These social entrepreneurs have been adapting the ancient art of Madhubani painting on apparel and home decor products and selling them through their ecommerce platform called iMithila.
When Ruchi Jha decided to move out from the corporate world and take her entrepreneurial plunge, she knew she did not have to look far for a co-founder since her mother-in-law, Renuka Kumari, was the ideal choice for the job. Parent-child and sibling pairs of co-founders are quite common in the startup world, a saas bahu combination not as much. Ruchi explains, “My mother-in-law hails from Darbhanga, the heartland of Madhubani art. A retired professor of Botany, she is passionate about the art form just like me. So, she was the perfect choice to co-found iMithila.”
iMithila was established in mid-2016 and is a part of the Startup India initiative. Ruchi is based out of iMithala’s corporate office in Noida and handles the front end of the business. Since Renuka lives in Darbhanga, she largely handles the production side of the business and liaises with the artists, who hail from that area.
The iMithila story
Madhubani painting, also known as Mithila painting, originated in the Mithila region of Bihar as wall murals and is one of the oldest art forms in the world. The primitive art is created with fingers, twigs, brushes, and matchsticks, using natural dyes and pigments. Like most traditional art, Madhubani painting is not an easy segment to generate revenues in. So Ruchi decided to transplant the art on to sarees and stoles as well as fashion and home decor items like bags and clutches, coasters, trays, and wall clocks.
iMithila is a team of 10 who work in Noida and Delhi, along with around 40 artists who are a part of the production unit in Darbhanga. The fabrics and raw materials are given by the iMithila team to the artists and their in-house designers decide which painting would work well on a particular product.
However, we do not deviate from the traditional art style. The surface might be new, but the painting is created lovingly by hand in the classic style.
iMithila is seeing orders from all over India, especially Kolkata and the South Indian cities and quite a few from abroad, especially the US.
We have been growing organically and now we ship five to eight products every working day with an average ticket size of Rs 2,000.
iMithila was one of 32 winners of the SuperStartup awards by SuperBrand this year alongside names like Bluestone and Shopclues. The startup was also chosen by Amazon for their Launchpad programme in India to promote Indian Startups.
The business angle
Ruchi’s current focus is on production and she wants to ensure that quality standards are unaffected as they scale up rapidly.
As far as funding is concerned, Ruchi says,
We are a bootstrapped company. We are different from the many startups who are VC dependent from beginning. We believe in becoming profitable on our own strength. At present, we are not looking for any VC funding options for the growth targets we strive to achieve.
Though primarily an ecommerce store, iMithila has its presence in a couple of Multi Brand Outlet (MBOs). The team is also in the process of opening multiple Exclusive Brand Outlet (EBO) as well as their own art gallery.
The social impact
Other than steady income for artists, iMithila is also helping to create an environment of entrepreneurship in Class B and C cities of Bihar. The iMithila team is also educating their partners on the best manufacturing process and machines. Some of their suppliers now manufacture bags and apparel in fully automated factories. The team also has plans to establish a clock manufacturing unit at Darbhanga. This is helping in creating jobs in different skill sets and is a big boost to the economy of small towns.
Ruchi has big dreams for iMithila. She says, “I think the day is not far when this beautiful art form will be commonly seen in the most exclusive markets the world over.”