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How Nestasia's employee welfare programmes help with expansion

Home decor marketplace Nestasia has begun an offline expansion – and along with that, an artisan welfare scheme to bolster its plans

Nestasia encourages their karigars to continuously upskill themselves.
Nestasia encourages their karigars to continuously upskill themselves. (Nestasia website)

Here’s a tired tale: companies, organisations, or designers launching welfare programmes for artisans in the handloom and handicraft sectors, so they preserve their generational knowledge and expertise, and continue to adapt their traditional craft commercially for contemporary times. Here’s a slightly fresher one: a company that’s clear that launching welfare programmes for the artisans it employs can reduce the attrition rate and increase efficiency in their production.

Nestasia, the three-year-old marketplace for home décor products that launched its first offline store in Kolkata over the summer, is looking to time another store launch, also in Kolkata, with the launch of ArtJET (Artisan's Junior Education and Training), a welfare programme for the children of their in-house artisans.

“Both offline and online, we are facing an issue of 40% of our products getting stocked out, so the production capacity needs to expand,” says Aditi Murarka, a cofounder of Nestasia. “We need to keep launching new products as well. We have three new lines too for the festive season, and 30-40% of this problem will be solved with programmes like these and expanding units,” she adds.

Also Read: In Kutch, artisans bring innovation to traditional arts and crafts

But how does a welfare programme benefitting the children of artisans help their business? When trying to expand the number of artisans on their team, Murarka and her partner and co-founder Anurag Agrawal noticed that artisans appreciated and hesitated to leave employers who provided personal support, whether financial or otherwise, during times of need. They would stay on with them even if work was not regular. Especially with regard to their children who did not want to continue in the family's line of work, the artisans, while highly skilled, were not adequately educated or equipped to provide to provide the right guidance – and staying on with employers who could, made a difference.

“Right now, 116 karigars (on the staff) have kids, and of these, 85% are still in school,” Murarka notes. “Our initial thought was to just fund a part of their education, but we figured through conversations with them, that not everyone wants to have a single-path career. Some of the children are interested in government jobs, others want to represent their towns in sport. We felt that tailor-made solutions were important,” she adds. Among the seven potential children Nestaisa is currently considering for scholarships, one wants to be a javelin player, another wants to join an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) course, and one wants to go to college.

To bridge this gap, Nestasia is working on collaborating with organisations such as the NSDC (National Skill Development Council) and Magic Bus India Foundation, for vocational training; and the Kolkata Dreams Foundation and SEED, for sports, and other local coaching institutes for children interested in appearing for competitive exams.

Agrawal and Murarka, the co-founders of Nestasia.
Agrawal and Murarka, the co-founders of Nestasia. (Nestasia website)

To be able to facilitate welfare programmes like the ArtJET, Murarka says they are investing 1% of what they get from their production output, back into the system. “For now, we are able to (partly) fund about 30% of the kids…” With an increase in productivity and their expansion, she hopes the amount they're able to put back towards artisan family welfare will increase, and they can help more such children through a more organised, “meritocratic” approach.

In addition to this, in a kind of in-house upskilling programme, the Nestasia team also mindfully and continuously engage with their employees to see who needs upskilling, or a complete change of department. For example, an employee who was first hired as part of their housekeeping staff, seemed to be underperforming. “He came close to being fired,” recalls Murarka. But the team engaged closely with him, and understood that he was more interested in the work in which the artisans were involved. Soon, they pushed him to upskill, and post-training, he was moved to the cutting and stitching department.

This is an evolution – almost a step two – since Nestasia's first round of team expansion. Their initial problem, in the early days of their production facility set up only in 2022, was artisan-retention. They had started with only two leather artisans in their fledgling prototyping unit. Now, in just over a year, the couple has managed to grow this production team to 190 artisans and about nine managerial and supervisorial staff.

Murarka says Nestasia achieved this by getting the artisans on as salaried employees – this helped with stickiness. Currently, 160 artisans are on the Nestasia payroll. “They are salaried, which is not usual the karigar community, where they face instability,” says Murarka. Being on the company payroll helped the artisans not only have a stable income, and its consequent benefits (like a provident fund and housing), but also helped in artisan satisfaction as they were also able to work for longer with a product or line, deepening their engagement and relationship with it.

Also Read: When the Indian artisan turns digital entrepreneur

This immediately showed up with productivity and efficiency, Murarka notes. “While the artisans are extremely skilled, we’ve noticed that after the first 3 months, efficiency typically increases by 1.4x towards the end of 6-10 months….this can pay off in a huge way if we have them with us for a longer duration instead of in different pockets (of time, or project-based engagement only),” Murarka says.

Nestasia's aim right now, is to grow this team to over 500 karigars on the Nestasia payroll in the next year and a half. This is noteworthy since, in December 2021, according to reports, the company raised $4 million in Series A round led by Stellaris Venture Partners; and it ended FY22 with a net revenue of Rs. 21.8 crore. Now, as Murarka says, in addition to their offline expansion in Kolkata they are working on opening three new stores soon in Delhi-NCR, too.

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