MANCHESTER — Reviving traditional artisan techniques, Navroze Mehta is passionate about working with an impact at this point in his life, which is his reasoning behind the opening of his first retail store.
Mela (may-lah) Artisans is slated to open its doors on July 28 as a unique home decor and lifestyle business, connecting consumers to over 7,000 creators in India. With roots in SoHo, N.Y., Florida and India, the company launched in 2010, and has since been picked up by department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's, distributing hand-made products to over 300 boutiques across the nation. The Northshire Bookstore was the first retailer for Mela in 2011, Mehta said.
"The artisan sector is the second largest group of an industrial sector, in India, after agriculture," Mehta, Mela Artisans founder said. "It's very fragmented, but it's really important and relevant. Unfortunately, we're losing 1 percent of our artisan base every year. So, for the last 30 years, we've lost 30 percent of our artisans because the local markets do not support hand crafted products anymore."
Mehta bought a second home in Manchester in 2010. He co-founded the brand with his daughter, who now lives in India and works with artisan communities and empowering women, a theme that gave life to the business. Sonali Mehta-Rao graduated from New York University and spent summers in India working with a group that wrote about artisans. Now, she solely focuses on women empowerment.
"Mela was started around the whole concept of empowerment, mostly in women's groups, of causing long-term sustainable upliftment in their communities and providing proud artisans the ability to save these traditional crafts and to showcase them in a beautiful way," Mehta said.
Mehta added that 300-year-old techniques are dying because artisans are moving out of their villages and not producing anymore. Due to the 1 percent loss, Mela Artisans gives back 1 percent of its profits to fund artisan communities in India for things such as medical camps for healthcare checkups, vision exams or access to light and energy with solar lamps.
"We try to work with smaller women groups, but a lot of our products are very male dominated products, like the woodwork, there aren't too many women that do that," Mehta said. "So, we work with all clusters, about 50 different clusters of artisans all over [India]."
The company name is Hindi meaning 'festival,' a gathering, or a joyous, artisan affair, Mehta said, with the motto of 'By Heart, By Hand.'
In New York, Mela Artisans has a wholesale showroom where design interventions take place, but the traditional techniques and materials are original from India. Mehta travels to India four times per year gaining inspiration for new products and design each time.
"My thinking was, there really wasn't a beautiful home-decor store [in Manchester] at all, and so, Vermont is so into handcrafted product and everything being beautiful and not machine made, I thought that our brand fit in perfectly," Mehta said. "We want this to be a very inclusive company, so we want to include a lot of the local artisans."
Mehta plans to have an event each month showcasing cheese producers or a local winemaker, for example. Currently, the company is not working with any U.S. artisan companies.
Mehta comes from a background of working with medical equipment. He was born in Wales, England but grew up in India and has lived in America for over 30 years.
"I think the other thing with us, is that, we believe that consumers now want to have complete transparency in the supply chain. They want to know where their product is made, how it's made," Mehta said. "I feel that we can tell that story very clearly and beautifully. I think when you're giving a gift to your friend and it's a beautiful box, you can tell that story."
Hand-crafted home decor items Mela offers includes photo frames, boxes, trays, bowls, tabletop items, vases, candle holders, throws, pillows and desk accessories. Jewelry and accessories are also sold.
The new retail establishment is located on 4566 Main St. in Manchester next to Seasons Restaurant. The launch party will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 27 with a grand opening on July 28.
For more information, visit melaartisans.com.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.