WONDER MEN

Womentrepreneurs in the Jewellery Biz

: IJ News Service
01 April 2019 3:06 PM
Reference: 11705
Vandana Saraf, Director, Aisshpra Gems and Jewels

In an industry that is infamous for not having many women, these women have walked the talk. In a conversation with Vijetha Rangabashyam they speak about a woman’s ability to inherently multitask, the challenges they faced at the beginning, what being a leader means to them and more

The quote ‘’Behind every successful man is a woman” is obsolete today. Women are ruling the roost world over. They are task masters with a proven ability to lead and perform. They not only enable change, they are change themselves. Perhaps in the context of the Indian jewellery industry, it is more befitting to say that “Beside every successful man there is a successful woman.” For many years now our industry has been traditional and parochial where women had no place in it; that is terribly ironic considering this billion dollar industry thrives to satiate a woman’s desire to adorn herself with beautiful jewellery. But things are changing. Jewellery stores are more rampant with female staff right from the sales section to managerial positions and even in the management level in some cases. Manufacturing units are now witnessing more women who are adept with skills in jewellery making. Women jewellery designers are also aplenty in this country. The sight of women forming a beeline to enter the premises of Bharat Diamond Bourse, one of the biggest centers for diamonds in the world is heartwarming. There is vigor in their minds, passion in their hearts and some of them may even be sole breadwinners of their families. If these are not signs of women empowerment, we don’t know what is. But is it enough? Maybe not. However, change happens in a day, said no one ever.

The women in this story have changed the course of how this industry works. They have maneuvered through the challenges this industry presents and emerged successfully as strong leaders. They think, create, direct, manage and perform. Through their journey they have managed to implement changes that have taken their businesses to an all new level. These women are thought leaders, game changers, decision makers and care givers – with all the success and accomplishments, they have managed to take care of their families and raise wonderful children. These are women to watch out for.

The Accidenta l Jeweller Varda Goenka, Owner & Designer, Varda Goenka Fine Jewels by DIAGOLD

Born in Ayodhya to an industrialist family, Varda Goenka’s career trajectory hardly had jewellery in it. A Gold Medalist in B.SC who was also armed with a diploma in M.B.A, jewellery was something that happened to Varda by accident, or should we say happy accident? Initially a homemaker, Varda always had a flair for design and aesthetics. “Back in those days, there was no such thing called designer jewellery in Kolkata, everything was so traditional. So I started making small pieces for myself and my friends simply loved it.” She put together an assortment of 15 pieces for her friends. “They went bonkers. I was completely sold out.” As things got quite official, it was time to equip herself with a solid foundation. “I graduated from GIA and learnt everything there is to know about diamonds.” Today, under her able leadership, DIAGOLD has become a household name in the city of Kolkata for exquisite, handcrafted diamond jewellery with presence in the Middle East and a retail operation in London. But Varda had to face some hardships before she established herself. “The diamond industry is dominated by men. Even the karigars were all men. Though they were all respectful it took time for me to earn their respect. Working for a women wasn’t so easy for them in the beginning, although now we share a fabulous equation.” Keeping up with the times has made Varda a great entrepreneur. The industry when she started off was vastly different from what it is today. “I keep upgrading my brand, my design and style according to the prevailing times.” Being a designer who also steers the ship in terms of the company’s day-to-day operations as well as the finances can be tough. But Varda has always believed in understanding the pulse of the audience. “I don’t just think of the design, I also think of what will sell. If I don’t then I will only be creating jewellery that I like.” On women being more productive than men, Varda says, “Of course we are. We are more creative and multitasking comes easily to us.” Being a leader of a company is not easy, it takes hard work. “There is no substitute for hard work. You have to be flexible and patient.”

