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Published on: May 29, 2022, 7:01 p.m.
Jaipur Rugs sets a precedent
  • Chaudhary: man with a mission

By Arbind Gupta. Assistant Editor, Business India

Founded in 1978 with just two looms and nine artisans, Jaipur Rugs is today not just an entity that makes hand-woven carpets which are exported to over 75 countries, but it has become an institution of its kind that has revolutionised the carpet industry by creating an entirely new business model – working directly with marginalised artisans/weavers in remote villages and empowering them and their communities with a sustainable livelihood. 

The company currently works with over 40,000 small artisans/weavers (out of which 85 per cent are women) across 600 villages in five states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. It boasts of having over 7,000 looms in its network and has successfully empowered rural and tribal women by seamlessly weaving them into the fabric of the profitable business of handwoven carpets. The company is today one of the market leaders in designing, manufacturing and delivering the finest handwoven rugs, which command huge demand in the US and European markets.

Jaipur Rugs, which started as Jaipur Carpets, operates five retail showrooms in India – one each in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi and two in Jaipur. Besides, it also has franchise stores and store-in-stores in Ahmedabad and Kanpur and Hyderabad. Expanding its retail presence and moving in the direction of its vision to be a global brand in the segment, the company, one of the largest exporters of handmade carpets in the country, recently opened its flagship store in Milan, Italy.

Besides, it has a store each in Russia and USA as also three store-in-stores in China which work on the franchise model. The company has a separate subsidiary, Jaipur Living, in the US which is the largest market for the company. The carpet maker is now also evaluating South East Asian markets closely as part of its geographical diversification. Besides, it is also planning to expand its presence in the domestic market, which currently contributes around 7 per cent to its turnover.

What makes Jaipur Rugs an interesting case study is how its promoters have approached the whole business of carpets, making underprivileged rural artisans an integral component of its whole supply chain and thus empowering them to become not only self-reliant but also creating  an ecosystem where these rural folks feel proud to exhibit their entrepreneur skills.

These rural artisans come from communities which often face discrimination and this is where Jaipur Rugs has been on a mission to help rural and tribal women become independent and get recognised for their talent.  Importantly, the company has not only impacted the lives of these artisans but also built a profitable business for itself by connecting rural craftsmanship with global markets.

Helping rural artisans

Over the years, Jaipur Rugs has built a powerful story for its brand which has created a distinct niche for itself in the global market. The company provides looms as well as the raw material at the doorsteps of these artisans and get the hand-knotted carpets done as per its own designs and specifications.

These rural artisans are given remuneration ranging from Rs9,000 to as high as Rs18,000 per month depending upon the output and time they spent on the looms. These carpets are then processed at the company’s finishing units to get the final products. The company often helps these artisans in upgrading their skills, even as unskilled rural folk are made rug artisans through community mobilisation and skill training.    

Most importantly, the entire effort is moving not only in a sustainable manner but has also turned out to be a profitable business proposition. Last year (FY22), the company, on the group level, clocked a revenue of around Rs1,000 crore, up from around Rs776 crore in FY21 and Rs747 crore in FY20. Despite Covid-related challenges, the company has pulled off a commendable performance as buyers increasingly shift their attention to their home and family. 

  • Yogesh: on an expansion mode

    Yogesh: on an expansion mode

“Today, I am more than happy to see the way our business has shaped up over the years. Ours is a perfect example of a business which besides being profitable, has gone on to create massive disruption on the social front. I feel so satisfied to see these women and their families today living in a dignified manner. I wish our business model could be replicated by many more so that we all help build a more equitable and prosperous social structure,” says Nand Kishore Chaudhary, 69, chairman & managing director, Jaipur Rugs, who despite coming from a very conservative Marwari family, decided to do business differently. His upbringing in the small town of Churu in Rajasthan, where he came across prevailing societal discrimination, also played a role as he took the less traversed path of founding a business.

Today, a globally acclaimed social entrepreneur, Chaudhary is the founder of Jaipur Rugs, which is one of India's largest manufacturers of hand-knotted rugs. He initiated his carpet business operations with just two looms and nine artisans, which today, has grown into a network of 40,000 artisans spread across 600 villages of India. Starting with a belief in the enormous potential of Indian artisans, he decided to form a company that would showcase this potential to the world, while also upgrading the weaving techniques and lives of the artisans.

He is often referred to as ‘Gandhi of the carpet industry’. Four decades later Jaipur Rugs has become a global social enterprise exporting to multiple countries while providing sustainable livelihood to artisans (out of which 80 per cent are women) in remote villages.

