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The jute cause

An eye for design and sound business sense drive a team of women SHGs under the leadership of N. Anarkali, into creating stylish and utilitarian jute bags, writes K. Jeshi

Photos: M. Periasamy

Bright and beautiful N. Anarkali at her outlet in Town Hall

It’s the piece of velvet cloth that works the magic. As an accessory set against a white background, it jazzes up an otherwise plain jute bag. And, the design is a super hit.

It is this touch of innovation coupled with hard work that has scripted the success story of the entrepreneur N. Anarkali and her 12-member Vetri Women Self Help Group, who run the jute manufacturing unit in Podanur. Set up through the Magalir Thittam initiative of the District Administration, the team has exhibited its products in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkatta, Kochi and Madurai.

Customised


“Every month we introduce two designs but the lunch bag design has been highly successful and has been in great demand for the last five years,” she smiles. “We get orders from corporate houses for gifting employees, for weddings where they are given away as thamboolam bags and from schools and colleges. We often customise the bags by printing the customers’ names and logos on them,” explains the entrepreneur.

The team sources the raw material from Kolkatta and do the designing, cutting, stitching and printing at the unit here. They work out the cost of a bag based on the raw material cost, thread, power, labour and profit. “Every member makes Rs. 2, 000 to Rs. 3,000 a month. If four people come together and invest Rs.50,000, buy three machines, they can see good profits,” is her advice for upcoming entrepreneurs.

Passion and an eye for innovation help. “Locally, we source other materials such as cotton, chamkis, stones and other decorative items, to add to the aesthetics of the bag,” she says. On inspiration for new designs, Anarkali says, “Our eyes keep scanning designs from things we see around us, and then we sit together and create something new.” It could be as simple as an addition of a handle made of jute strands plaited together or a choice of a blue heart-shaped cloth with eyelet work on a grey travel bag or a fancy silk thread drawstring to a cell phone pouch. Jute folders, executive bags, calendar holders, travel kits, pouches, net bags for children and an impressive collection of fancy bags and shopping bags fill the space at the one-room retail outlet in town Hall, opposite the Koniamman temple. Entering into her sixth year of her journey as a businesswoman, Anarkali says, there is a growing awareness among the public on environment and hence the demand for bio-degradable jute bags are increasing.

Growing demand


Anarkali also attends the design workshops conducted once in three months by the Jute Manufacturers Development Council (JMDC) in Chennai. T. Ayyappan, market promotion officer of JMDC, Southern Region says there is growing respect among people for jute products. “Jute jewellery is considered hep and jute fabric is also used to set new fashion trends. Based on the requirement, we provide advanced design training programme. Besides marketing their products, exhibitions serve as a platform for buyer-seller meetings. Export market training programmes are also offered”At any given time, 30 models of jute bags are available at the outlet.“We try and keep the designs simple and accessories minimal, because the bags are washable,” explains Anarkali as she takes you through some of the best designs available at the shop. Hand embroidery in bright pink on a baby pink shopping bag catches the eye. And, she explains it’s a cotton thread that has taken the shape of a flower.Chamkis, mirror work, stone work, silk borders, innovative handles in cane and rexin, all lend an all-new look.

Extra effort

Living a packed schedule from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m, Anarkali says putting in that extra effort is necessary to taste success. “No rest, no holidays,” she says, still recovering from a week-long fever. Participating in exhibitions has helped her understand the nuances of business. As project officer M. Sundaram of Magalir Thittam puts it: “We help the SHGs market their products in various centres in the country. This is done by sponsoring exhibition space and their accommodation, food and travel expenses are also taken care.” “When we started off it was just sales, but over the years we learnt all about developing communication skills, marketing, leadership qualities, manufacturing aspects and more,” Anarkali says and sums up by saying: “ In business, patience is important, one needs to think creatively and always look at the bigger picture.”

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