We're getting our Featured Maker series back on track with an interview with Manish Gupta, the founder and CEO of Matr Boomie. Matr Boomie is a fair trade company based in Austin, TX, that works with artisan groups in India. Manish himself was born in India but has spent much of his life in the United States.
Having seen the state of artists and rural culture in his native land on return trips, he decided to found Matr Boomie – the name means motherland, the creative source – as partnership with those artisans. Many of the craftspeople are women, and the money they earn from selling their crafts through Matr Boomie helps improve their lives.
Q: What got you into working with women in India?
MG: Seeing the beauty of artisanal products and at the same time the challenges artisans were facing in marketing their products and making a dignified living.
Q: What was the first product you introduced? How did an American audience take to it?
MG: The first items we produced were appliqué and embroidered bags. It was a very naive attempt at me designing and the American customers really did liked and bought them. That purchase was a huge boost to my confidence to keep working it at.
Q: How do you decide what the next product you’ll introduce will be? Do you find artisans already making something and ask if they’d like to partner, or do you think of a new craft you want and then find (or train) people to make it?
MG: For the most part we look for artisan groups who have a traditional artform. We then design products for western audience applying that artform. Traditional crafts are very hard to learn and master and have a special meaning when it runs in your family.
Q: I know you’re based in Austin but originally from India. With both of those perspectives in mind, what do you think the two cultures share? What do we not understand about each other?
MG: Both cultures share similar human values and love for art and respect for cultures. The key difference is how we interlink our personal and professional lives. In India everything is socially driven (your choices, food, work hours, holidays) whereas in US it is the opposite. For artisans, their artwork is a part of their being and therefore very hard for them to connect that to strict expectation of time and quality that western audience expect.
Q: You’ve worked with over 20,000 artisans in India, but you’re still committed to the handcrafted nature of your items. How does “handcrafted” translate to a scale that size?
MG: India has over 650 million rural population and most rural communities inherit some traditional artforms. With a network of 20,000 artisans, we are barely scratching the surface. There are a lot of untapped artisan communities who need responsible trade partnerships to sustain their communities and art. We got partnerships to build and more beautiful artforms to explore.
Q: Can you say something about what life is like for your Indian employees, and how working with you affects their lives?
MG: Our artisan partners mostly lead a very simple life. Mainly rural, they live in small villages, usually have small homes and lead a contented life in a close knit community. Most people either do agriculture or do art. For all the artisans, they take a lot of pride in their art. It is their inheritance. Working with us and being able to sell their products at a fair price, makes them build on that pride. We have seen artisan gain self confidence (even look younger) when their products do well and they are able to get more business from us.
Q: What relationship can and should people in Massachusetts (or the US more generally) have to international workers and products made overseas? Are there connections?
MG: Just knowing that is a person behind each product. Sometimes there are full communities, traditions and elements of nature behind each product. As consumers we can be respectful to these elements and love being put in products by being thoughtful towards products. What we choose to buy makes a huge difference on producers around the world. I recommend buying only when we need to, buying what we intend to keep and love and paying fair wages.
Q: The last question we always ask our makers is: what’s your quinstance?
MG: I stumbled into this artisan world through chance. But now my connection with art and artisans is deep. Every time I meet our partner artisans and see the impact or we create an amazing product with these traditional arts, it bring me joy and satisfaction. My quinstance is our connection to art and these amazing artisans.