Interview with Ritu Oberoi

Ritu Oberoi
Ritu Oberoi

Online Shopping to be Most Preferred In Post-Covid World

Mumbai-based Forsarees is a socially driven business enterprise, working with weavers and artisans in rural India. The brand is an initiative to promote the concept of sari wearing in an urban environment and sell handwoven saris curated by weavers from small villages and towns pan India. Founder Ritu Oberoi chats with Paulami Chatterjee about what led her launch the company and how it is helping preserve traditional weaves and yet creating novel pieces of art for customers.

Amid the covid-19 crisis, how is the handloom industry sustaining itself? How have the livelihoods of weavers associated with you been impacted?

Handloom faces many challenges; covid-19 has just added to the challenges. There is a sudden disruption of business. The demand is at an all-time low now. Due to exhibitions being called off, the weavers have a huge inventory of products and hence are apprehensive of taking on new projects. Ecommerce platforms are the only saviours here. At Forsarees, we offer our own projects to weavers. But during these challenging times, we have been working closely with weavers to clear off their inventories through our platform. Besides, we have been constantly working on new projects with them.

What challenges are you facing in day-to-day sourcing and order deliveries?

Logistics have been a challenge during these times. The sudden increase in the shipping costs by logistics partners have been detrimental. We work with weavers on a project basis, paying upfront for the products. The demand has slowed down by 50 per cent, but we hope to create more opportunities during the festival season.

What kind of support are you providing to the weavers?

They say: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Honestly, we haven't created any funds or contributions. What we have been trying to create is demand for the talent. We have been also working in new categories of products and newer weaves to ensure that there is enough work with each weaver. 

What was the initial survey you did before launching your brand?

I had earlier worked in the media and entertainment industry for 15 years, my last role being in ad sales at ABP News. I was on a sabbatical, travelling and exploring. During one such visit and a few interactions with weavers later, I realised how they needed a bridge to directly reach consumers. Hence, the idea of Forsarees firmed up. I quit the job and did not look back. Initially I spent a year researching and creating a set of weavers that we wanted to work with and launched our ecommerce website in 2018.

How many weavers are working with you? What is the kind of support they get from you?

We work with independent artisans and weavers or self-help groups working with rural artisans to revive crafts. We have successfully associated with 25 such families and communities impacting more than 500 individuals. The weavers span from Kutch, Ajrakhpur, Maniabandha- Sambalpur, Bardhhaman, Pochampally, Chanderi and villages near Santiniketan employing women forces for our kantha project. Though they are a talent hub themselves, we work closely with them to create new designs, suggest new colours based on urban tastes and aesthetics, and help them bring a variety to the work of art. We have been working closely with our weaver teams helping them in these adverse times, providing projects, insight and knowledge enhancements. It takes from two weeks to two months for a product to get finished, depending on the intricacy of the work.

How do you sell your sarees? Which are the major areas/cities you sell in? What is the price range?

We sell our saris through our website and social media platforms. We are only available online. We have our largest base in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Our price point starts at 1,500 and goes on to 10,000. The highest selling price point for our saris is 2,000.

How are you bringing innovation to your saris?

This is very interesting and yet challenging. Since we talk about heritage weaves, we prefer sticking to authentic designs and patterns. But there also is a need to bring unique novel pieces of art for the customers. Hence, we innovate in two ways. First, we try a fusion between different weaves and crafts. For example, ajrakh is usually done on cotton or silk, but we provide different weaves like chanderi and mulmuls to our artisans to create something new.

Are you partnering with any international fashion houses to promote Indian handloom saris?

We are available at Etsy, a popular shopping website in the US.

What initiatives should be taken by Indian designers to revive the handloom industry?

I strongly feel that we need to get the younger generation attracted to handloom fabrics, and then only can we see a huge increase in demand. They are conscious about sustainability and eco-friendly clothes. Their choice of apparel in handloom fabrics will only boost demand.

What are your plans?

We are optimistic about the fact that online shopping would be the most preferred shopping habit in a post-covid world, and we are preparing ourselves for that. We will be increasing our categories from fabrics to home decor and utility artistic gifts.
This article was first published in the October 2020 edition of the print magazine.
Published on: 17/11/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of