Bootstrapped Azilaa aims to create a sustainable source of income for artisans, and also save dying arts.
A degree in Information Technology and a conventional job in a multi-national company had Anjali Singh wanting to do something different.
Looking to not only create a business that would generate earnings, Anjali also wanted to do something that would make a social impact and with that in mind, the chief designer and Co-founder of Azilaa forayed into jewellery design. Her venture not only produces much-sought-after jewellery pieces but also generates employment for artisans who make this handcrafted jewellery.
Anjali was born in Darjeeling to an Army family from the Gurkha community. “As a child, my father would tell us many heroic stories about my grandfather and his association with World War II. My father too served India during the 1971 war and was one of my biggest heroes. As one would expect, growing up amid Army legacies and stories, my life too got imbibed with strong values, ethics, discipline, and courage which shapes my actions even today as an entrepreneur,” she recalls.
After completing her schooling and college in Bhopal, she worked for a few years at a multi-national company before taking up jewellery design. After Anjali got married, she pursued a course in Jewellery Design in the US from Ashworth College, and also studied Gemology from the Gemological Institute of America in California.
“My corporate job did not leave me with any fond memories. I still remember, how I had faced some harsh racial and gender-specific discrimination at work despite carrying out my job with utmost sincerity and efficiency. These incidents made me a stronger person and gave me the courage and conviction to be independent,” she says.
Her passion for design and craft took her to a number of places, where she would interact with rural artisans, and learn about their craft. A majority of these craftsmen were poor and struggling to earn a living.
“It got me thinking that if I were able to create a sustainable source of income for them, then I would be able to save some of these arts and the artisans too. This was the genesis of my entrepreneurship. After my marriage and first baby, I decided to make it my career,” she adds.
Anjali didn’t have to look far for a co-founder who believed in her and supported her passion. “I received tremendous support and motivation from my family, especially from my husband Pravin. While I look into the creative side of the business, Pravin manages the technology and operational sides of the business,” she says.
“I design each piece of our jewellery collection. Our product lines include a wide range of precious and semi-precious gemstones and sterling silver jewellery,” says Anjali.
She adds, “Our product line includes earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklace sets, rings, anklets, and a wide range of sterling silver sets. I spend a lot of time researching good quality raw material, and it is a tedious process. At the beginning, it was a nightmare, but after a few years in the market, I now know most of the suppliers and their strengths. We source most of the raw material from Rajasthan and Gujarat. But we are expanding our vendor list by adding styles from other states as well.”
With high-value metal jewellery subject to high risk as daily wear, women are adopting low to medium-value fashion jewellery as alternatives. This is a clear opportunity for a designer boutique firm like Azilaa to cash in on the trend.
Anjali admits she is an ‘old-fashioned’ designer.
“I like to start with pencil and paper. Though I try and maintain a fixed time for design, it is sometimes difficult to maintain that structured approach as it’s a creative process. You may be driving, watching TV, browsing the internet or reading a magazine when you hit on an idea. I keep doodling whenever I get time. The rough sketch takes a final form after a few alterations spread sometimes over many days.
“I ensure I am able to spend a lot of time with the artisans in my production house so that they understand the design philosophy and the target audience.”
Anjali started the Azilaa journey with just $200 borrowed from Pravin. “We are self-funded so far. As the business grew rapidly, we invested everything back into the business. We have big plans to scale the business in the next 18-24 months, and obviously there is a need for big investment. While we will pump in our own cash, there may be a need for institutional investments to materialise our vision,” she informs.
The business is still very small when it comes to size, and Anjali believes these are still early days. “We are an online e-commerce company and our revenue comes from selling jewellery online. When it comes to payments, we prefer online methods as they are transparent and less risky. Having said that, our customers, particularly from Tier-2 and Tier-3 towns, still prefer cash on delivery as a payment method.”
While Anjali believes women are more accepted at work than earlier due to constant awareness campaigns and publicity, several challenges still exist.
Speaking from personal experience, she says, “One of the biggest challenges we have is to be able to source the best quality raw materials. It requires a lot of time and effort to find good suppliers. Being a woman, it is not an easy task to negotiate rates and demand quality, sitting inside a crowded wholesale market. No one would take me seriously, and often I felt cheated, on both price and quality.”
There is a fundamental shift in the way urban women are approaching their fashion and jewellery needs. Azilaa wants to cash in on this trend, and double its business in the next two years.
“India is the largest exporter of gems and jewellery, and the industry plays a vital role in terms of foreign exchange earnings. We want to take advantage of this growth and benefits and bring scale by increasing our customer footprints in the international market,” she says, as she looks forward to an exciting future.