Management guru, CK Prahalad featured his revolutionary business philosophy in his globally acclaimed book ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’. “Jaipur Rugs provides a unique example of how a global supply chain, built around developing human capability and skills at the grassroots level and finding steady and well-paying jobs for rural men and women in the most depressed parts of India, can connect the rural poor with the markets of the rich, such as the United States,” says Prahalad in his book.

 Connecting artists with consumers

“Most of its energy goes in supporting its weaver communities, providing them with orders, supplying them with the necessary yarn and helping them with designs.  Moreover, they help in the local communities and work hard to preserve the art form in India. The company works with some of the leading designers around the world to cocreate new designs with the local artists. And the company tries to connect the artists with the consumer that purchases their carpet, so the end consumer understands his or her role in helping the artisan communities,” states James Allen, senior partner, Bain & Company.

Chaudhary has also been called the ‘father of modern social enterprises’ by Prof Jagdish N Sheth from Emory University, USA. Sheth says: “Jaipur Rugs has become a role model, that business can serve society and at the same time can be a capitalistic institution.” In 2019, Raj Sisodia featured Jaipur Rugs and Chaudhary in his book ‘The Healing Organization’.

Chaudhary has won many awards, including E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award, CNBC TV18 Emerging India Award, and the Social Impact Award conferred by former President Pranab Mukherjee.

  • An artisan at work

As a simple man, he is devoted to the Indian hand-knotted rug industry with an aim to position it rightly in the world and to empower its real owner and creator – the Indian weaver. His philosophy of totality and inclusion solutions for society are widely discussed.

In the last few years, the company has been putting in extra efforts to build its presence in the domestic market which currently contributes 7 per cent to its total revenue. The company is building its retail presence in a big way.  Having put up its first retail store in Delhi in 2015, it has now put up a total of five mono brand stores in India.

It is looking to increase its domestic share to around 10-12 per cent in the next couple of years.  Over the years, the domestic market has evolved and an increasing number of buyers here are also looking out for these hand-woven carpets which command much higher premiums over machine-made ones. In fact, these hand-woven carpets are almost six times costlier.

“Now as this market in India is also growing, we are all geared up to cater to this segment of the business. In fact, we are already receiving very encouraging results,” says Yogesh Chaudhary, 36, director Jaipur Rugs, who is the older son of Chaudhary.  He joined his father’s business in 2006 and played a crucial role in shaping up the business as a strong organisation.

Looking after the sale, marketing and brand vertical of the company, he is working towards making Jaipur Rugs a global brand. Under his leadership, the company has grown significantly in the last decades as it exports to over 75 countries.  It recently opened its first store in Milan as it is looking to increase its presence in the EU market.

“For us both domestic and overseas markets are important. In the overseas market, we are now looking to diversify into other geographies. We are also closely evaluating South East Asian markets. All this will help us double our business in the next few years,” adds Yogesh. 

As the company looks to expand its overseas market, it is evaluating newer markets in different geographies. Towards this end, Jaipur Rugs has recently collaborated with Bangladesh’s number one furniture brand ISHO to bring out an exclusive handmade carpet celebrating the shared Mughal heritage of the two countries. In a world first for the design community, ISHO along with Jaipur Rugs has developed an artistic representation of Bangladesh and India’s shared Mughal culture and architecture, depicting this in a unique design that is woven by Jaipur Rugs’ expert artisans in rural Rajasthan. 

The rug, launched during Ramadan, serves as perennial piece designed to suit the dimensions of a modern home and is executed using the timeless craftsmanship of Jaipur Rugs. The rug was displayed at ISHO’s curated exhibition space in Dhaka.

“Through our collaboration with ISHO we got an opportunity to express our shared heritage through design and propagate our rich crafts and traditions to a newer audience. At Jaipur Rugs we like to give our artisans global platforms to take their craft and their stories to the world. It is always a delight to find new partners like ISHO and to be able to tell the stories of the unique and simple lives of our artisans and their ancestral knowhow through them,” states Yogesh.

  • A rural artisan making her own design

Manchaha collections

A social entrepreneur at heart, he initiated two globally awarded initiatives – ‘Manchaha’ and ‘Freedom Manchaha’ to move the organisation towards a more sustainable future.

The rug industry the world over is losing billions of dollars in wasted yarn. Surplus yarn is either incinerated or goes straight to landfill. The Manchaha initiative, started almost a decade ago, is a step towards turning the millions of sq m of waste into a fun product. Rugs in the one-of-a-kind Manchaha collection are made using hand-spun leftover yarn batches that cannot be reused as part of another regular rug.  These small unusable batches of yarn are packed in sacks and sent to weavers for them to pick whatever they like for their Manchaha rugs.

