Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous with AISHWARYA SURESH

About AISHWARYA SURESH
Aishwarya is the founder of Banna Creations. As a part of her corporate career, Aishwarya has a decade of experience with Fortune-100 IT / ITES companies leading sales, marketing and sales support teams before she became an entrepreneur. Though an Electrical Engineer by qualification, she has always taken a keen interest in India’s rich cultural heritage and vast repertoire of hand-crafted products and textiles that are the livelihood of millions of people across the country. Aishwarya is also a painter, a potter and runs marathons in her spare time.

About BANNA
Banna in Kannada means ‘color’. Banna Creations is a platform for customers to easily access exquisite hand- crafted products from India. Banna specializes in hand-made textiles, art & craft products that are commercially un-exposed / marginally exposed and not easily accessible. The products range from handmade art and craft to handloom and weaves from across India. In doing so, Banna provides commercial and social upliftment to artists and artisans, creates awareness about different forms of art, craft, weaves and textiles and helps both products and the creators move into the mainstream. The long-term vision for Banna is to create a Creative Centre for Art and Craft that will be used by artists and artisans to showcase their work and for regular workshops and training sessions to train interested individuals and groups.
Banna creations has also been featured in several leading publications including papers like “The Hindu” and magazines like “Femina”. Stop by her website or blog , Follow her on Twitter @bannacreations, Or Check her Facebook page

THE RENDEZVOUS
Nischala: Hi Aishwarya! Congrats on the success of your recent exhibition and more importantly on the great initial success as an entrepreneur. So tell me how it all started?
Aishwarya:  Thank You! Banna Creations is 6 months old and was conceptualized with the objective to revive Indian hand-made art and crafts. The aim is not just to provide a retail outlet for the products created by Indian artists and craftsmen, but also by working to create a larger awareness of several art forms and the artists who create them using traditional skills that have been handed down the ages.
To be honest, there were multiple triggers for starting this venture. Firstly, my personal interest in the Indian heritage of hand-made arts and crafts. Secondly, my personal experiences in retail stores made me realize a large number of products being sold as Indian handicraft were not necessarily hand-crafted. So the word handicraft or even handloom as it is known today which does not necessarily mean that a product is actually being hand- crafted.
The result is that traditional skills and the people practicing them are completely lost in the whole value chain from production to the retail shelf. Artists and artisans lose their traditional means of livelihood and don’t get their due. The beauty of the traditional art form and the whole process of creating a product and the people involved in the creation was and is a story waiting to be told.
Banna works with the following objectives:
1) To provide a connect between the artisans who are creating these hand-made arts and crafts to the end-customer. Essentially, to provide opportunities for people to understand and learn the age-old unique techniques of these art and craft forms. And more importantly to appreciate heritage family traditions and Indian art forms. This is being done by  our exhibitions and corporate sales, and also by workshops and demonstrations which are platforms for artisans to interact directly with a customer base and showcase their skills
2) To provide additional monetization avenues to the artists and craftsman for their products – with the intent that this will ensure that these art forms continue to exist, and not really perish with time

Nischala: That’s awesome. But the decision to leave a flourishing corporate job to doing something of your own is not easy… How was it in your case?
Aishwarya: Hmm.. I spent a lot of time on background research and analysis to understand issues from various angles. I mainly tried to understand issues and problems faced by artisans as well as the way in which retail stores operate in this sector in India today. Over a period of time, I was clear about 3 things:
1) I was deeply passionate about this – And I believe that passion is the key element which can actually enable you to make such a choice,
2) I strongly believed that I could make a difference
3) With the vision and scale of impact I had in mind, it was not possible to toggle between a corporate job and a venture such as this which is a 24X7 job. – So I made a choice to quit.
In my case, I was lucky that I received full support from friends and family. And that’s been one of my BIGGEST lessons so far – An entrepreneur does not survive alone. You need an entire ecosystem to support you. In my case, my family and friends were willing to believe in what I believed in.

Nischala: OK. So what kind of support did your family extend?
Aishwarya: In my specific case, there are no entrepreneurs on my side of the family. So my mentor for understanding basics of running a business was my father-in-law. He runs his own enterprise, so helped me with all the documentation and paper-work. For marketing, my husband who is a marketing guru has helped by putting in place Banna’s marketing strategy which I execute.. And I must confess that it’s a lot of hard-work. And my family and friends have stood by me in many small and big ways to ensure that I am able to give my time and energy towards something I believe in and am truly passionate about.

Nischala: So, what’s the tough part?
Aishwarya: The tough and yet very fulfilling part is that I do everything on my own – My exhibitions, dealing with vendors, suppliers and artisans itself. Also, given that the sector is completely unorganized, the need to adhere to deadlines needs to be re- iterated several times over.. There is also always the challenge of balancing quality versus quantity. There have been several instances where quality has been compromised because of tight deadlines and larger quantities and entire shipments have been sent back as a result. However disheartening this might sound the sheer sense of fulfillment after the completion of an exhibition or workshop or executing an order makes up for a lot of tough challenges that one constantly faces.

