Life | Glocal Accents

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Glocal Accents
Text by Mukti Khaire
Published: Volume 17, Issue 8, August, 2009

Hansiba is SEWA’s venture to bring the designs of the legendary women's association to the world. Mukti Khaire explores the brand

Hansiba, the retail initiative of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, is an attempt to translate traditional embroidery skills into contemporary apparel with broad, urban appeal. Through Hansiba, SEWA achieves three important goals. First, Hansiba is a connection between widely different geographies and societies. Rural SEWA members are connected with urban SEWA members, and SEWA members are connected to men and women from very different social and economic backgrounds. Second, Hansiba is a source of self-esteem for the rural embroiderers, whose skills are showcased in Hansiba products. By demonstrating the economic and aesthetic value of the embroidery that had been passed down generations of rural women, Hansiba gives the women a feeling of self-worth that comes from making valued and valuable contributions to society, and a feeling of pride as they see their skills being appreciated by the market. Finally, this initiative has positive long-run economic and social impact on rural women’s lives. Analysis done by SEWA shows that SEWA members not only have higher incomes and more assets than non-SEWA members, but also are more likely to educate daughters than non-members are. Hansiba is thus poised to change both commerce and society in India.

Most importantly, Hansiba is bringing market knowledge to rural Indian women who have certain skills, and packaging their skills for those markets. The main roadblock to widespread economic development is the discrepancy between what the market demands and the skills possessed by individuals living in less-privileged social and economic conditions. As the economic gap between cities and villages widens, so do the cultural differences, and the tastes of buyers. As a result, traditional textiles and embroideries and other crafts may not necessarily hold the same appeal for urban consumers as they do for rural consumers, or be considered as desirable by urban consumers as branded products are. What is needed, therefore, is a bridge across this gap, and Hansiba provides such a bridge. Hansiba is creating entrepreneurs out of rural craftswomen, thus leading them toward economic development. Moreover, Hansiba has empowered the women to take their own decisions regarding design and other modifications they need to adopt in order to meet the market’s needs. For instance, observing that urban customers preferred a harmonious look, the artisans collectively decided to replace the colors they had used traditionally with other colors, as well as use fewer colors overall. Additionally, modifying traditional designs to suit the market increases the chances that the traditional skills would survive, since it adds economic value to what was once largely a personal undertaking.

The Hansiba endeavour is complex and challenging. Hansiba and SEWA need to sustain and expand the market for Hansiba, while also fulfilling the objectives of social change and economic development. This requires broad expertise across multiple business functions. Such a complex set of objectives calls for innovative structures. Having already implemented a novel business model, Hansiba can now establish partnerships with public and private enterprises to achieve its business goal of being a globally competitive business as well as its goal to bring about social change. Hansiba offers consumers the chance to effect social and economic change through their buying choices by bridging the gap between the poor and the prosperous and the rural and the urban in India.

Mukti Khaire is Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. With her HBS colleague Kathleen McGinn, she is writing a case on the STFC.

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