Asama: An Eco-Friendly Sustainable Women-Led Business Empowering Local Women

Asama is a sustainable enterprise that aims to empower local women while using easily available natural resources for creating products.

In a world where on one hand, we witness a prolific corporate sector with fresh startups, on the other, a dire lack of natural resources is leading to a self-inflicted climate crisis. We are all direct or indirect participants to this. As consumers of various products, the onus is also on us to demand that our brands be eco-friendly, sustainable and holistic. Here are two women who are doing just that, in the state of Assam, with their brand of decor and utilitarian items, Asama.

Noopur Keshan and Richika Agarwalla are entrepreneurs based in Alimur in Dibrugarh Assam. Noopur, a Masters in Business Administration from Dibrugarh University formerly worked with Axis Bank, while Richika, a graduate from The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, used to work with Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

They started their business venture called Asama with an objective to give back to their community. Theirs is a village startup showcasing products handmade by local skilled weavers. 

Their products are made from natural fibre and are 100% eco-friendly. Their workforce also comprises mostly of women and is steady source of security for the village which underwent hardships during the pandemic.

Asama started with only a few weavers but grew in size

Tell us in your words about how Asama began, and how it has grown since its beginning.

In the middle of the pandemic, around July 2020, we found many artisans who were struggling. We started with an Instagram profile from where we could help market their wares. Gradually, we saw that we got a good response and scaled it up to a larger extent, increased the product portfolio and involved more artisans. We organised a training camp in October 2020 to help train the villagers. Asama started operating in August 2020, however, full manufacturing began in Oct 2020.

When we started training, it was difficult to convince villagers and we received few applications. From thereon, we have had multiple trainings and now have 60 artisans working with us and 10 support staff. We stock their tools and materials and are fully paid for their work. We started our operations from Dibrugarh, I have been born and brought up in this village. always wanted to do something for my village. What started as an attempt to help artisans market their products has become a full-fledged manufacturing system.

Asama is a village-based startup that was initiated during the pandemic and enlists local artisans to produce home decor. How did Asama help craftspeople, especially women, during the pandemic?

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Image source: Instagram

Assamese women are natural born weavers, ranging from traditional clothes to crafts. However, their products were looking at a dwindling market. We had a passion for home décor and introduced new designs, frames, support material and technology to the weavers. This has helped refine their work and the functionality of their products. They are much more skilled as well. Aside from confidence building, we provided regular work during the pandemic and also gave them an option to work from the comfort of their homes. The women were able to have a steady source of income while being surrounded by their familial support.

What does Asama mean and what does its logo signify?

Asama is a derivative of the name of our state Assam. It also means “unparalleled”. The logo is a flying bird carrying a leaf which signifies our high aspirations while being rooted to our land and its resources. We want to keep sustainability at the forefront of all that we do, whether in terms of resources, work and production.

Improving the lives of the local village community!

How does it contribute towards the betterment of the village and the livelihoods of the villagers?

We see that from morning to night, women are tasked with labour to carry and process their raw materials aside from household work. Now they are under a community where their efforts are identified and paid in full. It is rewarding to see them be independent, work, support their children and not be entirely reliant on their husbands. It is creative work that keeps mental stress at bay as well. Our support staff is also largely comprising of women. They would otherwise have to go to the nearest town to look for work but now they can work closer to their home, without abandoning the security of their families.

If we look at the patterns for entrepreneurship, finances are usually handled by men in the family. Through your efforts, women are earning for themselves. Did you have to counsel them in terms of opening their independent bank accounts, about savings and such?

We give them the option of depositing their money in a bank account and most agree to it. We find them comfortable with the idea of handling their own resources. The men in their families, we feel, are also very supportive. Especially when they see them go about their independent work and making their own money. There is little bias in terms of gendered handling of finances or working in this particular village.

Asama uses natural fibre with sustainable sourcing

What are Asama products made of and how is their sourcing and use good for the environment?

Asama products are made of water hyacinth which is a water weed. It grows in water bodies and harms aquatic flora and fauna. We harvest the water hyacinth between the months of October to January. We sun dry and store it. All our raw material is sourced locally and we use similar fibre for our weaving and we often purchase it. As water hyacinth is invasive, its use is beneficial for local water bodies. A lot of employment opportunities are also generated during this process. It is also helpful for local farmers whose work concludes around October and November so they can gain employment in the remaining months.

Dedicated to employees and customers!

Who is Asama’s target audience? What are the benefits of supporting Asama as a consumer?

Our target is any person who is an interior design enthusiast or anyone who wants eco-friendly gifting options for birthdays, weddings etc. We also target florists, bakers, event managers, people in the hospitality industry and who make gift hampers. By supporting and buying Asama products, they are contributing to the collective wellbeing of people as well as the environment. They also obtain exquisite, beautifully made crafts to boast. Many of our customers return with raving reviews and it is very encouraging to see.

What are Asama’s long-term goals for its village community? And what is the road forward as a business?

When we started, we did not expect that we would come so far. We just knew of revenue targets and the number of artisans we wanted to reach which is much more than we envisioned. We are still figuring out our way but starting with sustainability in itself is a long-term goal. Still, we are taking it one step at a time and we have barely exhausted the playing field for this village but we look forward to reaching out to other locations. For now, we want to include more natural fibre, we want to experiment and make sure all our production is sustainable.

Asama are the gifting partners for the Orange Flower Awards by Women’s Web. Find them here.

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Ria Tirkey

I am Ria from New Delhi. I'm a student of political science and law and I have a lot to say apparently. read more...

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