Nischala: What’s the happiest moment in your journey so far?
Aishwarya: I think the happiest moment is that I have been able to achieve the primary objective of Banna in less than 6 months – which is essentially to connect artisans with customers. The model of my initiative is not ONLY to sell, but to provide that connect, to revive art forms and to re-create a market. So we’ve successfully done workshops and exhibitions; and have received a phenomenal response. Workshops are where you can see how these products are created and also learn from the artisans themselves. For e.g: We’ve done a painting workshop, embroidery workshop, etc.

Nischala: But many of these art forms are on products which don’t sell. Like many women don’t wear saris as in the past. So is there any product innovation done?
Aishwarya: Yes. Absolutely. Based on my own ideas and feedback from customers. For e.g: There’s a specific form of embroidery (Kasuti) which is famous in North Karnataka and typically done on silk sarees. But not too many people wear sarees in the fast paced lives that we lead today. . So we have innovated in using this same embroidery to create other products which customers actually buy and use – like clutch purses, home linen, folders, books, files, etc. So we are promoting the art form and retaining livelihoods, but creating an alternate market – so there is a commercial success as well

Nischala: What’s been the response from the artists and craftsman?
Aishwarya: It’s been a mixed response. Some don’t think of it as a big deal, as many people have done it before. They are tougher to deal with. Some are hungry for business and for their art forms to get popularized. So it’s easier to work with them. Personally, I look at the positives and learn from all the experiences and never let myself get disheartened ( however difficult that is to do) regardless of the response I get from artisans as well as from customers.

Nischala: If you had to look back at your corporate job, and yourself now – what is the biggest change?
Aishwarya: It’s a lot of HARD WORK to be on your own. I used to work 16 – 17 hours a day as a part of my corporate job, but this is different because this is so much more intense. You are that much more driven since this is for yourself. You are answerable to yourself and at all times to the vision and the reason why this was started.
Also, since I am on my own and it is a new venture, the sheer amount of brain-work to get things moving is phenomenal. Financially too, every single earning is ploughed back into the initiative as we need to grow and expand.

Nischala: So what’s the long term vision? Something like a Dilli Haat in Bangalore?
Aishwarya: Well.. One is to (re-)create and generate a market for these products, and really that means for the traditional handicraft and hand-made art forms – So in that sense, it can be called a Dilli Haat. The other critical part is to have a centre of art and craft which will essentially be a space where artists and artisans can showcase their skills and conduct demonstrations and workshops at all times. . People can not only buy products, it’s an opportunity for self-education and also people can also learn how to do these

Nischala: Just curious, but how has the response been for the workshops? Are people keen to learn and what kind of people attend these?
Aishwarya: There’s been a phenomenal response for the workshops. Initially I was anxious myself, as I did not know if people had time or interest. Surprisingly, all kinds of people have attended – Diversity in age (17 – 70), Men & Women, Professions – House-wife, HR head, Trainer, NGO, etc. And they’ve all giving me very positive feedback, which is encouraging…

Nischala: That’s good to hear. So given that there’s a lot of ways for new businesses to leverage digital marketing and social media, do you use these at Banna?
Aishwarya: Yes absolutely. Marketing is basically digital marketing or more specifically social media marketing – We use Facebook, Twitter , our blog etc.. Our web-site is work–in-progress and the best part is that it has an online payment gateway to facilitate online sales. So looking forward to the launch to facilitate this

Nischala: Awesome! That’s great progress. So any last words you want to share as a part of this rendezvous?
Aishwarya: I recently had the opportunity to attend the Development Dialogue 2012 at Hubli conducted by the Gururaj Deshpande Foundation. Development Dialogue is a three day event that brings together hundreds of practitioners, academics, investors, grassroots activists, philanthropists and entrepreneurs from across the world to discuss sustainable solutions to society’s problems.
This year the key note speaker was N R Narayana Murthy and he spoke about the journey of Infosys. That was so inspirational, and also something that I will never forget. Three basic messages stuck with me and this is what I will share in regards to starting and being an entrepreneur:
* “Never lose sight of your goals”
* “Believe in what you want to achieve”
* “Constantly re- invent yourself and innovate”
Very powerful messages and they will stay with me….

Nischala: Great Aishwarya! Best wishes on your journey at Banna. And hope it brings back color into the life’s of many…. Thanks for your time
Aishwarya: Thank You

How did you like this rendezvous? Leave a comment to let us know

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Posted on March 9, 2012, in Blog-o-Rendezvous, Womens Day 2012 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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