Story Of A Single Mom Who Took Up Her Job & Hobby At The Same Time
“She wore her scars as her best attire; a stunning dress made of hellfire.”
That is me. A fiery, feisty woman who seeks to live life on her own terms and inspire others. Someone who has had the courage to overcome all curveballs that life has thrown at her, yet followed her calling.
I was a happy-go-lucky girl, good at academics, craft, with a deep interest in classical music (trained for 15 years in traditional Carnatic music) in a typical middle-class Indian family. School and college were fun years. And after formal education, a job followed. Like any middle-class Indian family, marriage too followed.
I was only 24 at that time – with not an idea of what the real world was like – having lived in a sort-of cocoon all my life. Marriage brought with it a whole of complexities and power plays – from the husband and his mother mainly. I guess I was too naive to understand what was going on and accepted everything quietly - thanks to the deep conditioning.
Our son was born in 2001 and like millions of women, I too (desperately) hoped that things would change and we would be like the happy family I had always dreamt of. But that was not to be.
The abuse became more intense, more frequent over a period of time. Finally, when I could not bear the violence any longer, I decided to separate. I owed it to myself and my child. So in 2005, after 7.5 years of marriage, I walked out and went to Kolkata, where my parents lived.
It was a new beginning for me and my son. But I knew I had a chance to rebuild our lives all over again. This time – with stability, warmth and the comfort of my parents - his grandparents. My top priority was school admission for my son which I did manage in a reputed school. And next on the cards was to resurrect my career which had been on a break for a few months. And a new job too happened soon enough.
With a steady income, there was a sense of financial security. On the personal side, a loving home to come home to. Career-wise, I was doing well and within a year joined a global MNC as Regional Head of Eastern region.
My journey after separation
Though I loved my job and the exposure it gave me, I had reached a stage where I sought something more intangible.
Being a creative person, I was always creating unique jewellery and outfits for me and the family. Slowly, colleagues too wanted me to help put a look together for them. I am a stylist at heart and love to help my friends and clients with styling suggestions – be it a conference or a wedding - thereby creating a “LookBook” of different styles.
Finally, in 2011, after a lot of encouragement from friends and well-wishers, Indu Diva Wearable Art was born.
All those years of beading, braiding, sketching, upcycling projects, running around for the right craftsmen, arranging for the right raw materials – finally took form and shape.
Why Indu Diva as a brand name? Well, it came from my email id (which to date is active and functional), which I had created soon after my separation. I wanted a new identity which bore no traces of the past. And, like a spark in the dark, this name came to me and a new digital identity happened. Funnily enough, that’s how people started addressing me in person too! So the brand name was a natural extension.
A trunk show happened soon, and based on the response, I knew I had something going. But, given the responsibilities of my son and a full-time corporate job, it was a challenge to take it beyond a passion. But every weekend, I would have karigars coming home to work on my designs. Watching my sketches/concepts come to life was a surreal experience, it was actually meditative, and I looked forward to it every week.
Being a millennial, social media was the next step, so an online group on FB followed suit.
It was a very exciting world indeed!
A change in the situation happened when I was promoted and had to relocate to the Corporate Office in Mumbai. Though the new role was challenging and exciting, the question on my mind was what would happen to my creative side.
Would I be able to find the right karigars/artisans/raw material? So, once we had settled down in Mumbai, my hunt began all over again.
To start with, I made trips to the jewellery wholesale markets (I used to go to these markets even when I was based in Kolkata and had travelled to Mumbai on work. Weekends were meant for exploring these places). Initially, karigars weren’t willing to work on my designs as the latter was slightly different from their regular work, but they finally agreed after some coaxing and cajoling. And raw material sourcing too was sorted.
But all the markets were very far from where I lived and karigars refused to come home. I had to plan my trips to the market accordingly ie sourcing raw materials and getting designs made to be on the same day. It was tedious but there was no other way!
Also, the challenge of maintaining separate accounts for this venture – I managed it by ensuring all transactions were through a previous savings account. This approach was immensely helpful for later tracking.
I was still sending my creations to Kolkata and all over the country. And a trunk show in Mumbai happened, thanks to my neighbors and friends here.
And the FB group was growing – organically – where my friends and family added their contacts too. I was enjoying every aspect of it immensely. The recognition for my creative work via people’s appreciation was more precious than anything I owned. But it still remained a hobby, thanks to my financial situation and family responsibilities.
In 2016, the initial seeds of thought of entrepreneurship came to mind. But it was a scary thought. No one in my family had done this before. Plus this was a creative venture. Again no previous references. And more importantly, how would the finances work out? Cash flows were a real thing. And Mumbai is an expensive city.
