Curated e-store showcasing artisans, craftspeople, and non-profits

iTokri

For-Profit • E-commerce • B2B2C

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STARTED IN 2011

By Nitin and Sakshi Pamnani

LOCATION

Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

ARTISANS 

500

PRODUCTS

Textiles, Jewellery, Home Decor, Accessories 

CRAFTS

Ikat, Bandhani, Mashru, Ajrak, Phulkari, Appliqué, Wood Carving, Chikankari

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LIVES IMPACTED

15K

YOY GROWTH

67%

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DID YOU KNOW?

India’s leading e-commerce retailer with its own inventory of handmade products

Ranging from Punjab’s phulkari dupattas and Gujarat’s bandhani sarees to Andhra’s ikat handloom fabrics and Odisha’s pattachitra paintings. iTokri sources products including jewellery, dress materials and household items from 500+ artisans and NGOs across India. 

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Nitin Pamnani, a documentary film-maker based in Delhi, moved back to Gwalior and decided to take advantage of his father’s unused warehouse to store the products that retail on iTokri.

 
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THE APPROACH

iTokri’s ‘warehouse model’ enables artisans to focus on doing what they are best at – their craft.

Set up with an investment of ₹50 lakh, iTokri has now expanded its reach across India both for sourcing as well as sales in the last 9 years. What makes this model stand out is that it addresses the unique pain-points of enterprises as well as artisan-producers by taking a buy-out approach instead of a commission-based one.


By taking care of end-to-end logistics, iTokri has successfully developed a creative and sustainable model for artisans and customers alike. 

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“We have designed this model to benefit the artisans. It works because we don’t put the onus of holding inventory on the artisans. They create; we store and distribute.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
 
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CHALLENGES

1

Procurement of products

Lack of public information on product sourcing, procurement of raw materials, makes it difficult to figure out where production happens, identify factories, meet traders, and issue procurement orders.

3

Traditional models and processes of scaling up

Applying ‘corporate’ processes and models to scale a craft-led business results in failure. Taking the particular craft in question into consideration while ideating strategies to scale up work better.

5

Parasitical approach and lack of transparency

Unlike other industries where everyone from the producer to marketer, trader, to exporter gets respect and credit for their own work, the artisan-producers are the lowest in the food chain when it comes to the artisan sector.

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“This parasitical approach is this sector’s biggest problem, and that’s why it struggles to grow. The attitude is to piggyback on the host (artisan), leverage their struggles, and highlight how you have helped them, all to make money off of them and their story.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
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2

Adapting to standardised marketing tactics

Photographing unique, craft-based products and listing them online, navigating the marketing setup of Facebook, product-oriented digital advertising, shifting to catalog-oriented marketing often gets in the way of doing business.

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“If there are 200 patchwork bags, each will be different from each other and as such, has to be photographed differently.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI

4

Lack of standardised margins

Lack of standardisation of margins means products can be sold at any price with most of the money going to the merchant or the middleman and not the artisan.

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“So, if you buy a sari for ₹2,000, you can sell it for ₹10,000 or ₹12,000. There are no safeguards in place that a product must be sold at a specific product margin. Someone buys it at cost price from the producer and sells it as a piece of art at ridiculously high margins. This does not happen in any other sector.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI

6

Lack of sector-specific policy and planning

Beyond the standard loans, no efforts have been made to provide training, identify opportunities for upskilling, scaling, leverage markets and tech for greater reach and visibility.

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“Today whatever policy setup is existing in the artisan sector is geared towards donation, not upliftment of the craft or marketing it. You want to enhance this sector and yet, there is no solid plan or policy setup to help achieve it”.

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
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SOLUTIONS

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“iTokri prices and that of other craft organisations differ by a minimum of 30%-50%. When we sell a product at ₹1,000, no one can sell it at that price as we procure directly from artisans. We benefit as does the customer and it’s best for the artisans too.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
Curated e-commerce platform

Offering a range of products across categories and prices via an interactive, immersive experience and personalised, handwritten notes on recycled paper to further delight customers.

Low margins

iTokri sells products at a margin of 8% - 10%. Even with a markup of 70% to 80%, they are inexpensive compared to similar products sold by premium brands.

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“iTokri keeps the least margin of all retailers we work with.”

— DWARAKA (DEVELOPMENT OF WEAVERS AND RURAL ARTISANS IN KALAMKARI ART) 
Fair pricing

Unlike other retailers, iTokri does not try to drive down prices by negotiating rates with artisans.

Quality assurance

A strict adherence to high quality standards, enhanced customer service and speedy resolution of grievances sets iTokri apart.

