Having worked with renowned ceramic artists across the world, Sumanth Sampath, an engineer and a potter, developed a deep passion towards ceramic craft. He spent time working closely with rural artisans and potters across India and soon realized their untapped potential, as well as their struggles in making an adequate living from their skill.
While working in the industry, he saw that the hospitality sector in India relies heavily on imports due to the lack of quality, innovative and customized tableware being made in India. The existing ceramic companies in India operate large factories and employ migrant workers who must live far from their families in extremely poor conditions to make a meager living. At the same time, the lack of work opportunities in rural India forces skilled rural artisans to rely on daily wages labor in nearby cities.
In 2018, Sumanth partnered with Sonali Sharma, an educationist and a social entrepreneur, to start Liv Greene Handicrafts.
The duo set up their first pottery in a village in southern Karnataka called Mulluru. They saw an opportunity to provide dignified job opportunities to people in neighboring villages, recognizing the rich talent of the traditional craftsmen in the nearby Kuruba tribes.
To date, Liv Greene has hired, trained, and transformed 50 villagers into skilled potters, who create thousands of custom, handmade stoneware products under their brand name, Nugu Handicrafts. Sumanth and Sonali envision their company expanding to impact hundreds of lives by empowering rural India with a skill and a dignified livelihood. The Nugu Handicrafts team works as a community with a sense of pride in their craftsmanship. With handmade ceramics gaining popularity across the world, they intend to make “handcrafted” both aspirational and fashionable.
Liv Greene Handicrafts is a participating company in Upaya’s 2019 Livelihoods Accelerator Program. Last month, our team visited Sonali and Sumanth at their production center a few hours from Bangalore and had the privilege of meeting some of the artisans that create their beautiful ceramics. Check out the Q&A with Sonali below to learn more about their inspiration for Liv Greene.
Q: What key issue in rural India does Liv Greene hope to address?
A: “The lack of proper and consistent job opportunities in rural India is a common problem. Liv Greene Handicrafts provides training, a dignified job, and a career path to people living in deep tribal villages by setting up small scale design and production units in rural India.
“In past one year of operations we have created over 50 jobs for villagers who were earlier relying on daily wages labor in Bangalore or Mysore. We being the only industry in the area, are vital for the overall development of this village cluster’s economy.”
Q. How did you become so passionate about this issue?
A: “Having consulted for different ceramic industries in India, we realized that they rely heavily on migrant workers. These workers have to leave their families and live in dire conditions to scrape out a meek living. Such a model neither improves the quality of their life nor develops the village economy. This issue inspired us to setup small scale potteries in rural India. Hence providing a dignified job and a career path close to their home that has the potential to improve the quality of life of the surrounding villages.
“Due to the sudden increase in the demand of handmade stoneware across the world, small scale potteries are becoming a popular and sustainable business model. Liv Greene Handicrafts is our endeavor to create an aspirational and globally sought-after product while empowering the rural economy of India.”
Q. What inspired to start your company?
A: “It has always been our dream to setup a sustainable and profitable pottery community in rural India. India has the largest population of indigenous potters, and yet, as a country, we are far behind in the world of ceramics.
“Having worked in this realm for so many years, we are sure there is a market for contemporary and design-led stoneware products. As young entrepreneurs, it was our dream to build a mindful and sustainable brand that creates conscious products while making a social impact.”
Q. What has been your biggest accomplishment with your company to date?
A: “In a short span of one year, our brand Nugu has achieved extraordinary results. Today, we are the most sought-after workplace in the town. Our team is extremely passionate about being a part of the Nugu team and takes immense pride in making bespoke products. We have acquired the biggest clients in the hospitality industry like the Marriott group, The Westin, The Impressario Hospitality, The Oterra Group, The Olive Beach Hospitality, etc.
Q. What is your vision for your company?
A: Our vision is to reach out to the artisans, by setting up the production centers close to artisan communities, training and recruiting them, paying them exceptionally good salaries, providing them with growth opportunities, creating a sense of pride towards their craftsmanship and creating a sustainable artisan community that supports and grows together.
We want to establish Nugu as a global handmade brand that makes aspirational and sustainable products while empowering the rural communities in India.
Liv Greene Handicrafts makes handmade ceramic dining and decor products for the hospitality and retail market. Their brand, Nugu Handmade, makes high quality, competitively priced and customized products for the design and environmentally conscious consumer, while empowering the rural artisan communities of India. Working with a business-to-business model, the market demand for Liv Greene’s products exists in cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, and Delhi. Artisans come from local communities, and through training and recruiting, these individuals are able to make a living wage which promotes growth opportunities for a blossoming artisan community.
Entrepreneur Spotlight Series
Upaya has the privilege of working with so many passionate social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are our heroes, leading businesses that provide employment opportunities for people in some of the world’s most marginalized communities. We love learning and sharing what has inspired our partners and accelerator participants to take the leap into entrepreneurship. View the blog series here >>