Image courtesy of Ruchi Agrawal
We had a chance to speak to Ruchi Agrawal, co-founder and designer of Matr Boomie, one of our artisan partners based out of India. Ruchi Agrawal was born and raised in India in a backdrop of colors, cultures, and community. She studied fashion (a four-year degree program in Fashion and Information Technology) and worked in design houses (four years) in India before joining Matr Boomie. Her creativity is mostly influenced by her mom, who loves to decorate the house with traditional textiles and Mandalas, and her dad, who likes to explore new perspectives to existing problems. Growing up, social injustice was also a part of her environment that often disturbed her and made her question. Matr Boomie provided her the platform to challenge this inequality and make a difference in her own little way.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Compassionate, creative, and courageous.
Matr Boomie was founded in 2006 “with the mission of creating opportunities for women and minorities to realize their creative, economic, and leadership potential.” What experiences and/or interactions inspired you to begin this project?
I was working as a designer in ‘Export houses’ in India before Matr Boomie. I experienced firsthand the unfair, undignified way the producers were treated in these facilities. They were almost one of the raw materials being used to make a product. The sad part was that it was almost the way of life in that part of the world and nobody really questioned it. So when I was introduced to the idea of fair trade and the Matr Boomie model, I jumped right in.
Tell us about the artisans you are working with.
We work with about 1,000 artisans (over 50 percent women) in 40 cooperatives spread across Indian villages. We try to work with marginalized communities, women organizations, or village cooperatives.
What are some of the challenges the artisans face? And what are some of the milestones they have reached as a result of secure employment opportunities with your organization?
Design – Most times we have seen that artisans products are beautiful, but very crafty or very traditional. Not ready for the modern market. We provide a lot of guidance and design help to bridge that gap.
Quality – A lot of training goes into making the products market-ready in terms of quality. We conduct various quality workshops to educate and train the groups on quality expectations.
The groups benefit from these workshops a lot, and their overall quality improves for all the markets they are catering to.
Capacity building – This is a huge one. Many times we have experienced that when we actively market artisan products and get big orders, but then the artisans struggle to produce the quantity. This happens due to either outdated tools they use, or economic issues, or just the lack of understanding of scaling up. We run various programs to help this issue. For example, we installed updated baking kilns for our bell making community to increase their productivity and also create a safe environment.
We issue loans and conduct workshops to educate about (the) scaling up process.
Long-term partnership – This is a very important point for the sustainability of a group. (A) group is motivated to invest in different aspects, such as design, quality, capacity building, etc., only if they can rely on a long-term partnership.
We try to adopt the groups very carefully, making sure that there is an alignment and: 1. We can give them sustained employment 2. We can create the most impact in their community.
How do you balance a business and design career with your other prominent roles such as being a wife and a mother?
That’s a very important question for me. Knowing myself, I knew I will be a very devoted mother. 🙂 So, in the beginning, we decided to just focus on Matr Boomie till it is stable enough to not need my attention on a day-to-day basis. Ten years later, Matr Boomie is continuing to grow beautifully and we are blessed to have a great team to execute our philosophy.
Now with my two beautiful girls Adya (5) and Aruhi (2). I am part-time mommy and part-time entrepreneur. 🙂
Please tell us about your design process. Where do you find inspiration?
The beautiful, traditional artforms that I see all around Indian villages is the main source of inspiration. It is also the main motivator to design and preserve these artforms.
We definitely have to keep our eye on trends and (the) Western market to understand the demand.
The main challenge is to marry the two (artforms and fashion demands) in a way that is stylish, yet reflects tradition, high fashion yet affordable, price competitive yet profitable.
It is this challenge that I love the most!
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job?
Just knowing that my work is making a difference in someone’s life somewhere. That our business is creating opportunities. That we are creating a better world that is more playful, joyful, and compassionate.
Can you share with us any new projects that you look forward to working on?
It is becoming increasingly clear to us that what we are selling is not just a product, but a product wrapped with the precious stories around it. My next big project is to bring these stories to the customers. I am working on designing store displays and kiosks that showcase Matr Boomie products, along with strong videos and visuals.
What words of wisdom could you provide to others who are looking to launch their own socially responsible business?
Patience and persistence is what this business has taught me. Strongly holding on the faith that “doing good is good business!”
What is your life motto?
Harder the problem is more is the need to solve them and more rewarding will be the results.