their art to the world and reach greater heights, but almost all of them are simply not exposed to the urban market and do not know what sells and what does not. This is where Blue Banyan steps in and engages with them to help their income rise. Diamond World: How many people are employed by Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: We have got a base of 100 artisans all over the country. Here in Mumbai, we have a team of 20 people trained by us in using metal tools for casting, polishing and filling of jewellery. Diamond World: How is the pricing fixed with the rural artisans? What are the other benefits that you provide to these artisans? Shuchi Pandya: Blue Banyan is a ‘for profit’ organization. We work with rural artisans to fix the labour prices and give them 30 per cent advance as well. Our aim is that the rural artisan should get the value he deserves. For

Diamond World: Why have you chosen the name ‘Blue Banyan’ for your company? Shuchi Pandya: The Banyan tree is said to symbolize eternal life, because when the original trunk grows old, the younger, inside trunk protects it, making it an eternal tree. The Banyan tree has both deep and wide connotations in Indian history and mythology. The extensive branching of the Banyan tree represents in our mind the width of the far reaching traditions and crafts that spread all over India. The structure of its roots, which penetrate into the earth depict the depth with which these traditions have shaped our culture, our history. In Hinduism, Rishis would take penance under the Banyan tree thereby making it sacred, and in Buddhism it is considered to be one of the species of the Bodhi tree, under which Gautam Buddha gained enlightenment. The color blue in my mind represents confidence and boldness, which relates to our design style as well as the characteristics of the young urban woman we aim to target through our products. She is a bold, independent woman who is looking for a product that defines her individuality. Diamond World: What are the materials used in this jewellery? Shuchi Pandya: We use materials that are easily available to the rural artisan – wood, glass, low quality semi-precious stones, bamboo, lac, rudraksh, etc. We are also in the process of getting recycled silver certification for our jewellery. Diamond World: How the jewellery is crafted at Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: It depends on the type of jewellery made. If the base material is wood, the first part of the design is crafted in the village and then sent back to us. In our factory here, we then add embellishments in silver, glass, semi-precious gemstones to the wood. On the other hand, if the jewellery is of lac, then the silver design is crafted first in our establishment in Mumbai and sent thereafter to Jaipur to mold the lac. We choose colors based on seasons. Being in the fashion industry, we are well aware of the latest colors for that particular seasons. Sometimes customers give us their choice of colors. For example, our client Fab India prefers more earthy tones. Bombay Electric prefers funkier and brighter hues. However, they do here a lot of flexibility. Diamond World: Before starting Blue Banyan, you studied the rural industry. Can you share some of the insights on the functioning of businesses in rural India?

instance, if I am selling a jewellery piece for Rs. 5000/- in a retail store and I see that the rural artisan has contributed maximum of the value, we ensure that he or she gets that value. At the end of the day, an artisan should feel well-satisfied and that his own art is appreciated by those around him. Most of the material is purchased by the rural artisans themselves, allowing them to take margins on the materials purchased. We are also in the process of tying up with solar light companies to provide solar lights to the artisans. This not only improves their productivity by 40%, but will also replace kerosene lamps, which are both harmful and expensive. Diamond World: Have you faced hiccups in this one year? Shuchi Pandya: It has been a long rollercoaster ride and a learning process. Language not being such a big problem, there were some other hitches in terms of communication and transportation. As most of these villages have very few fax machines or cyber cafes, most of the designs have to be couriered. This would often delay the process. But every step is a learning process for us, and we are now better equipped to pre-empt such problems and avoid delays. Diamond World: What is the price range of your jewellery line and how has the response been? Shuchi Pandya: Our jewellery is easily affordable and starts from about Rs. 650/- and goes upto Rs. 5000/-. The response in the domestic market has been great and we supply to 120 retail outlets in India including Fab India and Bombay Electric. This year we sponsored the jewellery for one of the contestants at the Gladrags Megamodel Contest. Diamond World: How has your association with Pratham proceeded ? Shuchi Pandya: Pratham is our network partner. Pratham has a network in 21 states in India and is the largest NGO in India in the field of education. I am also currently spearheading their Entrepreneurship Development Program, funded by Barclays Bank. This project will conduct business plan competitions in villages each month to select 100 rural entrepreneurs and artisans and provide them with financial and incubation support. Diamond World: What are your expansion plans?

