This ecommerce venture is moving South Asia’s artisanal industry on the internet

By Rehan Ahmed on
January 19, 2016
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PollyAndOtherStories is a new e-commerce startup from Pakistan that sells hand-made unique products online.

Started by two friends, Amneh Shaikh Farooqui and Angela Michelle Braid, back in November of 2015, it is now a small e-retailer of all kind of unique handcrafted products. Working with a diverse community of innovative artisans, designers, artists and entrepreneurs across South Asia – talented women from rural areas young entrepreneurs- Polly And Other Stories ensures that all the products have a direct connection to the people making them.

We could see how difficult it was for local small businesses, even the most talented, to access mainstream markets or connect with buyers, both within Pakistan and abroad,” said Amneh while talking to TechJuice.

Since most of the prevalent business models excluded or marginalized small or craft producers, particularly women and young people, we decided to create an online platform that would focus on the unique offerings from Pakistan that even people within the country can not easily access.”

Polly and other stories

So they developed a kind of a portal to provide the local craftsmen as well as young artists a way to showcase their products. Polly And Other Stories is basically a curated e-store for handcrafted products, artisanal goods and artworks created by artisans & designers from Pakistan, Afghanistan as well as India. With around 35 individual businesses on-board (to be expanded to 50 by first quarter of 2016), they sell a wide array of products including handbags, clutches, wallets/purses, jewelry, clothing, scarves for women, wallets and bags for men, toys, shirts and hats for kids, and various homeware items including quilts, cushions, lights, photo frames etc.

When asked about the unique naming strategy of “Polly And Other Stories”, she said that Polly, being the name of a popular kind of parrot(more commonly known as “Mithoo” in Pakistan), was a favorite of the two co-founders but they “went with the generic name “Polly” for a more international feel”. About the Other Stories part of the name, she said that “We believe that every product has a story. And we also believe that consumers want to know what this story is!”

Together, Amneh, a Masters graduate from University of Karachi who has worked in the Pakistani development sector for the past 12 years, and Angela, an MBA from Australia who is known for leading and implementing programs for USAID, AusAid, and the Aga Khan Foundation, aim to breathe life into all the other little ventures by providing them with an online marketplace and expanding their reach. Currently, Polly And Other Stories offers free shipping for all products above 2,500 in Pakistan. Along with that, they aim to propel the startup as a full-scale worldwide retailer of such kind of goods, and that is why they also offer worldwide shipping. At the moment, they are not targeting exports but they do ship internationally for individual consumers who can buy off the website.

After agriculture, the craft sector is the second largest source of employment and livelihoods in Pakistan and a large number of women and young men indulge in this profession. However, mainstream retailers rarely stock crafts that is made by local artisans or craftsmen, mostly due to lack of interest as these products are seen as low-value, traditional items with dated design sensibility. To make it even harder, a lack of access to financial resources, poor market knowledge and the inability to attract investments means that these individuals are stuck in a vicious cycle of producing one-off items with poor finishing and lack continued, repeat orders.

Overall, the pricing may be a bit on the premium side, but the startup does have a good collection of hand-crafted goods from all over Pakistan.

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