I recently got connected to Kavithaa Narasimhan, Founder and Managing Partner of Madras4 Enterprises. Based in Chennai, her venture works with marginalized and disadvantaged groups, senior citizens and differently abled people to produce a range of handcrafted, eco- friendly and upcycled products and accessories such as bags, home decor items using traditional art, chemical free skin care products, block printed with vegetable dye handloom sarees, dupattas, and stoles.
Shipra Bhatia (SB): Tell us a bit about your family, career background and the path that led you to set up Ekagrata?
Kavitha Narasimhan (KN): I was born and brought up in Mylapore, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. I graduated from SIET College and later obtained a Masters in Financial Management from Annamalai University. I took up a career as an Administrator / Counsellor in an IT Company in Chennai where I got the opportunity to work across various departments such as Marketing, HR and Operations departments. After opening a restaurant in Yercaud, I moved back to Chennai. I started working with people with disabilities in the social development sector.
During my tenure in the social sector, I realized that there is an abundance of talent and skill in the market, but somewhere we cannot harness it fully. With the help of my partner, we did community resource mapping and started a small social enterprise called “Madras4 Enterprises” in January 2018.
SB: The reason behind the name of your enterprise?
KN: Madras is the old name of Chennai and since my partner and I were born and brought up in Mylapore, with pin code 600004 – we named the enterprise “Madras4 Enterprises”. The growth and consumer support have motivated us to start Ekagrata – An outlet for Madras4 Enterprises.
SB: What’s the aim of your enterprise? What problem are you setting out to solve and how?
KN: We are providing a marketing platform for eco-friendly products and a sustainable livelihood opportunity for people from disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the society. We design customer-driven products, and we take utmost care in finishing the products by market standards, and our USP is to influence the consumer by the quality of the products and not by charity model which usually is the case in the social sector.
There are a lot of production houses across geography, but the challenge is to market the right product to the right customer at the appropriate price range.
SB: What is so special about Ekagrata? What is unique about the products?
KN: At Ekagrata, we are innovative and creative and evolve every day. We design eco-friendly products and engage people living in rural and semi-urban areas to develop the same.
Having run a restaurant earlier, preparing and serving fresh culinary items is very important to me. We also aim to promote fresh culinary homemade products such as fresh jams, herbal hair oil, sprouted wheat flour, ready to mix paste for rice, etc. We do not use plastic packagings for our products.
For kitchens, we have expanded our range to include products made by senior citizens.
We have recently added block printed handloom material with natural vegetable dye to our product range to revive and resurrect our traditional textiles and techniques and also give the customers natural products that are chemical free and handcrafted.
SB: What has been the social/cultural/economic impact of Ekagrata?
KN: We are encouraging people to use cloth bags replacing single-use plastics and become more socially and environmentally conscious buyers.
We always get a “Wow” feedback from customers looking at the finish and high quality of our products, followed by a question “Can people with disabilities do such products?” So we take immense pride in the way we are presenting the products that make the shift to dignity from charity!
Through sustainable livelihood, we have impacted the lives of over 50 people in the very first year itself, and we hope to continue this in the coming years.
SB: What significant challenges do you see for your venture in the next five years?
KN: When I say resource mapping, it calls for coordination across areas (both rural & semi-urban) to complete products on time and the logistics. This keeps us on our toes to avoid delayed deliveries.
For the record, in the last year – we do not have even a single delayed delivery!!
SB: How many resources did you need to initiate Ekagrata?
KN: We started with one tailor for the cloth bags and then identified to work with an NGO in a rural area in southern Tamil Nadu and roped in on-call fifteen tailors with Polio and spinal cord injury and from then there has been no looking back.
SB: What message would you like to give to the young women who want to become an entrepreneur?
KN: Dream big, work hard and learn to do the job yourself before you delegate to others.