This helps reduce wastage that had no solution and makes the colour palette of these rugs as unique as their design. It is a remarkable example of sustainable production – reusing and revival from waste, the problem becoming its own solution. In fact, these Manchaha rugs have generated huge demand as each of them is woven around a story of its own.

As an extension, the Freedom Manchaha initiative launched in January, 2021 explores, for the first time, a livelihood opportunity for inmates in prisons of Rajasthan, enabling creative expression and healing. Turning disengaged inmates who were counting down days into a creative powerhouse making handmade rugs using leftover yarn from commercial carpet production. Inmates get trained in the art of carpet weaving and express themselves creatively on the loom weaving their dreams and hopes knot by knot.

The last two decades have been quite eventful for the company as along with Yogesh, his other siblings: three sisters and a brother, have also joined the business. Asha Chaudhary, 43 and Archana Chaudhary, 39 are settled in the US and look after the US operation (Jaipur Living which contributes almost 60 per cent to the company’s revenue) as CEO and head of quality assurance, USA, respectively.  Kavita Chaudhary, 38, based in Jaipur, is the design director of the company, while the youngest of all, Nitesh Chaudhary, 31, who joined the company around four years ago, is based in the US and oversees the company’s logistics and supply chain.      

“I am quite happy that all my children are part of my business which I have built with a lot of hard work. Good to see all of them playing their role and all are committed to carry out my vision to the next level. As a business, we are expanding and that will help build a much stronger network of artisans,” says Chaudhary. 

 

  • Empowering woman folk

In fact, Jaipur Rugs has emerged as a true social venture which has positively impacted a large pool of rural artisans, who are primarily women. Its supply chain has also been a matter of discourse at Harvard and many other institutions, even as many management gurus have endorsed it wholeheartedly. 

Most importantly, the promoter had thought of doing so at a time when not many would have dared to do so. Today, it is a precedent which could be replicated across multiple industries. What makes the whole journey of Jaipur Rugs quite interesting is its grit and determination to pursue its vision despite facing multiple challenges.

Having built this proven model, the company is now trying to take its business to the next level. Along with export markets, it is also expanding its business in the domestic market which has seen definite traction in the last few years. In the export market also, the company is looking at other geographies, which will not only help scale up the business but also help de-risk the business during market uncertainties.

As the business expands, the company will also expand its network of artisans and thus help more rural folk to live a better life. The company is all geared up to commence its next growth phase and looks to set up many more milestones going forward.

  • Creating exclusive designs

    Creating exclusive designs

A journey that continues

Having completed his BCom from Lohia College in Churu in 1977, Chaudhary joined his father’s branded shoe shop business in town. His father’s shop was not doing that well. What added to his frustration was that he did not enjoy being a salesman. He decided to move out of the family business and got a job as a cashier at United Bank of India. But he didn’t join the bank either as he didn’t like a 9-5 job.

In his mission to find a job that would give him the chance to work with people, he researched extensively and chanced upon the carpet business. There was a good export market, but the sector was highly unorganised and involved a lot of middlemen and that is what wooed Chaudhary to this sector as he could see a huge scope for improvement. Having made up his mind, he took a loan of Rs5,000 from his father to set up his business in Churu. He spent the money in procuring two looms on which nine weavers worked on.

In the next decade or so, through his effortless connection with the rural communities, he quickly gained trust and began bringing livelihood opportunities to more and more underprivileged households. He built a sizeable network of artisans and in partnership with his younger brother MK Choudhary started an export business: Saraswati Exports. But the journey had its own share of challenges. His family and community were against this business as most of these artisans belonged to the untouchable community and he was spending a lot of time with these artisans.

Finally, he decided to leave Churu, even as his brother remained there to handle the exports business. In 1989, he moved to Pardi, Gujarat where he started training the tribals in the region in carpeting making. He spent over a decade there and trained more than 2,500 people from the tribal community. The next decade saw business growing and taking good shape. But in 1999 Chaudhary had a fallout with his brother. He relocated his entire family (wife, three daughters and two sons) back to Rajasthan in 2003, but this time to Jaipur. He started his business from scratch as Jaipur Carpets which was later rechristened to Jaipur Rugs in 2006.

The last two decades have been quite eventful for Chaudhary and his business as it saw all his three daughters and two sons joining it and helping him build a stronger organisation. All his children went overseas for higher education. His daughters Asha, 43 and Archana, 39 are settled in the US and look after the US operation (Jaipur Living, contributes almost 60 per cent to the company’s revenue) as CEO and head of quality assurance, USA, respectively. Kavita, 38 is the design director and she along with her younger brother Yogesh, 36, director (looks after sales and marketing) works out of the company’s headquarters in Jaipur. The youngest, Nitesh, 31 who joined the company around four years ago, is based in the US and oversees the company’s logistics and supply chain.   

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