FAB EARTH – A social initiative to promote local artisans

In what will be a new series we tell the story of unusual startups. In this article, Vidya Bhat goes behind the scenes of Fab Earth a startup that is focused on eco-friendly and reusable gifting products.

3 women linked by their common passions – a love for garments, women empowerment and being members of the local Women Entrepreneurial forum! That is the way Fab Earth came into being and started its journey in the month of August, 2017 in this beach town of Udupi on the western coast of Karnataka. Tara Thimmaiah, Nivedita Shetty and Renu Jayaram are the proud entrepreneurs who made it happen – the ReNiTa venture – which in Latin means dignified and reborn, which is true to the start up’s intention, says Renu!

Fab Earth is a social start up into ecofriendly and reusable handmade gifting products made by local artisans in and around this coastal belt. They can be housewives, students, professionals or craftsmen. The common observation was that there are so many hidden, unseen, anonymous creative people right amongst us. Yet there are not enough opportunities to tap and showcase their talent and earn a livelihood for themselves. From this was born the tag line of this start up - to touch lives of people while going green- giving them a platform to promote their creativity through craft and earn their livelihood. Currently, their product range includes made to order eco friendly bags, mementos, handicrafts, cloth banners, conference kits, gifts, uniforms, etc.

How did it all begin? Their Story!

It was marriage that brought Tara Thimmaiah to Udupi 25 yrs ago. After the birth of her daughter, this active, educated homemaker knew that there was more to life than just looking after her husband, in-laws and child. With the support of her husband, she started her first entrepreneurial venture in Udupi – a play school. Starting with one child from the neighborhood, today she has around 35 children in her playschool. To keep her talent and interest alive, she also taught stitching, sewing, embroidery, knitting and other creative arts to people who wanted to learn. Now with her daughter all grown up and ready to start her life, Tara found herself thinking that she wanted to do something more. She saw that many families around her did not allow their daughters to go out of the home to work. These women were smart and talented, yet they did not get the opportunity to earn their livelihood. The thought of how she can help such women get their life opportunities right here at home and get them to stand on their own feet financially became Tara’s mission. It was while she was discussing this thought with a family friend, that he invited her to visit his factory which was into the manufacture of bags that helped strengthen her resolve to take the plunge into doing something similar. It was now or never!

Nivedita’s dream was to be an entrepreneur and do something creative. However, this MBA graduate had her corporate career in Abu Dhabi which did not leave her too much time for her entrepreneurial ideas to materialize. When her daughter was born, she decided toreturn home to Udupi to raise her daughter. The first thing she did after she moved to Udupi was to give wings to her dream. Her interest in clothes had her buying readymade clothes from Surat and Mumbai and having regular exhibitions under the label of Meghambara. But this was not a full time opportunity. She was biding her time till her daughter was a little older to start something more long term. That opportunity came to her through Tara, whom she had become friends with as their daughters attended drawing classes together. Tara, knowing of Nivedita’s interest in clothes, shared her idea. That was just the opportunity Nivedita was looking for. They went together to check out the bag manufacturing unit and came back deciding to take the big step.

Renu Jayaram is a dynamic woman running a motorbike showroom with her husband. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs who were into garment manufacturing, Renu had no doubt in her mind right from her childhood days that she wanted to run a business and needed to be a decision maker rather than a follower. With over 20 years in this field now, she believes in participatory leadership – a leader with authority who listens closely to her staff. Her close involvement with Rotary Club as Director for Youth Services helped her in understanding the social needs of the community and contribute her bit towards social causes. This interest was fuelled when she saw how much work was needed to be done to empower women at the district level. This was the motive for her to gather around some liked minded women in the town and become founding members of a women entrepreneurial forum called POWER (Platform of Women Entrepreneurs) in 2009. Through this platform, she met many women entrepreneurs and organized the first big event at the MGM College grounds, Udupi- The POWER Parba (or Festival) in 2015. With over 100 stalls of women run products and services showcased during this event, her contacts grew. This empowered her to do more. The invitation from Tara and Nivedita to partner with them was the opportunity she was looking for. Renu dove in.

Practically overnight, they got their first lead. Renu got a call from one of her POWER friends, Revathy Nadgir, of the European Studies Institute at Manipal. Together they met the Director, Dr. Nita Inamdar to discuss about the Literary Meet that they were hosting. There was a requirement for around 50 jacketsfor the core support team members. The event was a month ahead and Renu grabbed this opportunity. A meeting was called the next morning and the three met at Renu’s hastily cleared old cabin, which became the office premise for Fab Earth. 50 jackets was a big number and the discussion called for some immediate decisions and actions to be taken. With an investment of Rs 25K each, they purchased 2 sewing machines to start off with. Tara and Nivedita got working on the training institutes to source manpower. They approached BVT (The Bharatiya Vikas Trust), which is into training women in tailoring in addition to other vocational training. They finalized 5 women from here, two full timers and the rest who would work from home. Renu took on the responsibility of sourcing the material for the bags as the requirement was for eco friendly material along with the branding.

The samples were made and finalized. The discussion with the client also led to more orders. 200 takeaway sling bags were needed for the registered participants with the specific instructions to hold a media kit, a water bottle and mobile. Designs were sourced from the net and samples shared and finalized again. Here, more opportunities opened up. As the bottles were plastic, Renu suggested they use some reusable material instead of plastic. This led to more research on the best options for water bottles. Steel bottles were finalized as they were reusable. Banners were also being ordered for the event. Here again, the suggestion of using cloth banners instead of flex was made, which was approved. All the samples – the jackets, the bottle, the sling bag and banner was presented on vibrantly colourednewspaper crafted trays, which were liked so much by the organizers that they ordered 10 such trays for their use during the event. The event gave them their first taste of success and a small profit.

Fab Earth invites anyone and everyone with a creative flair to become members of their Artisans Community with the creative products they make at home. At the same time, they are also looking for the support of Corporates, Organizations and Institutions from the neighbouring regions for promoting locally made custom handicrafts and gift items. Those interested can reach them at 9480787378 and email them at fabearthudupi@gmail.com

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