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“We have been engaging with artisans from a design perspective from day one. It’s taken us 9 years to establish the highest standards of quality and aesthetics. If you are charging customers a premium price, you have to give them fantastic quality. I don't want to get away with the excuse that we are handmade.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
Leveraging social media for marketing

Using social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Instagram, iTokri has amassed a large following. Word-of-mouth has also helped drive sales significantly. 

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165K
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60K+
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2K+
Traditional craft processes
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True to their philosophy of allowing artisans free rein to create, iTokri trusts them with designs, colours, and processes, not forcing them to deviate from traditional ways of making to meet mass requirements. 

“They want perfect, authentic quality. Unlike other retailers who are now mixing power loom products with handloom, iTokri’s only expectation from us is high quality genuine products. This supports traditional weavers like us.”

— GAJAM GOVARDHANA, PADMA SHRI AWARDEE
Bulk orders + exports

Facilitating bulk orders and exports has resulted in iTokri boasting of a global customer base contributing significantly to sales.

Visibility for artisans

iTokri includes the name of the artisan or organisation with every product listed on their website, giving them due credit.

 
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ECONOMIC IMPACT

Fair prices for artisans and organisations

Harsh Dave, an entrepreneur in Bhuj in Gujarat, has been selling his products on iTokri for 5 years. He earned ₹45 lakh from the platform in 2020.

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1

Doubling revenues since 2012

2

Scaled from 10 brands in 2011 to 100+ in 2021

Customer base of 3,00,000 across India and the world

20% customers are from US, UK, Canada among other countries.
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SOCIAL IMPACT

Creating visibility for artisans and traditional craft processes

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“iTokri has created a unique branding for Ajrakh handloom prints, which are a speciality of the Kutch region, and has also provided visibility for the individual local artisans directly with the customers.”

— SUFIYAN KHATRI, ARTISAN
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Livelihood opportunities for 500 artisans across India

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COVID-19

Continued to provide employment and make payments to artisans during the lockdown

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“iTokri was the only retailer that did not stop payment to artisans during the lockdown. They supported us and cleared payments for all orders as per schedule so that artisans were not impacted.”

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— UMAR FARUK KHATRI, ARTISAN
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Collaborated with artisans to retail the largest variety of handmade masks.

From handwoven, handspun eri silk natural-dyed masks to Lucknowi chikankari and ajrakh print cotton masks, iTokri has them all.

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“From March to May 2020, we had a lot of stock with us and it was a big challenge to ship them out. We ventured into mask making and started a chapter of craft mask production and converted a major portion of textile fabrics we procured into masks. People may not have been buying craft products but they bought masks as they were a utility product. Those 4 - 5 months were a turning point in a way and now we are doing better than we were pre-COVID.”
— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
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LEARNINGS

Craft is an ‘upside-down’ sector

Unlike industrial manufacturing the handmade sector cannot be traditionally scaled. It is characterised by slow production cycles, limited quantities and restricted timelines.

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“The cycle of the craft itself is different as is the production setup, which a mainstream industrial mindset can't comprehend. When enterprises try to standardise, they end up deviating from the traditional process, and it’s no longer a part of the handmade system; They end up corrupting the artisans’ approach and mindset.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI

Craft by nature and design is informal

As per mainstream economic definitions, the artisan sector is informal in that it lacks a replicable structure. But the artisan sector has its own traditional structures which were set up hundreds of years ago and still persist today. 

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“When you define it from a mainstream economic perspective, it will veer towards informal because it has no structure — no insurance, no data, no transparency, no standard rate or no fixed working time. But when you say that this is a ‘differently organised sector,’ it’s accurate to say that the crafts sector has its own mechanism and way of working.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI

Returns for investment in artisan sector look different

The definition of ‘scale’ and ‘ROI’ are different when it comes to the artisan sector. The artisan sector needs models and approaches that will allow them to scale sustainably.

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‘‘Investors looking to invest in the artisan sector should think of it as a fixed deposit instead of the stock market. They shouldn’t have expectations of returns where their money will become 2x, 3x or 4x in 12 months. The artisan sector has its own trajectory and we must respect that if we are to preserve everything that is unique and wonderful about working in and for the crafts.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI

Adapting aspects of formalisation to the informal artisan economy

The artisan economy can benefit significantly from incorporating aspects of the formal economy such as banking, health insurance, etc., so long as it puts the needs of the communities first. 

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“Policy makers need to move away from ‘copy paste’ approaches for the artisan sector. We still do not have a directory that tells you where the craft is produced, details of the producer with contact information, areas and zones, etc. there is no open platform unlike other industries.” 

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
 
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“If we have to understand small businesses and work with them, we have to understand sustainability. And that comes from decentralisation, not necessarily from operating from big cities.”

— NITIN PAMNANI, CO-FOUNDER, ITOKRI
 

SDGs

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PHOTOS & VIDEOS COURTESY ITOKRI
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