Jewellery That Empowers

India
By:: 
Mythili Mamidanna

Indian women today adorn themselves with intricate terracotta jewellery that blends perfectly with their colorful handloom saris and dresses. But, a closer look reveals more than just artistic talent.

Within the earth used to make bright pieces of jewellery, Hema Balakrishnan, founder of ‘Color D Earth’ found her calling, one that has helped 200 artisans across the country earn a sustainable living.

Hema started small by working from home and trained a few women to help her make these pieces. She supplied her works of art to leading design boutiques, but the credit model was a challenge. She realized that it did not make any financial sense in undertaking the entire process that went into making the terracotta jewellery.

Along the way, she met a few more terracotta artisan groups who were struggling to get fair prices for their work. Compelled to find a solution, a determined Hema got involved in every stage of artisans’ work; making sure aesthetics, quality and finish were never compromised.

Simultaneously, she reached out to the right customers who were looking for and valued handcrafted jewellery. 

Today, Hema works with 11 artisan groups from 6 different states in India. Color D Earth, her social enterprise employs the principles of fair trade that ensure around 200 artisans from economically low backgrounds now earn a sustainable livelihood.

What intrigued us was how someone like Hema even got started on this? We asked and her response was simple yet profound.

“I started working with terracotta in 2003 after a hobby course in pottery with my children. From the time I first touched clay till now, I’ve known that there is a greater reason for me with this medium."

"So, it’s destiny as well as a deep desire to make a difference that drives me.” 

But, the first few years are always hard for a social enterprise.

“In the initial years, I struggled to meet the double bottom line: to achieve a social goal and be a sustainable business.  With a medium like terracotta, margins cannot be too high. Ploughing back the profits constantly into the enterprise was the only way I could create more value as getting funding from financial institutions was a challenge.”

She realized that by helping artisans overcome production-related challenges and by creating jewellery of aesthetic value, she could shorten the time as well as bring in steady demand.

Slowly things fell in place. In 2009, Hema was selected to undergo the 10000 Women program, a fully funded initiative of Goldman Sachs for women entrepreneurs. That brought about greater clarity in growing the enterprise.

Three years later, she was selected to attend the International Visitors Leadership Program on Women and Entrepreneurship by the US Department of State. In 2013, she was selected as investee with UnLtd Hyderabad, which provided holistic financial and non-financial support for a year.

What were inspiring moments in the journey?

“One of our largest artisan groups, in a remote village of Jharkhand, trains about 120 rural women who are mostly primary breadwinners for their families. The head of the centre was facing numerous challenges in sustaining the costs of running the production centre.”

It often forced the women to turn to other means of earning a livelihood during lean periods.  

“Today, with the steady orders that reach them through Color D Earth, all these women now earn a sustainable livelihood,” adds Hema with a smile.

Color D Earth retails the work of artisans through their beautiful studio in Hyderabad, India. They also launched the first social ecommerce portal that exclusively retails terracotta jewellery.

What is in their wish list?

“We hope to be able to employ well educated, like minded professionals who are often apprehensive about working with a social enterprise.”

For Hema, the next big milestone is bringing 500 artisans under the Color D Earth umbrella by the end of 2016 and have over 5 stores set up across India in the next 5 years.

But to grow the social venture, impact more beneficiaries, while keeping the profits up would require funding from socially responsible financial institutions.  

We will stay optimistic, says Hema and we believe in her.

- AsiaForGood

Keen to shop for socially conscious earthy jewellery? Visit: http://colordearth.com/products-page/

 

 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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