Shuchi Pandya: During this year, we have worked with artisans in Lac, Wood, Meenakari, Thewa and Dhokra crafts. Currently we are working with rural artisans in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and are in the process of tapping other states in India. We are already bridging the gap that exists between urban and rural areas. Our next goal is trying to bridge rural to rural areas. We want to see whether we can create a cross-synthesis of different arts, cultures and stories from all over India, to create unique product. For instances an artisan in Orissa collaborating with another artisan in Kerela to create something different. That really excites me. Though jewellery will always be our core product, we are planning to enter into bags and other handcrafted products also. Diamond World: You are from a family of diamantaires and exporters. How much support have they provided you in your initiative? Shuchi Pandya: My family has been the pillar for everything I do. They have provided me with the infrastructure along with the ability to capitalize on the resources I have. The idea of giving something back to society I have imbibed from a very young age. My mother has been instrumental in encouraging me to work for social causes. “Reach for the stars, but always help those who are less fortunate than you” – is what she would always tell me. My grandfather has also been involved in social causes and various charity programs across India. But for us, this is just the different beginning here at Blue Banyan; we still have a long way to go.

Since its inception in August 2008, Blue Banyan as an organisation, has connected rural and urban India via exquisite, eco-friendly jewellery. The organisation provides market access and designs to the rural artisans, besides offering the young urban Indian woman jewellery that makes her stand out from the rest. In an interaction with Diamond World, Shuchi Pandya, CEO and one of the founders of Blue Banyan talks about the company, the unique jewellery and its philosophy behind promoting rural Indian creativity. Diamond World: When and how did Blue Banyan start? Shuchi Pandya: It all began in January 2007 when a few friends and I had gone to Kutch on a vacation. While touring around, we spotted a very tiny village where Banjara tribal women were making intricately designed fabrics using mirror work and colorful threads for sarees. These artisans knew their art so well, but they were unable to market them in an urban context due to lack of exposure. I saw this as a good business opportunity to bridge the urban-rural gap, by designing jewellery, which incorporated these traditional arts as well as used modern techniques to target the young urban woman. However, I did not know rural creativity therein. I worked (and continue working) with an NGO Pratham for almost one and a half years and started to understand the way artisans are financed. In August 2008, I chalked up a rough business plan and contacted my friend and colleague at Pratham Nikhil Dalmia. I told him of my plan to start a project related to adding a modern twist to jewellery from rural areas to be sold in urban market. He showed keen interest and was ready to invest. We started with a small group of artisans from the Lakhara community in Jaipur. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Shuchi Pandya: When I had first visited Kutch, I was more focused on my family’s export business. Rural crafts in India were completely new to me. The domestic jewellery market has been growing at over 15%, and offered tremendous opportunity to tap it. At the same time, I also knew that the urban Indian woman was always looking for a traditional product, but with a unique and modern twist. What I didn’t know was the rural scenario. I started working with Pratham for one and half years on their microfinance projects in rural areas. In order to provide access to markets to any rural artists, one must first provide them with access to finance. The social structures in rural India are complex, and infrastructure is often a problem. In order to shift out of poverty, it is necessary for these rural artisans and youth to generate income. Using their art as a means of self employment, is a crucial form of promoting village based activities and increasing their disposable income. As I learnt of these complexities and developed a deeper understanding of the problems, I felt more confident to start a business in rural India. Diamond World: Did you face any complex issues when dealing with the rural artisans? Shuchi Pandya: When you are providing market access to an artisan, you are telling them “This is a design that would work and sell in any of the big stores in cities. So, make it.” But you need to understand that these artisans have known their art for over 400 years. You cannot just go in and change their ways, expecting them to adjust. You need to be collaborative in your approach, respect their art and involve them in the process of making the jewellery. Artisans want to expose their art to the world and reach greater heights, but almost all of them are simply not exposed to the urban market and do not know what sells and what does not. This is where Blue Banyan steps in and engages with them to help their income rise. Diamond World: How many people are employed by Blue Banyan? Shuchi Pandya: We have got a base of 100 artisans all over the country. Here in Mumbai, we have a team of 20 people trained by us in using metal tools for casting, polishing and filling of jewellery. Diamond World: How is the pricing fixed with the rural artisans? What are the other benefits that you provide to these artisans? Shuchi Pandya: Blue Banyan is a ‘for profit’ organization. We work with rural artisans to fix the labour prices and give them 30 per cent advance as well. Our aim is that the rural artisan should get the value he deserves. For

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