The Multita sker Vandana Saraf, Director, Aisshpra Gems and Jewels

Having born into a business family in Kanpur, seeds of entrepreneurship for Vandana were sown at an early age. So she was born with business acumen. She was the first daughter in law to get involved in her husband’s family business and with her presence, the Hari Prasad Gopi Saraf group has gone through a sea of changes. “My husband always encouraged me and wanted me to play an active role in the business. I had a platform but I still had to be very focused and passionate about my goals.” Vandana has been responsible in “Change Management” in the departments of marketing, merchandising and manpower initiatives in her company. She has also been the frontrunner of the social initiatives undertaken by the brand. From initiating campaigns to honour the army martyrs to uplifting the surroundings of Gorakhpur with Graffiti art, Vandana has brought about changes not just in the company but also in the society. She also feels that the industry needs to involve more women. “Women are more honest, dedicated, extremely ambitious and quite honestly there’s nothing that they can’t do.” After a hard day’s work, the thought of going back home to her grand children is very exciting to Vandana. “I have three adorable grand children and spending time with them is my idea of unwinding!”

Pratiksha Prashanth, CEO, Kishandas & Co

The Change Maker Akanksha Arora, CEO, Tribe Amrapali

After doing an intensive course in jewellery designing in Mumbai, it only made sense for Akanksha to join her husband’s family business. She is the brainchild behind Tribe Amrapali, an online platform for affordable jewellery that was launched 4 years ago. There were challenges of course in the beginning. “I was all of 21 when I got married. I started going to the workshop and people there were suddenly wondering why they were receiving orders from me. They didn’t take me seriously till it sort of sunk in that I am in charge.” There has so much that has happened for Amrapali since Akanksha’s arrival in the business. From movie collaborations to having a robust social media presence, the brand is ubiquitous and completely digitized and there are not many family owned jewellery businesses that have managed to accomplish what Amrapali has. “It’s all about moving ahead with times. We always look at things from the customer’s point of view and feedback is very important to us.” Under her guidance Tribe Amrapali also strives to be a fully sustainable and ecofriendly brand as that is something very close to Akanksha’s heart. “Our packaging is ecofriendly. We stopped using plastic water bottles at all of our stores. We have to think about our planet too!” Being a CEO of a company also involves taking so many risks and it’s not easy especially for traditional setups. “Going digital itself was a big deal for us. We were so used to our designs being copied and going online meant putting all of our designs out there. But we also realised that if someone who wants to buy Amrapali they will do so and by the same token if someone wants to copy they will do that too.” Today Amrapali has over 1800 employees working across three workshops and there are women working in almost all of the departments. “Our wax moulding section is in fact handled only by women. In 2 tier cities, people are still conservative and they don’t want women to work but things are changing and I am very optimistic. Also women make better jewellery designers than men.” Being a leader also means getting pulled in all directions, lot of travelling and having to be on her feet at all times. “Life does get really hectic and I wish I had more time on my hands. I try to get a few minutes in between even if it just means that I get to sip on a cup of coffee!”

The Innovator Pratiksha Prashanth, CEO, Kishandas & Co

A graduate in architecture, Pratiksha entered the world of jewellery after marrying into the Kishandas family. She felt the need to do something and her family suggested that she could be a part of the business. “I had no idea about jewellery. I was a complete novice and for the first one year, my only job was to hold my father in law’s suitcase and observe,” she quips. Kishandas & Co has been a jeweller for the nobility of Hyderabad for generations but around 8 years ago, Pratiksha felt the need to open the brand’s doors to a wider set of audience. “Our brand was always known for its integrity and craftsmanship. I wanted these values to reach more people. We had families coming back to us to transform pieces that were created by my father in law 20 years ago. He says you should receive them with the same joy with which you sold them.” For a brand that never believed in advertising, Kishandas & Co has come a full circle in terms of PR and Marketing under the able guidance of Pratiksha. “Today things are different. You see a lot of daughters and daughter-in-laws joining their family business. But back in the day it was very different. I was the only woman and even the sales staff was all men. They never used to take me seriously. In fact my father in law used to tell our artisans that if Pratiskha mam gives you work, stop even my work but do hers.” Pratiksha believes in giving a hundred percent in whatever she pursues. “I believe in being genuine and trust my brand completely. For us customers are gods and we give them the best possible service. We may not sell as many pieces as some of the big brands out there, but we know we will sell for a longer time.” The brand has always stuck to its roots while still being chic and trendy on social media. “We don’t believe in being something we are not. Our forte has always been traditional designs. Any design in our store has never been born out of an epiphany over a night. It takes days to craft our pieces which are almost always inspired by the Nizams, the Vijayanagara Kingdom and the like.” To move ahead with times is a call that Pratiksha had to take with the support of her family. “15 years ago, the concept of styling didn’t exist so much. A bride would wear whatever her mother bought for her. Today, brides plan their looks ahead. So we collaborate with a lot of apparel designers to show people that our jewellery can be worn with more than one style of clothing too.” Pratiksha has carved her own path in the business and along the way she has managed to discover her strong points. “I tried selling jewellery at the store in the beginning and it was difficult. Even the customers who were women were more convinced by men selling them jewellery. The men in my family don’t like glamour. I believed in getting our brand out there and I was given a budget and a free hand to do what I wanted with it.” Pratiksha’s days are extremely well planned as she dabbles in many things at the same time. “Discipline is important to be successful. Also, working women have to take care of themselves, both their mind and body.”

