Two women Priya Deepak and Radhika Manghat Menon who are friends have very busy corporate jobs — one is from the software industry and the other is from the services industry. One day, during a Facebook food blog discussion about a man in the US who used a small piece of cast iron while cooking for its health benefits and enhanced flavour, Radhika mentioned that this form of cooking was common in her hometown Palakkad. She also went a step ahead and posted some pictures of the cast iron skillets she had at home to cook food. Lo and behold, there came queries about the availability of cast iron cookware and if she could source such cookware.
Sensing a business opportunity in the queries, Radhika was soon on the hotline with Priya and luckily enough, their individual strengths soon merged to become a Facebook platform The Village Fair, created the very same day. A Kochi-based ecommerce business which sells natural and traditional cookware, the Village Fair has, in the past one year, evolved to a website with national and international clients and orders getting shipped every day.
Laughing, Priya recalls, “Initially when Radhika said she wanted me aboard, I was hesitant because I knew nothing about cast iron or running a business.” But Radhika insisted and soon Priya took on the mantle of running the operations and rose to the challenge. The duo have successfully cashed in on the demand for the long forgotten cast iron kitchenware, earthen, stone ware and bronze utensils. The duo now has a sustainable ecommerce model and is making a social impact with it.
What makes their products innovative and in high demand is that in addition to health benefits, they are already seasoned and ready to use. For all those wondering about the word seasoned, it is the process of treating the kitchenware by natural products including oiling, polishing and heating to make it durable.
These utensils get better with each use and have been known to pass down through generations. The natural cookware has no harmful toxins leaching into your food and with cast iron cookware, you have the added benefit of iron being naturally added to your diet.
The USP of their business is undoubtedly the novelty of pre-seasoned cookware. Priya and Radhika have around 15 women from the economically weak backgrounds to thank. Priya says, “I would never call them staff; they are self-reliant, independent women who go to the parcel office, pick parcels, take it to their homes and then do the seasoning. Most of their husbands are fisher folk and these women are very meticulous about maintaining registers about stocks and their work. Their accounts are so accurate that I have not found any single mistake so far. They make a tidy profit too. My stock gets exhausted in two weeks and these chechis are so ethical and completely involved with the business asking about the customer feedbacks.” Radhika and Priya have numerous people to thank in their supply chain and also have the support of their family. Priya’s sons and nephew have also been chipping in with ideas and manpower.
Priya says, “We initially started off on a small scale sourcing very good quality cast iron and clay cookware because these two were easily available. We got the logos and the boxes ready in a week and thankfully I had my household help chip in with seasoning the cookware." Their corporate experience helped them in packaging and marketing the product and soon the orders started flying off the shelves. Priya recalls that the initial orders were mostly cast iron cookware hand delivered personally.
Radhika is the one who goes around sourcing, discovering and pricing new products. Priya says, “She is very innovative and creative and we have different skill sets but when combined, those skills give our business the edge. I like to talk and spread the word about the products.” There is even an antique exclusive series called the From the Attic series that has some antique bronze, wooden and copper kitchen ware like coconut scrapers, masala boxes and cheena bharanis sourced from various places, sometimes a hundred years old.
The duo talks about some interesting customer experiences. Radhika says, “We have this foreigner from New Zealand who wanted a cast iron dosa kadai because he is very passionate about Indian cooking. He had travelled in India, had dosas from here and he wanted the same taste.” She has also got an order from a Singapore-based customer who wants to replace all his kitchen utensils with cast iron, stoneware and earthen ware for the health aspect. For now, the duo are making plans to go international and churning out more innovative products.