Lipi Akter Founder, Prokriti HandiCrafts
Interviewed by Raiyan Rabbani, Team MBR
Prokriti HandiCrafts was started in 2008 and works with Bangladeshi handicrafts and jute products. The founder’s love for Bangladeshi jute products and crafts led her to this venture. Prokriti makes traditional products from jute, including jute bags, hand purses, etc. The owner has received training on the making of such products from organisations like SME Foundation, Jubo Unnayan, etc. It is mentionable that the honourable Prime Minister herself ordered several clothes made from jute from her. As a woman entrepreneur herself, she regularly organises training sessions for women to become entrepreneurs themselves. Team MBR was in a conversation with Ms. Lipi Akter to learn about her inspirations and vision behind Prokriti HandiCrafts.
Raiyan Rabbani: Prokriti Handicrafts is in the business of making traditional costumes, home decor, and jute products. What were the motivations that led you to enter this business in the first place?
Lipi Akter: I was fascinated by how simply handcrafted items and boutiques can be made using jute. Making such products is also a way that women in Bangladesh can be self-employed and work for themselves to earn a living. As handcrafted items made from jute are both sophisticated and ensure women can earn a living for themselves, I was moved to start a business in this particular area.
Raiyan Rabbani: While designing its products, Prokriti Handicrafts puts emphasis on the cultures, traditions, and heritages of Bangladesh. Where have you got the inspiration from to keep these aspects of our country in focus?
Lipi Akter: Jute is surely a big part of our culture, which has always attracted me. Also, I was interested in designing and tailoring from an early age. One aunt of mine once told me that I could work with jute handicrafts since I have some experience in designing and tailoring. As I did not know how to start working in this field, she referred me to a company where I later worked for some time. There I learned about how the production process works and how the raw materials are sourced. As a result of my learning there, I started making such products and selling them to different programmes and festivals. So, this is how I was inspired and took the initiative.
Raiyan Rabbani: Jute products are in high demand in first-world countries because of the mass awareness regarding environmental pollution. How is Prokriti HandiCrafts planning to capture this growth opportunity?
Lipi Akter: With increasing concern regarding environmental issues, jute is playing a crucial role in the production of different everyday items like bags. Even though it is a bit more expensive than plastic, many buyers, especially from abroad, are willing to pay a higher price, taking the environmental issues into consideration. To grab this opportunity, I am attending various programmes in foreign countries to showcase my products made from jute.
Raiyan Rabbani: Prokriti HandiCrafts often organises training and workshops on handicrafts to equip potential women entrepreneurs with the skillset required to excel in the handicrafts business. How effective are those training and workshops, you think, in promoting women entrepreneurship?
Lipi Akter: I often give potential women entrepreneurs various specialised training and carry out workshops so that they can learn the basics of the crafts. These skills do not require higher educational qualifications. They can easily learn those skills to be independent. I also help them connect with my suppliers so that it benefits them in expanding their businesses.
Raiyan Rabbani: In the context of Bangladesh, most women face various obstacles when they try to come up with something new. Would you kindly share with us the challenges you faced when you took the initiative to launch Prokriti HandiCrafts? How did you overcome those?
Lipi Akter: As a woman entrepreneur, I faced challenges even from my family members, who did not want me to start my own venture. They tried to make me stay home and discouraged me from starting something like this. I had to make them understand in many ways that this is what I want to do and that I need my own identity. I did not let their words bother me, and I kept carrying out my responsibilities. Eventually, I showed them that I could do something on my own. When they saw me going places, they started appreciating me. Especially the honourable Prime Minister visiting my store was a big milestone.
Raiyan Rabbani: Prokriti HandiCrafts is currently generating sales online and from a physical retail store. How is it planning to expand its business in the coming days?
Lipi Akter: In the near future, I want to go for full-fledged export operations, securing a large pool of foreign buyers of jute products. For this, it may be necessary to start foreign operations through which I can directly showcase my products to foreign buyers, as waiting for foreign buyers to find my venture and order my products may not be an effective idea.
Raiyan Rabbani: What are the challenges Prokriti Handicrafts is currently facing in its way of smooth operations? How are you planning to overcome those?
Lipi Akter: Nowadays, increased operational costs are deterrent to any progressive business. Moreover, to scale up any business operation, funding is a necessity. This funding must be made available in a timely and costeffective manner. Collateral and other documentary hassles are common phenomena if we want to avail financing from formal financial institutions. However, there are some financial institutions that are thinking outside the box and coming up with innovative financial products and services. They are not only providing the required funds but also educating us on financial literacy, which is very effective in this stressed economic condition.
With a total market value of over 6,000 crores, the ceramics industry in Bangladesh has been one of the country’s fastest-growing manufacturing industries. Thanks to sustained economic growth and increasing urbanisation, the industry meets 85% of domestic demand and has the potential to become the country’s largest export industry in the not-toodistant future. With domestic sales increasing by 20% per year on average, export sales increasing by 26% per year on average in the last three years, and total production capacity increasing by around 200% in the last five years, the industry is poised for future success.
The industry benefits from rising incomes, rapid urbanisation, and duty-free access to some international markets. There is still much to be done to address the problems this industry is facing, such as uninterrupted power and gas supplies, which are essential to continue competing in global markets. If Bangladesh’s ceramics sector can get over the obstacles, it has every chance to develop and increase its contribution to the nation’s foreign exchange earnings. It stands to see what the future holds for this industry.
Md. Shah Jalal
IDLC Finance LimitedDownload View