Priti Bhatia, Founder, Awesome Sparklers

The Self Starter Priti Bhatia, Founder, Awesome Sparklers

How does a person from textile and chemical industry background jump into jewellery? According to Priti Bhatia, it was purely the will to do something different. “I was working for my dad and he realised I had the entrepreneurial spirit. My mom loved her jewellery and she was the one who actually pushed me into this field. I had no idea that jewellery would actually become my passion,” she says. With a little push from her family, Priti went the whole hog and graduated from IGI and GIA in jewellery designing as well as grading. She did a lot of travelling, observing and kept talking to people from the industry to understand the market. Shortly after she started designing jewellery pieces, she opened her own manufacturing unit in Surat, which has got state-of-the-art technology. “Being a woman in this industry is not easy, trust me. They don’t take you seriously. Only when they see how good your product is do they approach you. They demotivate you with the whole what can a woman do attitude.” But Priti didn’t let that affect her work and went head on to achieve whatever she has today. “You just have to move on and take the support of your team. I collaborate with my team and their inputs are very valuable to me. I give them the power to make decisions as well.” She treats her team as family and gives them the right to voice their opinion. “More than an entrepreneur I try to be a good human being. Making money in this business is not easy. There are so many niggling problems everyday and your team’s problems become your problems too when you are running a company.” Priti believes that noting enhances your knowledge more than research. “It is not like I have not made mistakes. There have been times when my jewellery hasn’t worked. But I learn from my mistakes. At the end of the day, you have to design pieces that are sellable.” 9 years into the industry and Priti still considers herself to be a newbie. She hires consultants and seeks the help of experts to understand the different aspects of her business. “I don’t chase profits. I rather focus on quality, strategy and creating a good work culture. Profit will automatically follow if these things are in place.” Priti feels that for this industry to have more women, they need the support from both their family as well as this industry. “I have women working for me tell me that they don’t want to mention that they are working on their marriage biodata because who will marry a working woman? I advice them to be honest to themselves first.” In fact it was not until her father saw her win an award for her entrepreneurial and leadership skills during college that he was convinced that she was capable of working. “Things changed that day. I would go to my dad’s office in the textile hub of Surat and people would look at me like I’m from a different planet but my dad insisted I work. He also taught me that never wait for an opportunity, just grab an opportunity.” In a short span of time, Priti has accomplished a lot and garnered several awards for her beautiful designs. “If you ask me, a successful entrepreneur is someone who is able to strike a balance between work and family, irrespective of their gender.”

