With weak labor laws in India, many locals struggle in poverty and can barely make ends meet. Many are forced to work long grueling hours and are paid close to nothing by the end of the day. Corporations are known to take advantage of these good humans by using them to lower their costs to bring up their profits. This is what we call unethical sourcing. Even though it isn’t illegal, it isn’t right.
Meet Manish Gupta who lives in the US. On his trip back to India, he noticed that many locals could not support themselves solely through this line of work and realized the extreme poverty of his homeland. He decided to be part of the change and invested in his community and so MatrBoomie was born. A FairTrade company that supports 1000+ artisans in India with their artisan partners being paid 25% over market wages by making accessories, bags and other handmade gifts. In addition, he uses sustainable materials and processes to protect the environment.
This week on #TheGoodSquad, we got the opportunity to interview Manish Gupta on his journey with MatrBoomie and why supporting their business can help these Indian artisans.
1. Tell us about your amazing journey and how MatrBoomie began!
A FAIR TRADE LOVE STORY
On a trip back to his native India after years of living in the United States, I was struck anew by the extreme material poverty of my homeland. With deep respect for the rich culture and potential of rural Indians, I started asking questions. After hundreds of conversations and even more cups of tea, I realized that I had a role to play — to bridge these two seemingly disparate worlds.
I started partnering with grassroots organizations to establish training programs with women and men from rural communities in India, transforming their skills into master artistry. I personally ensured that the materials were safe for people and kind to the land. With the help of my mother and sister, I established a team in India to guarantee clear, efficient communications and high-quality production. I then gathered a team in Austin, Texas, to design collections that appealed to the US market while honoring the culture, craft and capacity of Indian artisans. Along the way, I married a beautiful, inspiring Indian designer, Ruchi, who quickly became my partner in life, love and business.
Nearly a decade later, the little company run out of mine and Ruchi’s Austin apartment has grown into a leading fair trade wholesaler and innovator in ethical, sustainable business.
2. Could you tell us more about your trip back to India? What was the highlight of the trip?
During my trip, I started to look for regions that have traditional art forms. There was no google, mapquest or website so it was all word-of-mouth whilst traveling by train and bus from region to region. When I met them I found that many had won awards and were respected in the community; however, they could no longer make a living to support themselves through this work. They didn’t know anything else and so they would need to leave their families behind and go to the City to work menial jobs to make money. So, I realized a gap that needed to be filled. The social aspect of the business dawned on me during this experience and dialogues.
The highlight of the trip was being in the company of rural artisans, experiencing amazing art and witnessing the resilience of the artisans and also the extraordinary beauty of the untouched rural land.
3. Why do you believe FairTrade is important?
To us, this is more than just business. We use trade as a tool to create positive change in the world. Work brings people dignity. We work diligently to provide a way to break the cycle of poverty in India and to empower our partner communities. We go beyond fair wages and actively invest in development projects, healthcare, and education. It is about changing lives and creating a more beautiful and kind world. For us we believe in the cultural preservation of traditional artforms and collaboration in design is key to this. This also considers the impact on the environment and working in harmony with it wherever possible.
4. Which of your products do you think is most unique and why?
Each of our categories of products are so special and unique in their own right because they all utilize amazing age-old art forms. Some of them upcycle scrap materials and some create jobs for people, especially women, who otherwise may struggle to find meaningful work.
Our upcycled sari products are unique because they particularly support female artisans who upcycle the traditional Indian sari dress and give it a new lease of life (instead of ending up in a landfill). They create fun, joyful and vibrant products that support both people and the planet. So to me, that is the perfect trio!
5. Are you involved in the design process of your products?
In the past, I was more involved in the design process and my wife Ruchi, a designer by trade has been very involved from the beginning. Now we fully entrust our talented design team with the process. They study the trends and artforms and they marry the trends with the capacity of our artisan partner teams. This is an involved and delicate process of collaboration.
My input now is offering our design team the perspective of retailers and addressing their needs in terms of merchandising and display.
6. Can you tell us any stories of the artisans?
We work with over 1000 artisans, 80% rural, 50% women, 30% minorities and most belong to the low-income community. Most have inherited artforms however they face barriers to connecting with the trade community so our team on the ground in India supports the groups by gaining training and resources so that they can bring products to market. Many of the women we work with have not worked before so the dignity and confidence gained by them are priceless. Artisans we work with do not believe in charity and when asked they respond with “more trade and not aid” Ours is a holistic approach, the first goal is to provide meaningful employment opportunities for our artisan partners and secondly to support community projects such as health clinics, vocational training projects and projects around health and safety in workshops, projects around solar lights and other utilities.
7. Tell us what the most rewarding part of founding MatrBoomie is?
Bringing joy to our artisan partners, stakeholders, customers, staff and our community at large is the most rewarding part of founding Matr Boomie. Every time we deliver on our promise of using trade as a tool to design and distribute products for ethical living, we feel we are a step closer to our vision of creating a world that is more playful, compassionate, kind and connected. We not only focus our efforts globally but also locally by hosting monthly lunch and learn events at our HQ in Austin, where the team learns more about one another and also other organizations undertaking impactful work in the community. We also participate in group volunteering activities in the local community as a team AND we have fun while doing it! We strive to create a diverse workplace with representation across race, ethnicity, age and gender (including LGBTQIA +) and to support a work-life balance.
8. What are you working on for 2022 and beyond that you want us to know about?
We are always looking for ways to connect with more artisan partners, creating joyful products and we also plan to collaborate on a project with a local organization in Austin that supports an at-risk community.
As a Fair Trade brand that supports Indian workers and farmers too, we’re happy that MatrBoomie is also bringing awareness to the world about the labor conditions in India and are doing something to benefit the communities. We hope that you’ll be part of the change in these workers’ lives by shopping for Fair Trade goods.
Check out MatrBoomie along with their unique accessories in the social links below!