Hema S Subramanyam, Color D Earth

hema profile pic.jpg

Hema S Subramanyam is the founder of Color D Earth, a unique business idea. YourStory chronicles the dreams and challenges of this woman entrepreneur. Hema has done her BA (Psychology,Sociology&Public Administration) and PG Diploma in Personnel Mgmt and Industrial Relations. She was also part of 10000 Women Certificate Program for Women Entrepreneurs, Indian School of Business, an initiative of Goldman Sachs

YS : Tell us more about your company

The Business Philosophy for Color D Earth is to be a thriving business entity that generates wealth through social and ethical practices not only for its company and employees, but also for artisans, vendors and clients.

Color D Earth aims to collaborate with terracotta artisans all over the country and promote the following in house brands:

1)     Alankriti – Ethnic Terracotta Jewelry

2)     Niva –        Contemporary terracotta Jewelry

3)      Nirvana-  Spiritual jewelry and art

4)     Natura –   Eco-friendly products

Alankriti, an already established ethnic jewelry brand, crafts unique creations in "fired clay". These are painstakingly hand created by skilled women who are carefully trained in the art.

The process involves purifying and designing the clay in geometrical intricate patterns. After drying completely it is fired in a kiln at a very high temperature to give it a stone consistency. It is then hand-painted in a myriad of colors to compliment ethnic as well as Indo-western outfits.

These uniquely contemporary accessories, made of earthen terracotta and painted with colors that make them the perfect accompaniment for a wide range of clothes are always popular, and the present profusion of designs to choose from is making them virtually irresistible.

With the green revolution, the potential for terracotta jewelry is huge. There is a great demand for eco friendly accessories. Once one overcomes the issues related to labor and finance, the scope is endless.

Currently I employ 5 artisans directly, while work is outsourced to 25-30 artisans.

The Alankriti customer is a woman, who likes to demonstrate her distinctive sense of eco style, by celebrating the love of tradition and diversity.

Green living is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic sectors today. The growing number of eco-consumers is slowly shifting how companies are doing business today. More and more consumers are beginning to understand that eco friendly products have a big impact on the health of our planet. Hence they are looking for products that are functional and stylish, yet earth-friendly. Terracotta being a versatile , eco friendly and sustainable medium, has a great potential for growth.

Color D Earth aims to integrate the efforts of atleast 500 artisans by the end of financial year 2011. These artisans will work in about 25 groups. Through continuous hands-on learning, will reach a level where they independently plan, procure and execute product orders, maintain systems and follow quality processes. These groups are linked to Color D Earth which will design and market the product. The product categories will have individual brand names but under the umbrella of Color D Earth, which helps ensure sustainability of the enterprise

YS : How do you plan to scale-up the business?

I started this business at home in June 2003. It started as a hobby course in clay with my kids, then toddlers! I loved creating jewelry from clay so much that from gifting my creations to friends, I kept getting small orders and then decided to make it into a business. Thus Alankriti was born. We had financial challenges at the time and I was keen to pitch in and set them right without compromising on being around my kids.

From handling the details of design, handcrafting the jewelry and painting the sets myself, I started visiting small boutiques to show them my work and met with a positive response for the uniqueness and intricacy of designs. Around this time I employed 2 girls to work with me to increase production. Then I started participating in Exhibitions which gave me a better idea of customer tastes. Its been a lot of hard work throughout this journey, many times the profits after expenditure on labor and materials were just not adding up to much, but a consistent effort and steadfast faith that better times are around the corner helped.

We moved to Mumbai in Oct 2005. Expanding to more boutiques and increasing my stock base substantially were the first tasks. Inspite of all my determination and vision to make it better, things were not quite falling into place. Managing labour was an issue as well as the need for smarter business skills in terms of Financial and marketing management was still lacking. I was praying hard for a miracle.

At around this time a friend suggested I apply to the 10000 Women program for Women Entrepreneurs, but that involved being away from home for 3 weeks out of 12 weeks. My kids (now aged 12 and 10) and a few friends have been my greatest strength and urged me to go ahead. The program aimed to structure the business by urging us to come up with a Business plan. Most of us women entrepreneurs start off a business with our intuitive feel rather than a sound Business plan. Being mentored by some of the best faculty and mentors from ISB gave me the clarity and focus I needed. I decided to move my business out of home and set up a small studio to work out of and retail my jewelry. Apart from retailing, I decided to look at exports and ecommerce options as well. Travelling to other cities like Hyderabad and Delhi to expand my markets has proved beneficial.

