Laurels for a local Naperville based small business
By Zofeen Maqsood
When Naperville resident, Manvee Vaid, traveled into the interiors of Manipur in India, last year, she was moved by the extraordinarily difficult lives people led in remote Indian villages. Ms. Vaid, who was visiting a family of artisans, that make black stone pottery for her brand Terra Klay in U.S. felt almost obligated to do more for the benefit of poor womenfolk who had amazing artistic skills.
Back home in Chicago, where she had been promoting her unique she was even more inspired to give the deserving a bigger platform. Ms Vaid decided this year to participate in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. The annual contest gives small businesses across the U.S. a chance to win a grant to help their business grow. Ms Vaid’s instincts to give it a try, resulted in a stellar surprize as her brand ended up being chosen amongst the ten winners of the prestigious contest.
Every year, FedEx awards a grand prize of $25,000 grant + $7,500 in FedEx office services (won this year by Sword & Plough of Denver, Colo.) and a second prize of $15,000 grant + $5,000 in FedEx services (won by Flexfrost Protein Icecream of Glenridge, NJ) along with eight other prizes to businesses that receive $7,500 in grants and $1,000 in FedEx office services. Ms Vaid’s Terra Klay was chosen amongst the eight this year.
For Ms Vaid, a local small business owner, the recognition comes as an affirmation of her efforts. Her business of selling beautiful tea ware, through her brand Terra Klay, is not only about bringing to the world the rare and indigenous crafts from India but is also an attempt to preserve this dying tradition from India. All the pieces available under her brand are hand made by Manipuri artisans who have been involved in this form of pottery making for generations. However, devoid of any aid or suitable platform from the Indian government they are often unable to showcase their talents.
Ms Vaid, who came to America 15 years ago after she got married, admits that she was lucky to have made Chicago her new home. The vibrant and receptive to art and culture attitude of Chicagoans gave her enough confidence to follow her creative pursuits.
Manvee Vaid thinks that the community in Chicago supported her wholeheartedly. For the selection process for the contest, which requires votes from people, she made several cold calls to various organizations and youth groups. People in the Chicago area were not only keen to understand her brand but also appreciative of her philosophy.
Chicago with its multicultural and diverse communities along with an artistic history serves as just the right place for unique enterprises like Terra Klay to flourish.
During her early years in Chicago, with a background in fine arts, she dabbled as a freelance artist. As she was always interested in rare art, slowly she began collecting lesser-known art from across India. The more she got involved with the artisans, the more need she felt, to save some of these precious traditions from getting extinct. Talking about her journey to launch Terra Klay, she says, “I remember I was in Australia for about a year in between and there I explored the Aboriginal art. On a visit to India, I saw striking similarities between Aboriginal art from Australia and Gond art from Madhya Pradesh. I was intrigued to discover more such art connections. Over the years I began collecting rare arts from India and had everything from Madhubani art from Bihar to Warli art from Maharashtra to Bhil art from Madhya Pradesh.” She adds, “It was around this time that I got an opportunity to exhibit my collection at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. This was followed by many such exhibitions and eventually my selection at Santa Fe Folk Art Market where we exhibited thrice. To collect art I always worked directly with artists and my interactions made me realize that many extremely talented craftsmen are unable to get their due as the system had failed to give them recognition. Often they also spoke no English thus closing the channels of communication for them to get into mainstream art world in India. There were also so many rich traditions that were dying a slow death as there were no takers or promoters.”
For Ms Vaid, this apathy set a trigger and back in 2014 when an artisan group approached her she was particularly intrigued by this rare black pottery practiced in small regions of Manipur. However, Vaid shares, “I was not keen on doing a production line I was a little unsure of how to set up the business in America. But in 2015 we took our first leap and put our money to get a shipment from India. My first client was Adagio Teas in my neighborhood of Naperville. The manager at Adagio mentioned that despite the fact that they got a lot of teas from India, all their ceramics came from China and never India. I decided to concentrate on tea pots and tea cups made by women in this Manipuri craft and Terra Klay was born.”
Today, Ms Vaid has a group of Manipuri girls and a few men working for her line. The girls mostly from an extended family in a remote village find sustenance through their craft.
Ms Vaid takes great pride in telling that people in America are appreciating Indian aesthete looking at her pieces. The reward only bolsters her vision that the beauty of a craft can be admired everywhere, all it needs is a gentle push.
Vaid hopes to use the grant money to multiply her efforts because for her the journey to tell the untold Indian stories to the world has just begun!