But, with a little bit of careful planning and internal expectation setting, I did decide to take the plunge. Luckily, my family and my seniors have been very supportive. So I took a sabbatical for a few months, and when I was very sure this is what I wanted to do, plunged full-time into entrepreneurship.
Along the way many things happened. My designs evolved and started attracting new markets – in India and abroad. My personal interest and personal upcycling projects with traditional Indian craft led to enquires and this became a completely different business line exclusively with traditional Indian craft “Re-imagined into Wearable Art”.
I work with varied traditional craft forms from different craft clusters across the country.
To name a few - Tholu Bommalata from Andhra Pradesh, Jaipur Blue Pottery, Dhokra Metal Jewellery from Bengal and Odisha, Mural Art from Kerala, Fabric Jewellery with traditional fabric from different clusters.
The journey has been fulfilling and rewarding at many levels. Apart from creative satisfaction, I have met some amazing people who have enriched and influenced the direction of my life.
What has been the biggest takeaway is the styling projects that I’ve undertaken.
These typically comprise of a saree (usually handloom given my love for the loom) and accessories to go with it. Over the years, I have been helping my friends and associates who loved my personal style statement - to put together their outfit and accessories – especially traditional Indian sarees. I have been doing what is today known as “personal shopping”.
Guess I am the quintessential chip off the old block, as I’ve inherited it from my mom.
Her taste in sarees is legendary and she is always besieged by requests to carry sarees for our extended family in Kerala.
I have a diverse portfolio of clients – many of whom are doctors, researchers, academicians, software professionals, dancers, musicians, and theatre artists. My brand today has a global presence, and it is very heartwarming when they send me a pic from across the oceans. These are priceless moments when I feel a part of me is included
TAKING OTHERS ALONG
What I've also learnt is that in any venture, we must take others along with us on the journey. In my corporate career, I have been actively involved and contributed towards various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. And at InduDiva, I brought about this aspect too. My intern, a college student, a bright spark, belongs to an underprivileged section of society. It was a conscious decision to hire him, thereby enabling financial empowerment as well as employability for the long haul.
And as in any venture, one must be open to new ways of thinking too. I discovered that my domestic help had a potential for making craft items, so taught her to make earrings with beads and wire. She now makes most of the earrings at Indu Diva. She also has an eye for colour and design, and does offer suggestions.
In fact, there was a particular piece which I had designed with poms-poms and beads, and she refused to craft it saying she didn’t like it! So I gently enquired as to what she thought would look good and promptly came the reply – small stone beads. So that design came to be known as “Radha Kumari” and it became a big hit amongst my clientele with everyone clamouring for it! Radha Kumari also gives me suggestions as to what colour jewellery would match a particular saree. When I ask her, it is great fun to see her responses as she has the excitement of a child!
And there are some special moments too. My karigars keenly observe my involvement and hard work. I am often in their workshop until late in the night, neck deep in work. So I was really touched when one of them handed me something in my palm one day saying – “Madam, this is for you – a gift from me”. It was a keychain with a horse strung on it. His logic was that since I run around like a horse the whole day, he had picked it up for me!
I also like to give work to women who need financial empowerment. In keeping with this, have done a few community craft projects with underprivileged women, towards helping them with financial empowerment. One such project is that of jewellery bags/pouches and another was fabric folders. My clients love that these products too have a story.
GALLERY SHOWINGS AND EXHIBITIONS
I have shown my creations at niche venues such as The Taj, The Park, Fireflies, Cymroza Art Gallery, Bandra Cache Art Gallery, Kalagram @ Pune, Kishanchand Valecha @Juhu, and done pop-ups at stores such as Qiissa in Kolkata.
My vision is to have every woman in our country wearing a piece of our traditional Indian craft with PRIDE. I plan to add more craft clusters into my portfolio so as to cover many more artisans. I have a dream – to showcase my creations at the International Folk Art Fair, Santa Fe, New Mexico – as that really gives artisan-based ventures a huge global audience.
An entrepreneurship is not an easy path and for any business to thrive, it needs nurturing and support.
First and foremost is the financial support – as in the retail business a lot of expenses need to be allocated for setting up the brand, manufacturing, etc.
Another area of support is Marketing, Promotion and Distribution Channels.
As mine is an online business, business promotion is done mainly through social media. And engagement on social media is of prime importance.
But parallel, so is revenue!
It would be ideal if I could focus on my strengths on the business development and sales areas, and the other aspects could be managed by professionals.
Hence the need for funding.
I hope my story inspires others too - to fight hardships that have come in the way, and that all hardships can be overcome with focus and dedicated effort. As a single mother, it has been a tad more challenging, especially when there isn’t a stable paycheck every month. fearlessly, AND follow one’s dreams. “It’s never too late to give wings to your dreams.”
To sum up - “Shine your light bright, and don’t dim it. And help others’ light theirs too !”