“If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that you can make grand plans for your life but it might all turn upside down,” says Abhinav Yadav, a resident of Varanasi.
At 22, Abhinav was accepted into ESCP Europe (business school) and was all set to leave when COVID-19 struck. It was during this time, in March 2020, that Abhinav started considering what he could do with the time on hand.
Speaking to The Better India, he says, “I have always been academically bright. Wanting to pursue my Masters’ was an obvious step forward for me. Although COVID-19 was a dampener in that sense, it made me rethink my plans and look for alternatives. While in hindsight it has been great, I am not sure I felt this way when it was all happening.”
During this period, Abhinav says that there was a constant tussle between his heart and mind. “Dil ki sunu ya dimaag ki (Should I listen to my heart or my mind?) I thank my stars today for having gone with my heart and taking the plunge into becoming a content creator.”
Having started as a content creator on Instagram, Abhinav today runs an online store showcasing the works of local artisans from Varanasi.
Having started with a borrowed investment of Rs 5 lakh from his parents, he is proud that the venture is making a revenue upwards of Rs 2 lakh month on month.
Giving Wings to My Artistic Side
Abhinav’s artistic side had taken a backseat as he was pursuing engineering. “I started an Instagram page where I would put out Do-It-Yourself (DIY) videos initially. I was always a plant parent and my Instagram page was an extension of that passion. Also, with the lockdown being imposed, I did not have anything better to do with my time and energy,” he says.
Content creation came naturally to Abhinav and he says that unlike others in the field, he never had to try hard to come up with ideas for his videos. “I worked at my own pace and put out content that I enjoyed making. None of these videos followed any structure or schedule. It was never a chore for me. Perhaps that is what worked in my favour,” he adds. Speaking about the videos he makes, he says, “When one is watching the video on their mobile screen, it all looks so easy to do. But trust me the process is slow and extremely taxing. So much goes into getting that good-looking frame in place. Monetising the content is even more difficult – the DIY space is still in its nascent stage.”
Within a month of being on Instagram, the page—which had a mix of gardening and home decor videos—had a little over 10,000 followers.
He also started collaborating with women artisans and others to make macrame, mandalas and hoops to be sold during the festive season. “While I was making these videos, and posting them I would get multiple queries on where the bamboo baskets, cane planters and jute mats could be purchased from. The idea of starting a store where these products could be bought exclusively is what pushed me into entrepreneurship,” he says.
He says that the engagement that the followers on his page had with him was motivating enough. “That was when I started looking at content creation as a legit career option. I started finding ways to monetise what I was doing as well. Until then I was in it only as a lockdown hobby,” he says. Abhinav chose to create a niche for his work on DIY videos.
From DIY Videos to Helping Artisans
It was Abhinav’s search to do more than just make videos that led him to the artisans of Varanasi.
In August 2021, Create Your Taste store was launched. He says it took him nine months to research, conceptualise and launch the platform. “The majority of time was spent talking to artisans and convincing them about the plan I had. COVID-19 had in a sense robbed them of their self-reliance and confidence. Many of them I spoke to felt defeated,” he says.
“In working with artisans from Varanasi and starting the platform, I was taking a calculated risk. One that I felt very strongly about,” he says. While Abhinav’s immediate family members were supportive of his decision, he says that he did hear a few snide remarks from others. “Content creation was not something that everyone understood and more so when I decided to take up after giving up a prestigious University seat,” he says.
He says that even now many of his relatives from his extended family have no idea what he does.
“I am sure that with time and seeing the kind of impact I wish to achieve, they will understand and appreciate what I do.”
Online marketplaces were very new for most artisans. Abhinav adds that while the women artisans did beautiful work none of them were confident of putting their work out there for sale.
Roadblocks Along the Way
“Getting the women on board was a huge challenge. Even though their work was so good they did not have their family support to sell their work. It took a lot of convincing to get them to share some of their products initially,” says Abhinav.
It was in October 2020 that the first woman artisan came on board. “Slowly that number expanded and we now have over 50 artisans associated with us. We started by selling bamboo-based products and eventually included terracotta, jute and recycled cloth-based products as well. In April 2021, we launched on Amazon and the first order that came through infused each one of us with enthusiasm to continue.”
Abhinav would dispatch the raw materials and everything else needed to make the products to the artisans. They would then work from their homes, create the product and have it ready. Once done, a team would check each product to ensure that they met the quality standards before bringing it back to the warehouse and listing it on their website.
But another issue that Abhinav has been dealing with is standardisation.
He says, “Since each product is handmade there is always a slight difference between the products. Making sure that the differences are not stark has also been a challenge. Even if not identical, we need to make sure that the products are similar. For this, we constantly keep helping artisans upgrade their skills.”
Malti Devi, who earned her first salary with the brand, says, “I work at Create Your Taste and I’m so proud to be able to say that. Not just me, my daughter, Khusboo is also associated with the brand and together we make various products and sell them. Mats, thoran (decoration put on door frames) and other decorative items are what we work on. Because of this, we have been able to make Rs 15,000/month and that has helped us run our household well.”
The cost of the products ranges from Rs 299 and goes upwards to Rs 2,599. The crochet wall decorations, which is a new product launched for Holi costs Rs 459 for a set of three, while the cane basket planters cost Rs 799 for a set of three.
Leveraging the Instagram page helped and Abhinav says in September 2021 he launched the products exclusively on Instagram.
“The Diwali period was great for us and for the first time we crossed the six-figure sales mark. Since then it has been on a good steady momentum. We are now listed on Amazon, Flipkart, Meesho and the Instagram store.”
Pullu, another artisan based in Maldahiya, Varanasi and has been associated with Abhinav and Create Your Taste, says, “I am a bamboo weaver and for the last one year I have been supplying my products to the brand. I am now able to earn close to Rs 20,000/ month. During the lockdown when people were losing jobs I am glad that I continued to earn a steady income.”
By the end of the year, Abhinav is confident of launching his own website as well.
To check some of their products, click here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)