As I walked in to her office, Tamara Abed seemed preoccupied with thousand and one chores, nothing unexpected as Aarong's 40 year celebration event was just the day next. Once she began conversing, Tamara was immediately immersed into dialogue. She began with BRAC's journey, the rural women artisans, and the promising future of Aarong.
Tamara, the senior director of BRAC enterprises, heading 16 social enterprises including Aarong, believes that the craftspeople are the backbone of Aarong, and it is to them that she dedicates the revelry.
“BRAC's journey with rural women for income generation began in 1976 at Manikganj.” It started with sericulture and crafts making. These women used to supply products to various outlets in Dhaka, but to BRAC's surprise, we found that outlets only paid when the products were sold to the customers – not a very feasible chain for the poor, as rural women needed the money on a regular basis,” she said.
This need-gap assessment gave rise to the deliberation of Aarong —BRAC's own marketing outlet, where suppliers (the women artisans) were paid upon the delivery of goods, and not the eventual sale.
Speaking of the future, she smiles, “There you go! Now you know our humble beginning. For the future, there is so much to say; hopefully we would become a global brand someday.
“We know the dynamic of retail space is changing, and so are peoples' buying patterns. No longer are consumers interested in travelling hours to go to an outlet to buy their favourite brand, but rather, prefer to buy things online” Tamara said.
She added on some future speculation “Aarong does not believe in setting up outlets abroad, especially because of the changing dynamics and the exorbitant price of retail space. Rather, we are trying to expand our e-commerce site so that Aarong is available to global clients. At the moment, the e-commerce facilities are only available in Bangladesh.”
Next, we moved on to discussing the industry standards and how Aarong helped in shaping, and leading the way.
“I hope we are doing our bit in taking the industry forward. I just don't like beating our own drums, it is for people to say whether we are doing our bit or not. Personally, I'd say we still have a long way to go. But to get an effective head start we need to get more organised, with the establishment of more design institutions, investments in research and development in fabrics and crafts – for an industry to grow, the ecosystem has to grow with it as well!” she said with much conviction.
Aarong is famous because of its works done by local artisans, and it is only fair that we will want to know more about them.
“Artisans are the heart and soul of Aarong. That is why we exist in the first place. The entire operation is very complex, with numerous obstacles like chaotic roads, fuel price hike giving rise to transportation costs and so on.
“To make things easier, we could have set up a factory nearby, but that would be breaking the very idea that defines Aarong! Having said this, I'd also like to add that the 40 year celebration is dedicated to these hard working craftsmen — their creativity, hard work, skill and relationship with us” revealed Tamara.
Forty years seem to be a very long time, and a meaningful dedication to the artisans only paves the way for stronger values and future success.
Tamara complemented our thoughts on the subject matter.
“As much as the artisans are an important part of Aarong, so are our patrons and customers. Almost every single Bangladeshi has some kind of an association with Aarong. Maybe they have grown up playing with an Aarong toy, or gifted a loved one with an Aarong sari or panjabi with their first pay check.
“With this 40 year event, we are celebrating all and sundry. We want everybody to come; it's a large venue, free entry is given and so everyone can celebrate their own little relationship with Aarong,” said the contented chief of a successful BRAC enterprise.
As the current hype was about the celebrations, we wanted to know more about it. Tamara gladly added on —
“Yes! There's one more important point that I'd like to share. Through this event, we'd also like to focus on the youth of our society. We believe that they are marching towards being a global citizen. If only they could carry the cultural heritage along with them, then it would make our identity much stronger and widely known. Thus, special programmes have been developed to specially attract the youth of our society, to help them understand our heritage and bestow a certain amount of respect towards it.”
At the end of our conversation, we learned that through this event, the visitors could take whatever information they wanted to, but as long as it was on a positive note – no matter how big or small Aarong, its employees, management and especially Tamara Hassan Abed's affection, passion, struggles — all would gain a meaningful acknowledgement.
Photo courtesy: Aarong