Going DESI.

Many moons ago, 13 women in the company of 2 sewing machines came together to create what we call today, DESI

Developing Ecologically Sustainable Industries

DESI means indigenous in some Indian languages. It is also an acronym for Developing Ecologically Sustainable Industries. DESI is not just a handloom store, it is much more. Desi is a registered trust. It strives to provide decent livelihood for handloom workers, work in ecologically sensitive areas and introduce alternate forms of employment, provide a economically viable alternative to villagers to ensure they do not migrate, focus on eco-friendly practices and advocate rights of handloom workers.

Desi today has 16 outlets across Karnataka, with an annual turnover of more than 6 crores. One of its main suppliers, Charaka Womens' multipurpose co-operative Society accounts for 60% of the products sold at Desi Stores. Apart from this, Desi also sources handmade products - handlooms, Khadi, handicrafts, organic food products from across the country. It showcases traditional crafts from specific regions of the country like Sarees from Chanderi, Dhurries (Carpets) from Warrangal, wooden toys from Channapatna. Desi stores also host a book section with an envious collection of books about tradition, sustainability and literature in Kannada and English.

All Desi stores exude a warm atmosphere with customers made to feel like guests at home. Most of the Desi stores are in residential area in houses, away from busy streets. Most of our customers are already family and they visit the stores regularly, not just for shopping but sometimes to just speak to the staff! The entire family has something for each member and a lot of our customers visit with their families and friends. A visit to a store would make one more knowledgeable about handlooms, natural dyes and the philosophy behind Desi.

Desi not just provides a market for handloom and handmade products but is also involved in advocacy work in rural areas, support various grassroot movements and influence policy making.

How it started

It all started in the year 1995, when a group of enlightened intellectuals came together and formed a cultural group called "Kavi Kavya Trust". It was a trust formed for cultural activities. Since, it was registered as a trust, it was also allowed to take up community projects. One such project was training the Anganwadi workers in villages in and around Shivamogga. During this, the members traveled extensively across the district and they spent considerable time understanding the local culture, lifestyle, folklore, their problems, their social issues and the economy.

In the process they also understood that the villagers depended largely on agriculture. The hilly region, once rich in rain forests, was getting converted to agriculture lands at an alarming rate, putting great stress on the eco system. Something had to be done to reverse this, and soon. The villagers needed an alternative form of employment which was ecologically friendly. Kavi Kavya setup a weaving center on an experimental basis in order to prove that handloom weaving can be viable and profitable in this region. We must remember that handloom weaving is not natural to this region.

In 1996, Kavi Kavya Trust handed over the entire infrastructure thus developed to the women workers. Thus, Charaka society was registered as a womenÂ’s collective with a group of 13 womens and two sewing machines. The women started producing handwoven garments. The trust told the women that as long as they produced quality stuff, the trust would market it and take responsibility of clearing the bills within a fortnight.

Thus began the marketing experiment which resulted in setting up of another trust called DESI.

Relationship with Charaka

Charaka is the production unit for naturally dyed handloom products and Desi is the main market for Charaka. Desi was established to provide an urban market for the Charaka products. Desi can be considered as a marketing unit, an extension of Charaka. Both are sister organizations and have a very close-knit relationship between them. Some of the Charaka managers are also in the board of Trustees of Desi Trust and vice-versa. Desi provides constant marketing inputs to Charaka to innovate. Charaka in-turn provides the solid technical background and experience that yields credibility to Desi. The staff of Desi are trained at Charaka in technical processes and the members of Charaka Women's society are sent on exposure visit to Desi stores to get an understanding of the market needs.

The profits from Desi go back to the members of the Charaka co-operative as yearly bonus based on the scale of production by each member. The Desi staff also receive yearly bonus depending on their performance. In this way, the profits earned are distributed to all the workers, in recognition of their contribution.