Connecting the World to the Arts of Manipur, India
Terra Klay Founder Manvee Vaid Brings Traditional Black Clay Pottery to the Global Marketplace
Fair-trade, handcrafted black clay tea ware, created by female tribal artisans in Manipur, India.
2017 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Prize Winner
Although she has an extensive background in fine art, Manvee Vaid wasn’t looking for a small-business venture when she founded Terra Klay. In many ways, the idea began as a labor of love.
Vaid has been working with vernacular communities of India for a decade exhibiting and educating about contemporary visual art. However, when she got the opportunity to work with a group of tribal women artisan who crafted beautiful hand-made black clay pottery she hesitated.
"This is not my area of expertise, I am not sure how to market this pottery," Vaid said. She felt that one needs a different mindset to market and sell handicrafts than artworks. After due consideration and coaxing from her husband she decided to give it a shot and apply what she learned and reach out to the connections she had made to give this craft a new home.
In the beginning, Vaid had to strike a balance. Because she bought and prepaid for inventory, that expense cut into other budgetary line items, like marketing. She started out as a semi-FedEx customer, using another carrier to ship to specific areas and using FedEx for the rest. Then came the “aha” moment.
“With the other carrier, if we shipped three boxes, two of them arrived with the tea ware broken. Although the carrier refunded our money, that wasn’t the customer experience we were going for with our beautiful, artisan product,” she said. “The orders we sent through FedEx arrived intact. Needless to say, we now ship all U.S. orders through FedEx.”
Vaid found out about the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest through an email and, initially, was a little skeptical.
“I thought, this doesn’t sound right. It can’t be that easy,” Vaid said. “Then, I watched the video with Liz Powers, founder of ArtLifting and a 2016 grant winner, saying that it’s a no-brainer, that every business owner ought to enter. So, I decided to give it a try. The FedEx contest really helped us increase awareness, and build a community. I had so many people messaging that they were voting for Terra Klay,” she said.
When Vaid found out she won, the first words out of her mouth were “Are you sure?”
“When it all sunk in, I visualized the faces of our artists and thought about how they would feel when they heard the news,” Vaid said. “Winning the grant so validated what we are doing here. I was so moved by the recognition.”
She will use the money to order product, as well as upgrade current packaging to make it more inviting and “special” to receive.
Terra Klay has already made a significant impact on the lives of 20 artists and 9 families by giving them a means to earn income in an area with very little opportunity.
Running a small business is a process, with lessons learned along the way. Those lessons can come in the form of corrected mistakes or good decisions that ended up being great decisions or unexpected victories.
Here are Manvee Vaid’s top three:
- LEADERSHIP: Be Passionate, but Don’t Lose Your Business Head in the Process
“It’s easy to fall emotionally in love with your product and cause — and, that can be detrimental,” Vaid said. “If you don’t keep things in perspective, you’ll make business decisions with your heart and not your head.” To avoid tunnel vision, Vaid recommends bouncing ideas and decisions off of a trusted, but emotionally detached party, which, in her case, is her husband.
- CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT: Keep Your Customers Intimately Connected with Your Mission
For Terra Klay, the tea ware is beautiful in and of itself, but the story behind it is what really engages consumers. Vaid names each of the teapots after the artist who created it, giving them a life of their own. She also encloses materials about the traditional art form with every purchase.
- FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Spend Your Money Wisely
According to Vaid, it’s important for business owners to be conservative with expenditures, particularly when they are first starting out. For example, she used her own garage for inventory storage, instead of spending money on a warehouse. She also worked through fair trade bloggers and social media to get the word out about Terra Klay, instead of investing in advertising.