Jyoti Wadhwa is a successful entrepreneur, who sells Indian handicrafts and promotes the spirit of craftsmanship through international trade. In 2010, she set up her online business, Sanskriti Vintage, to sell vintage handicraft fabrics, various types of embroidery, and other craft items. At the time, she worked from home while taking care of her child and handled all operations single-handedly. Ten years later, she employs 25 people, supporting local artisans and serving antique collectors and aesthetes all over the world.
Jyoti now exports to the U.S., Europe, Russia and Latin America, but “the journey has been slow due to the lengthy and burdensome processes involved,” she explains. For Jyoti, customs clearance is particularly burdensome due to the small size and resource base of her company. Customs procedures are complicated, time-consuming, labour intensive and require a lot of paperwork. “We have three accountants and two consultants who oversee this,” explains Jyoti. If export processes were digitised and duplicative processes streamlined, small businesses like Jyoti’s could save significant time and money. “It would also allow me to use my human resources more efficiently and get my products to customers faster,” she says.
It is not uncommon for Jyoti’s customers to feel the burden of delays and costs, often because of a lack of international border agency coordination. Vintage fabrics have no real value and valuation systems of some customs administrations are incompatible. “Recently, we sent a parcel to Chile. In India, the customs value was set at 22 euros. The parcel was detained at European customs and our customer in Chile was asked to pay additional import duties and explain why the invoice valuation was so low. This type of incident can be damaging for our customer relationships,” explains Jyoti. “We help our customers by paying the extra import duty. It is indeed a significant loss for my business, but we want to provide an outstanding customer experience.”
“I want to be known as the housewife who introduced the whole world to the beauty of Indian fabric,” says Jyoti. She would like to grow her business and offer a wider range of products, including skincare products and more jewellery. “If trade was easier, I would be able to scale up my business and offer better deals to my customers. Trade facilitation reforms that reduce administrative burden and encourage closer collaboration between border agencies around the world would be a game-changer for businesses like mine.”
Jyoti also sees international trade as an opportunity to give back to her community. “I’m working at the grassroots level. If Indian craftspeople can sell more, they will secure a better future for their families, and pass their skills onto others, preserving local knowledge for future generations.” Jyoti hopes her story will inspire others to set up their own businesses and support local development. Preserving traditional and reviving rare crafts is more important than ever in our increasingly globalised economies. Rather than threatening cultural heritage, international trade provides important opportunities for preserving what is at risk of becoming lost forever.