Vinusto, beautifying the handlooms – Story of Anshula Yuvaraj

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This is the story of the woman behind the idea of beautifying the handlooms while making an impact in the lives of weavers, Anshula Yuvaraj says that her parents taught her that ‘Honesty, Kindness, and Respect are the most important things and she lives by that.

Confident and Modest are the words for her. She loves to read, paint, travel, and her gold zari saree is her favorite. Her passion to help society and a chapter of her son’s 9th-grade history book inspired her to start her venture, Vinusto.

Anshula is a graduate in Psychology and a MBA in Human Resources. She did her post-graduation in 1995 and has worked for 23 years as an HR professional, with start-ups to conglomerate and in domains like IT/ ITES, Shipping & Logistics, Consulting & Media & BTL Marketing Services, etc. 

Talking about why she entered into the business, she says, ‘My longest stint was with Wipro and I remain a Wiproite at the core.😊 I quit in 2017 and at that time I was leading Business HR & Corporate HR for one of the largest business units of Wipro. The urge to do something different was there. That sounds cliche now (grins), but the fact is that I wanted a second inning. When you want a  second inning, you generally chose your own field of specialization; however, sometimes you pick up something different and unchartered. And I picked the challenge of doing something totally different from what my actual experience was. That’s how it started for me.’ 

Talking about her initial journey after quitting the job, she says, ‘I worked in the advisory board of a charitable hospital in Bihar- Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital. It gave me exposure to how social impact organizations work and that’s when I started Viraasat Ventures Private Limited.’ 

Throwing light on Vinusto, she says, ‘We are a social enterprise that works with weavers for their financial, social and educational upliftment…that is our long-term agenda. We are still young and our brand Vinusto has been progressing in this direction for past 2 ½ years.

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Talking about her family – My husband is a Senior HR Leader as well though we don’t discuss HR business at home (laughs). My son is 20 years old and studying at IIT Bombay. We are a small family. 

She has a library and enjoys historical thrillers the most. She says that ‘I am very fond of reading. I am that kind of reader who read from the preface till the author’s note 😃.

We asked her some questions related to business and life. And she very cheerfully answered them all. So here are some excerpts from our conversation with Anshula Yuvaraj, the woman herself. 

So, these were the excerpts from our conversation with Anshula Yuvaraj, the Founder of Virasat Ventures Private Limited.

How did you get the idea of doing a business?

‘I was teaching my son history and there is a chapter on Handlooms and handicrafts of India, the impact of British Rule and Industrial Revolution. I have studied Economics and stages in Indian Economy during Graduation, and I guess had forgotten quite a bit of it. But this session was a revision of sorts. I realized that that was one area which requires some work and I can contribute. The idea of truncating the supply chain using technology remained with me till I quit to start my second innings.

How does Vinusto work?

Viraasat Ventures is a Social Enterprise in E- retail space, and our brand is Vinusto. Simply put, we make authentic handloom products marketable for the weavers and accessible to consumers through our tech platform Vinusto dot in. The enterprise was set up with a philosophy of fair payment for skill, and we work on a profit-sharing model with the weavers. Thus a Sale on Vinusto from Vinusto contributes directly to a weavers’ family. 

Vinusto is a combination of “Viraasat” and “Venusto”. Viraasat means heritage and Venusto in Latin expresses, to beautify or adorn with embellishments.

While handloom and handicraft are our legacy, the craftsmen do not get the fair share for their skills due to the complex supply chain. Vinusto’s business model focuses on making the economics favorable by replicating the older version of supply chain via use of technology. We bring Weavers closer to the wearers. 

The Vinusto model is based on three pillars – Technology Platform, Design, Communication. We start with Cluster outreach from amongst the clusters we have identified. We meet the weaver groups in their home ground; it’s two-way engagement, we see the products, the looms, the technique, and the raw material being used. And we explain the concept of fair trade, profit sharing, and the virtual shop. 

The Design team helps the weavers with consumer insights – fashion trends, colors, designs, etc. The design team creates versatile and competitive apparel designs based on handloom themes – we use the weaver’s fabric to create garments. Thus in addition to the unstitched finished products which weavers make, we have given them another revenue stream through sales of fabrics and using them in the production of our garments. The cluster is like a production hub for us for finished products and raw materials. 

We in Vinusto beautify the designs and make them marketable to the consumer through creative display on our website and other partner platforms/ market places.  

Cluster development is the difficult part, weavers have been working on the wholesale model all along, which gives lower but immediate returns. So, believing that there can be an alternative method of- stocking their goods, responding to customer orders in time, and profit-sharing is something too new. And making them trust the entire idea is the most difficult part. So we build trust by engaging extensively. And this process takes the longest time.

Concluding the answer she says, “ We work on the zero inventory model and we don’t keep the goods. We tell the weavers that the only condition is that whenever there is an order, you need to make/ send the goods to us. If we block their stock, it will impact their sale elsewhere, which conflicts with the social cause”.

What were the challenges you faced?

On the family front, it was not really that tough. I have been a working professional for a long time. And this is a continuation of work. What was challenging was, that I am an HR professional and am not from the fashion industry.

