BharatSthali – Perfect Women Startup in Handloom Sarees in India


1. Tell us everything about your start-up, what does it do? What were the challenges of setting up and scale? How did you overcome them?

We are Bharatsthali…an exclusive marketplace only for sarees! Whether you are looking for sarees for workwear or for a wedding, we have them all. We source sarees directly from the weavers and make them available for all of you out there.

This quest of finding an authentic handloom saree gave birth to the idea of Bharatsthali. However, as they say, execution trumps the idea, we realised there are a lot of things that need to be straightened out. We had a preliminary idea of handloom being expensive but we barely knew, why? There are a handful of weavers spending weeks and sometimes, even months to weave a six-yard wonder for you. Their efforts, perseverance and time need to be respected and one should pay for the craftsmanship. Since there are so many options available today, it is difficult to convince them. Our Facebook and Insta feed can show you how we are enlightening our customers and trying to help them gather their thoughts regarding the higher prices of the handloom sarees. And it is also full of the conversations and interests that fizzle down solely because of the price point.

While sourcing the sarees from the weavers wasn’t much of a problem, convincing people and interested buyers about handloom sarees is a difficult task. The industry loom sarees are much cheaper and easily available. So, why go the difficult way? However, the industry looms don’t have the rustic charm, the human connection or the festive charm one can associate with a handloom saree. A handloom saree is forever. It is an heirloom whereas an industry loom just robs away the weaver community of well-deserved honour and you of the sheer charm you beget upon wearing a handloom six-yard stunner.

Our Solution:

We are trying to be patient and educating people about why a handloom saree cost you more. Be it a series of blog posts, V-logs and Facebook updates, we tell them you don’t really pay extra. A handloom saree is forever and given the span of time it is going to be with you, you are in fact, paying a fraction of the cost. Besides, the ‘wows’ and the heads it is going to turn- you can’t really put a price on that now! Can you?

The other challenge that keeps coming up now and then is the returns. A dharmavaram saree takes several weeks to prepare. A team of weavers toils away for endless hours to weave stories on the canvas of silk. They are made to order and of course, high-end piece of clothing. Once a customer orders a saree and returns it for a reason or another, everything- from efforts to time, is down the drain. This is why we offer returns and exchange only on select products. In the world of ‘slide-and-move on’ and the fast fashion, it is quite difficult to make them understand why aren’t we so generous about the policies despite being trying to.

Our Solution:

Every time, we receive a special order, we call the customer and explain everything in detail. From the colour to the crafts, we tell them what they are signing up for and what should they be expecting. This helps us to avert issues later on. It takes time but is worth it.  We believe that we aren’t just an online portal of selling sarees, we are their one-stop source of knowledge related to all-things saree. Which saree to wear on a particular occasion, which saree they can sport from desk to drinks and how they can feel at ease in a saree, it is all part of our job.  If you want to know anything about the handloom sarees, Bharatsthali is the place to be.

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2. How did you come up with the idea and what was the Eureka moment?

Everywhere you go, it is a different story with a similar outcome. It is difficult to ensure that you are buying an authentic saree even after paying a bomb. And you don’t really get sarees in one place. One store offers only bridal and gaudy sarees and another one just the regular, mundane patterns. This is when we realised the huge gap between the supply and demand. People love handloom. While, it is still the crème de la crème customers that are most interested, it is gaining momentum among masses too. There are weavers who are struggling to reach out, while there are people who don’t get authentic handloom products. This is how we came up with Bharatsthali… a marketplace for handloom sarees for every occasion and cerified with Silk mark of India and Handlooms certified too.

3. How did you build the core team (co-founders and initial employees) – How did you meet and how did everyone align to the idea?

While we kept on tossing and turning over the idea among the family members to gauge the pros and cons of shouldering such a huge responsibility, we planned the trip to South India. The rest just happened on its own. Once we were back with a couple of silk sarees, linen and cotton, we decided to set up. We started from the garage (After all, who doesn’t romanticise Steve Jobs or Microsoft kinda stories) because we had a lack of space and no massive money piled up for the lease. We started taking interviews and asked the candidate to wear sarees!

Mainly because we had to ensure that they are comfortable wearing and flaunting the only thing they had to promote for a living.

4. What have been Revenue, traction and growth from the date of inception till now?

It has been a rollercoaster ride so far. We were off to a bumpy start but we have established ourselves over the months. The organic visits are increasing day-by-day and we are getting a pretty good response on Instagram and Facebook as well. We are seeing positive response outside India too. A steady stream of orders is being received from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.S.A and U.K. too.

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5. What is the one thing that sets you apart from your competitors and what’s your revenue model?

Every quarter of the year is a session of introspection. We take a look at the stocks, assess the feedback from the customers, our reach on social media and almost everything that surrounds the ecosystem and can have a positive or negative impact on us. We want the quality and originality of our products to speak for themselves. Our team goes to the weavers and villages because we believe that it is important to stay in touch and understand their art. It also helps us to form a transparent relationship with them. It brings us closer and helps us to stay updated with the current trends and style.  We are the only e-commerce platform that is selling handloom sarees from every part of India and selling it at reasonable prices. The profits are passed on to the weavers directly, without any middle sales channel in the picture. Moreover, we have a ‘women only’ team that handpicks sarees and helps the fellow women to stay on top of their style game. From the social media team to the backend and front-end team, we have a women’s army geared up to keep the traditions alive while embracing modern sensibilities.

6. How are you funded? Boot-strapped or funded?

We are a boot-strapped ecosystem. This makes things difficult at times but challenging to a great extent as well. We don’t have an insane stream of revenue to stock up but in hindsight, it does help us to bring only the exclusive and select handloom sarees and fabrics to the fore. We can maintain the quality. We aren’t answerable to a handful of stakeholders but hundreds of customers who have trusted us and our sarees.

7. Future Plans

Things are looking up as we complete 6 months into the domain. We are learning, moving and expanding with each step. The future plan involves having open houses across the world for people, who still want to feel the fabric and see themselves in the mirror to gauge how it looks. An ‘order and try-at-home’ feature for select cities is also in the offing, which includes ordering the sarees on our website and trying it before finally buying them. We are also planning to extend our catalogue to handloom fabrics.

8. Any interesting facts about you or your start-up?

My mother-in-law, Pulkit and I (Sumati), hired a cab and drove to the farthermost parts of South India, Bihar and Banaras to meet the weavers and artists. We learnt the differences and nuances that make a dharmavaram or kanjivaram saree what it is. It was too much to absorb initially and more often than not, in an unstructured pattern. The reality that weavers are struggling to keep their head up and various arts of weaving are at the verge of extinction, they are not getting paid and have their profits eaten by the middle channels – it was sure lot to absorb and experience.

9. Need a detailed description of yourself. Your background, education, any job experience, any skills you now, did you get published in any magazines etc?

I come from a business family. My father in law is a businessman, my husband runs a successful digital marketer, so you can say it runs in my family. I am an MBA in marketing and HR. I worked in the marketing division of an MNC for a couple of years before I got married. After the marriage, I helped my husband to run the marketplace and contribute to its media marketing.

The MIL has been a homemaker all these years and her expertise in financial management and inventory management is so bang-on. It is such a surprise that how often they get neglected in the “advice” domain though they manage entire homes on their own and pretty much bring real-life expertise on board that can avert many crises in business.

We have been published in various offline and online magazines including womensnow, yovizag, elle, new Indian express, silicon India and many more.