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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Varsha Bajaj: The Guwahati woman who is empowering artisans through handmade bamboo furniture

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Eco-friendly Canboo Crafts, founded by Guwahati native Varsha Bajaj, makes beautiful bamboo furniture. Bamboo crafts and ecological décor are growing, so artisan-led businesses are too. In 2018, the government created the National Bamboo Mission to encourage them. Weaving is one of the earliest civilizations’ techniques.

This initiative also expands bamboo plantations, revitalizing India’s bamboo sector. This would significantly reduce imported bamboo, allow craftsmen to earn more from handcrafted items, and promote ‘Make in India’.

Varsha Bajaj, a 45-year-old Guwahati arts graduate, founded CanbooCraft. The 2021-founded “complete organic online store” sells bamboo, cane, and other handcrafted goods.

Varsha says that amid difficult situations, one realizes their full ability. She also became an entrepreneur.

My hometown is Guwahati, but I relocated to Meghalaya after marriage. I lost my husband in 2018. I was unsure what to do next and considered traveling to Bengaluru, where my daughter was studying graphic design. Upskilling would help me establish my foothold in corporate life.”

After never working, Varsha was “clueless”. She took a Bengaluru course in digital marketing because it was trendy. Varsha believes content creation required hours of sitting with her thoughts before putting them down, which was difficult given her personal life.

She took the call to work in escalation for a bike rental firm and customer support for an online institute.  

But she discovered something lacking.

This wasn’t my thing. Varsha tells me she wants to encourage women, employ seniors, and spread the idea that all you need is the will to transform your life.

The climax of the epidemic inspired Varsha to start.  
‘I realized living alone was tough.’

This was Varsha’s grim reality when she and her kid contracted coronavirus. “People couldn’t help us even if they wanted to because of COVID. My father would hear my distress and beg me to return to Assam. After recovering, I followed his advise and went home in July 2021.”

This offered her the time and assistance she needed to establish her handcraft business. Growing up in the Northeast, I saw these craftspeople make a living using cane and bamboo. Recent years have seen a decline in their numbers, and they are now operating autorickshaws instead of handicrafts. Because bamboo product demand was falling. COVID had aggravated it.”

Varsha says that the epidemic introduced the internet world, which craftspeople could not adapt to. She decided they only needed assistance and someone to connect them online.

This light of hope was her.

A long-term business

Convincing craftspeople was difficult. Varsha realized these groups opposed innovation and new designs. They were happy with their jobs, thinking the epidemic would terminate their careers.

She never gave up.

In the following months, I visited Guwahati can shops, spoke with artisan groups, and learned about their lives. I told them what I was doing, earned their trust, and soon had 10 artisans.”

CanbooCraft began making baskets and planters to a “wonderful response”. For months, the company produced additional cane items and furniture such sofa sets, backrest chairs, garden chairs, headboards, swingers, and more.

Collaborations with bohemian-themed interior and architectural firms fueled Varsha’s idea. She met with the client or café owner to discuss the design. She then gave these drawings to the craftspeople and worked with them to change the proportions and specs.

Varsha visited Bali last year to learn more about the cane business. The fast-moving, modern industry uses machinery for cane molding. However, Indian craftsmen weave by hand, making it unique.”

Customers praise CanbooCraft as “a humble, trustworthy business that delivers durable and strong products” today. Varsha said the business’s pride will always be its craftspeople.

I urge them to work in their homes with their families rather than in a facility. A team of bamboo hut interior designers and craftspeople recently worked with me. This project is in a Maharashtra tiger reserve where tourists may stay in cottages. We built some Assam cottages.”

She thinks the flower petal and peacock chairs are the business’s highlights.

Cane is heated during manufacture, turning it dark brown. But our chairs’ secret is that they keep the former color, she says.

Their clients also adore curved sofas, ecological lighting, etc.  Varsha Bajaj  just finished a 50-lamp Punjab project and says more orders are coming.

She says, “I never wanted to develop a sophisticated business, just a place where artists can work well and do what they love. I want to show the world that India is rich in workmanship and people have everything.”

Sunil Pandey
Sunil Pandey
The business professional who loves penning down his thoughts/ insights on business, entrepreneurship, & startups. His ability to break down complex business concepts into easy & concise write-ups makes him a wonderful author. He believes that writing is a powerful tool for communication and education.

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