Increasing production for a handcrafted business is a challenge. The courage to let go of the need to be in control of manufacturing and outsource the work took me some thinking. The urge to involve many more artisans to make it a mutually beneficial business model was instrumental in coming up with the idea of an eco-socio enterprise Color D Earth. During this year, will travel to identify groups of terracotta artisans. To set up at least 2 of our brand stores by the end of 2011, as well as retail out of many more eco-friendly stores, designer boutiques, and lifestyle stores in India and abroad. Outsourcing manufacturing to groups of artisans while maintaining highest levels of quality would be the key towards this endeavor.

YS : Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur rather than stick to a regular 9-to-5 job?

Being an entrepreneur gives me the flexibility I need to multi task, satisfies my calling to run a social enterprise and most importantly to unleash my creative abilities. I have been in an intellectually challenging and satisfying 9-5 job twice in my life, but the urge to do something on my own for the betterment of artisans lives has always overpowered this

YS : What has been the biggest challenge for you so far, and how did you overcome it?

Finding and managing skilled labour has always been a challenge in this business. In my early days of starting the We had a big order from a Hongkong based publisher to make 500 sets of 5 lotus theme designs in one month. From design to exclusive packaging, coordinating work at 2 different locations while ensuring quality and successful delivery given the intricacy of the handcrafted jewelry was indeed a challenge.

There’s only one fear that artists who turn into entrepreneurs face – they find it difficult to be dispassionate about their product! They get so involved in creation that they tend to give less importance to other aspects of business like finance and marketing!

YS : What is the biggest mistake you made as an amateur entrepreneur?

This would definitely be, not managing my finances as well as I should have! While managing production to marketing on your own, one tends to under estimate the importance of strategy, marketing and managing finances, especially if you come from a non-business family like mine. So all of you out there wanting to start off on your own, make sure you get sound financial and professional advice from a reliable mentor or a Consultant.

YS : Where did you find the seed capital for your company?

The initial expenditure to start was not much as clay and other raw materials are inexpensive. Labour costs are the highest in handcrafted businesses. A loan of 50k from a bank helped me to initially set up equipment, procure raw materials and organize labour. Through my struggles, I am thankful to a few friends and family who trusted me enough to loan me money and also give me the best professional advice when I needed it. Sincerity of purpose and clarity of goals, and a positive attitude are key to an enterprise. Banks and financial institutions are difficult to deal with in difficult times so if you spend quality time in nurturing key relationships, they stand you in good stead.

YS : What has been the biggest achievement in the growth of your organization?

Participating in the India International Fashion Jewelry Show in Jan 2009, was a huge eye opener to changing trends in customer’s minds towards handcrafted, non-metal jewelry. Also the number of enquiries from retailers and exporters was a big boost to the business. More recently participating in the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, where my new Brass and Terracotta collection was well appreciated.

YS : Have you, or your organization, been recognized in any way for your great work?

Being selected to be a 10000 Women Scholar, to undergo the global initiative of Goldman Sachs’ Women’s Entrepreneurship program conducted by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad last year was a huge boost to my confidence. It broadened my horizons to structure my work to an international level of competence, to strategise, to understand the latest marketing trends, finance and most importantly improve profitability of the enterprise. Another important tool which no one in business can afford to ignore is the power of effective networking. Networking with fellow women entrepreneurs has inspired me to keep going through difficult times!

YS : What do you think is the key challenge for an Indian women entrepreneur?

Arranging finances and getting the necessary Govt. registrations single handedly for women entrepreneurs. Even a simple Shop and VAT registration process can be so cumbersome and time consuming. Hopefully organizations will come up to help budding entrepreneurs to overcome these legal and funding issues so that one can devote more time to the business.

YS : Your advice for Young Women Entrepreneurs

Having a dream to do something on your own has to be coupled with

  1. A sound business plan
  2. Focus and clarity of purpose
  3. Flexibility of thought to accept new ways and ideas to doing things better.
  4. A good mentor is always helpful. Meet a few people before you decide who can give you the best professional and financial advice.
  5. Most importantly, to understand that failure is not the end of the world, failure teaches you to rethink and do better the next time around.

What drives you to stay buckled on the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship?

The passion to create one-of- a kind jewelry with clay from Mother Earth. There’s no end to creativity, sky is the limit.

To find out more and check out some really cool jewellery log on to http://spaces.msn.com/alankriti



Updates from around the world