Anju Jain, Creative Director, Exquisite Fine Jewels

The Artist Anju Jain, Creative Director, Exquisite Fine Jewels Some people have a natural flair for design and growing up in a family that is into jewellery business only enhances one’s propensity to design. This can’t be truer in Anju Jain’s case whose pieces are one-ofa- kind. “Coming from an emerald cutting and polishing family in Jaipur, I was always exposed to the world of gems and jewels since the age of 12.” Going to Maharani Gayatri Devi School further encouraged her to explore a lot with arts and crafts. “We were asked to do a lot of craft, painting, blue pottery and things like that.” She armed herself with a degree in GIA in Hong Kong and worked for a diamond jewellery manufacturer. “I was a diamond grader but I still kept going into the design department to understand how they are sketching and designing. At that time they were so advanced.” As fate would have it, Anju married someone who exports semiprecious stones to a plethora of designers across the world. “I was surrounded by Brazilian gemstones like amethyst, blue topaz, citrine and the like and sheer colours fascinated me. I would play around with the gemstones to see what colour combination works!” Doing a course in jewellery design was the natural progression for Anju. She took a blind leap of faith and the rest as they say is history. “I still remember, I was back from college and my husband told me that I had three months to design a collection for IIJS. I hadn’t studied the market but I knew I wanted to use semiprecious stones in fine jewellery.” In 2 days Anju was almost sold out and she still fondly remembers selling a piece of necklace to Suzanne Roshan. “That was huge for me! I had received the cheque from Hrithik and I didn’t even cash it for a few days.” From selling her pieces to international markets like the U.S. and Dubai Anju’s pieces today has demand even in II tier cities like Bareli and Cochin. “I realise I have been very privileged to always be an owner of my business. But I tell people to get the women in their family involved in the business. If your customer is a woman, no one understands her better than a woman! We are hundred percent passion driven and extremely hands on in whatever we do.” While Anju gets a kick out of selling many jewellery pieces in a day, she needs her ‘me time’ just as much as any other person. “I take short holidays. Travelling is also a major source of inspiration for me. But I like experiences rather than sitting around and sipping on cocktails!”

Soumya Sanjjay, Director, AVR Swarnamahal

The All-rounder Soumya Sanjjay, Director, AVR Swarnamahal

AVR Swarnamahal is a golden legacy that has been passed on from one generation to the next since 1928. It was a fairly traditional setup and a woman working was practically unheard of. “I got married 21 years ago and like any other girl back then I just wanted to have a happy married life. I had no idea that I would get into the business or become an entrepreneur.” But Soumya was different even back then and she believed in multitasking. Thanks to her mother, she learnt how to drive, swim, dance and even sing. But moving to a II tier city like Salem from Bangalore meant that she had to learn the state language. So she even learnt to read, write and speak Tamil. “I wanted to add value to my life, make a difference. I was never the kitty party kind and I couldn’t make small talk. Since I was so good with planning and I also had a creative bent of mind, my husband suggested that I come to office and observe what he does.” Soumya has always been a lover of jewellery and she felt that she could do so much for the brand. While she thought that she would be treated as the Managing Director’s wife at the store, little did she know that at work she was just like any other staff. “I was not given any special treatment. When you join our company, there is something called the orientation program were the person spends time learning in every single department. I was very surprised when my husband told me that I had to earn everything.” She worked as a receptionist welcoming all her customers, she was in the sales section and learnt about every single product at the store and spent around 2-3 months in purchasing, HR, marketing and every single department. “The customers wouldn’t even know I was the owner of the store. I was given the opportunity of course but at work I was like any other staff. Finally one day, I was called by the management and was told that I was going to become the director.” It was her sincerity and dedication that helped Soumya prove her mettle to her coworkers and family. She was solely responsible for the Signature Collection that was a complete hit across all their 15 branches. “There is domination only in places where men and women are not considered equal. The only time you can afford to dominate is with your knowledge. I am always surrounded by men yet I am a leader and I also believe that if you are a leader, you need to create more leaders.” Today, Soumya is in charge of HR, purchase, procurement and promotional aspects of the business. She also works on concepts to collaborate with their brand ambassadors. So her days are chock-a-block. “After work, we put on some fantastic music, go for a drive and pick up some good ice cream on the way. Once we reach home, we play with our dogs that are major stress busters. Once home, we never talk about work.”

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