When weavers disagree

Antar- (Classic Gray -Ensign Blue)This blog post is simply to tell you that a carpet design produced by arguing weavers from a rural village near Rajasthan, India, was just nominated for a major global design award. But it is also a great illustration of the power of an insurgent mission.

One of the joys of writing these blog posts is that a great little company sometimes discovers them and, in turn, we discover a great little company.  This was the case with Jaipur Rugs, which we introduced to readers earlier this year when discussing great insurgent missions. Founder Nand Kishore Chaudhary and his children have followed our posts and have implemented quite a few of the recommendations. We’ve also held “strategy-on-a-hand” workshops with Jaipur Rugs to identify the three or four critical capabilities that help the company deliver its strategy.

Chaudhary’s insurgent mission is extraordinary: Jaipur doesn’t sell carpets; it delivers a family’s blessing. This simple sentence underlies a strategy of developing a community of artisan weavers and helping them design and deliver their carpets to family homes. One of the company’s most important capabilities is the ability to work with great designers to create extraordinary carpets inspired by the villages where they were made. Kavita Chaudhary is Jaipur’s design director and one of several of Nand’s children who work in the company. I interviewed her about the founding mission of Jaipur Rugs and how it demands that the company “spike” on design capabilities. Here’s Kavita:

 Our artisans are the heart and soul of the company. My father’s vision is we must care for our artisans in everything we do. A new successful design collection means higher wages for our artisans. More sales volume means an expanded artisan network, allowing us to provide better livelihoods in more villages. Selling directly to a consumer also means that the artisan’s story can be shared with the consumer who purchased their rug, and visa versa. Consistent work throughout the year means the artisan family is secured financially. For the last 12 years, I have heard my father say, “Understand what is going on in the heart of our consumer, the lady of the house. This will bring the real wealth and prosperity for everyone.”

Kavita’s design goals are motivated by this passion to understand the consumer and create a bond between buyers and the weaver community. Sometimes that requires her to embrace a little chaos—which brings us back to that weaver fight.

Two years ago, Jaipur launched a special project in which it asked artisans to create any rug they wished. Three of the artisans teamed up on a single rug and together planned a concept for what their rug could be like. But when they started weaving, “each went off in their own direction and it was clear that they were not getting along,” Kavita said. The result was a rug with three distinct areas at the bottom that didn’t quite flow into each other.

Ordinarily, Kavita told a newspaper reporter in India, a rug with “errors” like this one might be considered faulty and discarded. But over the next several months, the artisans kept weaving and eventually sorted out whatever fight they had. “They were more in harmony with each other,” she said, “and the upper part of the rug seems to have a unified pattern. The rug therefore illustrates a beautiful story of human connection. The rug is filled with life as it naturally illustrates the identity of the individual artisans and them as a team at the same time.”

The design—named Antar, or “Differences”—was the one nominated for a prestigious German Design Council award.

“We love that the art of weaving allows for the spontaneous expression of the artisans and their lives as it builds over months,” Kavita said. “When designs come from the artisan communities, they instill pride, dignity and motivation for the artisans to continue their passion and patience for the craft. At the same time, the consumer can find their purchase meaningful as they connect with an art, a family and a community.”

The point here is simple. By ruthlessly focusing on the company’s original insurgent mission, the next generation of Jaipur Rugs is continuing a revolution started by their father. They have realized that they must connect the lives of their weavers to the lives of their consumers—and the Antar design is a wonderful example of making that happen. The rediscovery of an insurgent mission can unlock huge energy in a company. We are watching it happen in a corner of Rajasthan, where the unique work of some rural weavers is helping a little company emerge onto the world stage.

This entry was posted in Death of the nobler mission by James Allen. Bookmark the permalink.

About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office and recognized as a leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. He is co-head of Bain’s Global Strategy practice and a member of Bain & Company's European Consumer Products practice. He is co-author, with Chris Zook, of Repeatability (HBR Press, March 2012) and Profit from the Core (HBR Press, 2001 and 2010).

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