Sometime in late 2021, Prachi Seksaria’s husband got her a block-printed cotton saree. It was different from all the pieces she had worn earlier. The saree was very light, which ensured an effortless drape. “It was comfortable and light to carry,” says 32-year-old Prachi, a saree enthusiast.
The experience of wearing that block-printed saree was an Eureka moment for her. At that point, Prachi was contemplating setting up an enterprise. The saree gave her the idea to start a business that could solve a common problem of saree lovers – heavy fabrics that are rough on the skin and make it difficult to move around comfortably.
“Young modern women hardly wear saree as it is uncomfortable and draping it is time-consuming. That is why they wear it occasionally; that too only for a few hours,” says Prachi, an arts graduate.
At that time, she was working as a freelance copywriter and discussed the saree business idea with her husband. He supported her and in May 2022 Prachi launched her saree brand Moora.
Based in Jaipur, Moora sells handcrafted block-printed sarees, targeting modern urban women. It uses natural dyes that cause no side effects on the skin. Moora promotes slow fashion -- its handcrafted sarees use eco-conscious materials and are made ethically.
Setting up the business
Prachi began by meeting hand-block printing artisans in Bagru, a small town synonymous with Dabu and Syahi Begar block prints. About 35 km from Jaipur, Bagru is home to artisan families, which have been practising handblock printing for over 450 years.
However, most have not kept pace with the changing colour and design requirements of the well-heeled urban customers. “I discussed my requirements with artisans and some of them agreed to work with me,” says Prachi, who works with about 100 artisans, and most of them are women.
Prachi invested around Rs 2 lakh to get started.
The major part of the investment went into the fabric procurement. The 'Moora' song in the 2012 Bollywood blockbuster Gangs of Wasseypur inspired the brand name.
“Moora comes from a word called ‘mood’. It's a very common word in South India and means silly. By wearing Moora sarees, you can be silly, and do stupid things comfortably,” Prachi says with a laugh.
Since it was summer when she launched her brand online, the sarees were named after summer fruits and beverages. Such as Alphonso saree, Rooh Afza saree, Kala Khatta saree etc. She rolled out 30 SKUs (unique products) to begin with and the names resonated with the colours of sarees.
“The launch with an interesting concept of unique saree names helped us spread the word among family, friends, and acquaintances quickly,” says Prachi, who uses social media to promote her products.
For the first three months, Moora received 100 orders a month and then after nine months, it began to get over 300 orders monthly.
Prachi then began to invest money in marketing to reach out to more customers. “When I crossed the 300 orders monthly threshold, I gained confidence that people were interested in Moora's sarees and the business idea will work,” the woman entrepreneur says.
The right price point
Moora’s portfolio now has 180 SKUs including silk and cotton sarees in various block printing styles.
“In the first year of the launch, we made Rs 15 lakh in revenue. Since June 2023, we have been clocking Rs 10 lakh per month on average. The kind of growth we have seen in the last few months is spectacular. Our products are bought by customers from across India,” Prachi adds. At the current rate, she will clock Rs1.2 crore in annual revenues.
Most of the cotton sarees are priced under Rs2500 while silk sarees are priced between Rs3,000 and Rs4,000.
“We have priced our sarees strategically to ensure that they are within the reach of most urban women. This has helped us to grow fast as we take handcrafted artisanal products to more people without compromising on traditional craft and value,” she says.
The craft startup works only with eco-conscious fabrics, cotton and silk, and procures them from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Bhiwadi in Rajasthan and other places. “I provide the artisans with the fabric and design and they make the sarees accordingly. They begin by de-starching the fabrics and they are then dyed in the base colour,” she says.
With a strong focus on being eco-friendly, most of the dyes are either natural or Azo-free.
“Among natural dyes, black colour is made using rusted iron. Other colours are made with leaves, seeds, barks, roots, flowers and fruits, of various plants,” says Prachi.
The colours are tested for their fastness and effect before use on the fabric.
Just as artisan families have conserved the traditional knowledge of dye-making so have the families of wooden block makers. They hand-carve designs on natural Sheesham wood using traditional skills and techniques.
“After preparing the base fabric, artisans dip the blocks in dyes and stamp them on the fabric. The handcrafted process is time-consuming. We can make about 50 sarees in a day. Moreover, the weather is also an important consideration in hand block printing,” says Prachi.
While high temperatures can spoil the mixed colours faster, fog and extreme cold can also cause problems in the results like in rapid indigo or discharge printing.
Moora pays Rs 700 per day to artisans and the regular work has provided them with financial stability.
“Once the sarees are ready, they undergo quality check and are then supplied to Moora’s warehouse in Jaipur,” she says.
Moora offers plain dyed sarees without block printing, those dyed in just one or two colours, rapid print, Dabu print, basic abstract art print sarees, discharge print and miniature print sarees. “The plain dye sarees are very popular among young women,” says Prachi.
While Prachi is planning to dive into exports, she is also planning to add more product lines under the Moora brand such as blouses and handcrafted jewellery. She has five people working in her office handling sales and operations.
(Bilal Khan is a Mumbai-based independent journalist. He covers grassroot issues, LGBTQ community and loves to write positive and inspiring stories.)