I came with a belief to make an impact and help with a social cause. Everything was new for me, starting from the GST number to how the packaging will happen, and which cluster to start with. 

I think the only skill I came with was problem-solving and solutioning. And as a student of human behavior, I do have some understanding of people, including our consumer base – especially since I myself am the target consumer. 

As we started work, the first challenge was to convince the weavers to stock products at zero cost for profit sharing. The second one was to create the website. We started with one platform and then had to change it after one year to a more compatible one. Creating the design team and handloom-based designs that will appeal to the customers. Out-sourcing production for our made-on-order, 0 inventory model was tough to eventually setting up small production set up of our own as we scaled up. Even if you create the product which appeals to the consumer, digital marketing is a different ball game and involves many a hit and miss scenarios. 😊

We saw two phases of Covid after starting up the business and impacts has been felt by all including us.  

We are a self-funded business and that remains our biggest challenge as we scale up further. 

However, when you have entered the arena to address a social cause, then your commitment and motivation level is largely driven by that cause.

What is different about Vinusto from its competitive brands? 

There are several designer brands as well as handloom brands in the market. We describe ourselves as an authentic handloom brand with a social cause. If you are looking for pure authentic handloom products, then Vinusto is the brand; A Handloom is a handloom on our website. 

We are transparent in our communication. Our consumers can read the detailed product description that talks about the origin of the handloom product, material used, measures, etc. 

The social cause is a differentiator for discerning customers; a purchase from Vinusto contributes directly to a weavers’ family. We contribute through sales proceeds and the weaver gets a fair share for his skills. It’s based on our commitment of fair payment for the skill.  

Customers have also identified a differentiator – quality of construction of garments. We get excellent feedback on Product Quality. Happy to say it gives us repeat customers

From the producers’ perspective, our profit-sharing model makes us different. And from the consumer perspective, high-quality authentic handloom designer wear is what we stand for. 

On customer feedbacks and business, Anshula says, “the business has evolved over time. Authenticity is something which requires the proof of concept and when the customers say, ‘Yes! It is authentic and it looks authentic’ it works. 

Talking about the organizational commitments, she says ‘we need to work on one area, that is educating people about authenticity – which one is a handloom and which one is not. We tell them that we are making handloom and are using the sustainable organic yarns for all our designer offerings’. 

How tough it is to convince weavers?

Convincing the weavers about our model requires continuous engagement as our model is different.  And personal credibility is an important part of it. 

How do you create personal credibility with someone you don’t know…and does every team member carry the personal credibility to influence? Here I would say transparency and consistency helps. The approach has been that I stand by my commitments. I remain honest whether it’s good news or bad and I continue to believe in the goodness in others. So, if you start with considering the good intentions of the other person, your vibes are positive to have an engaging interaction. 

Genuine respect for fellow human beings is important- slotting the other person basis gender, education, social status is avoidable, and it should come naturally not as a façade. 😊 

I got these values from my parents who were academicians, values of Honesty, Kindness, and Respect for others. Fortunately, I worked in organizations, including my 12 years stint in Wipro where these values were endorsed. I have tried to inculcate these values in the organization I am building. 

Thus, while our group of weavers gauged the genuine intent, but they were skeptical about our commitment of profit sharing. However, the trust got built over time as the proof of concept developed and more people got added. I think what also worked was that we don’t differentiate at all, they are a part of the team and are aware of all developments, pricing decisions etc.

And I will also give credit to the young weaver who was the first one to participate;  risked his stock over his belief in e-commerce and technology, the virtual shop ( Vinusto internet par uski dukaan hai 😊 ).  He trusted us and the business model of “munafe mein sajhedaari’. 

I must say Yamini, it took more than six months to establish the trust and lots of hard work. 

How can I differentiate between the Machine-made fabric and the authentic one?

There are two certifications; the handloom mark given by the government of India to the weavers who are registered with them, for products made on handloom. Weavers use this mark- it’s a small label stuck to the product. The second one is the GI Certification or Geographical Indices- the guidelines are geography and skill centric – So a product will be considered a Chanderi if it’s made in Chanderi or its nearby villages and on a handloom. It’s advisable to see the handloom mark or check the GI certification of the product. 

Additionally, the “ irregularity common to handicrafts’ is an indication – irregularity of the weave is visible in the spaces between the tana/bana (yarns). The spaces will not be uniform if the product is handmade, unlike the machine that can create space between yarns but uniform one.  Same for hand block prints – the visible non uniformity is a giveaway. Chanderi fabric with motif looks same on both sides etc.  

Any message for the next generation of entrepreneurs?

6 pointers that have helped me so far- first & foremost is Perseverance, tenacity helps; Second –Put your money where its needed the most, don’t waste it; third – Self-funding is better, gives you initial grip, fourth- you should be willing to unlearn and learn– entrepreneurship is synonymous to learning. And fifth will be – treat a crisis as a problem instead of getting emotional about it, identify the root cause, 90% of the times you will get the solution. Final one is if there is a need to change course, do it. Till the spirit with which you started remains intact its ok to change the process.

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