Inspired by nature, woman entrepreneur launches jewellery startup with Rs 20k
It often takes an outsider’s perspective to push ourselves for the better. For Supriya Donthi, it was Timothy Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek that inspired her to invest in her interests and start something on her own.
The year 2016 proved to be an eventful one for the project manager. In February, she quit a “perfectly good” job as a project manager because “her boss was not a very good person”.
Supriya got another job in March, but began working on her own nature-inspired jewellery startupduring weekends and evenings.
“I did not expect the startup to grow the way it did and had to quit my second job within six months and become a full-time entrepreneur,” she says.
Keeping nature close
Jewellery making is an age-old practice that can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilisation. Today, Supriya is tapping into a market that was valued at more than Rs 3 trillion in 2016 and is estimated to nearly double by 2021.
Supriya got into entrepreneurship in the best possible way: by combining her love for nature and jewellery making. In fact, the founder swears by a famous Albert Einstein quote, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.”
Started with an initial investment of Rs 20,000, the startup encases preserved flowers and leaves from across the world and uses them to make necklaces, bracelets, rings, wall mounts, and more. The entrepreneur explains that the whole idea is to “keep nature close”.
Currently, Leafy Affair has four collections, including Dandelion Fairy Dust, Ferns and Flowers, Botanical Wall Mounts, and Mermaid’s Ocean Treasure (with bracelets, earrings, and necklaces made from shells).
“In the beginning, I used to make almost all products with different and unique designs; almost all were limited edition. But I realised it was difficult for the supply chain, marketing, and to increase sales. So, I had to fix my supply chain and work on constant production of a few designs that are really loved by people,” the founder says.
However, all the wall mounts are of unique design. She explains that the wall mounts are an abstract art of nature “made with various arrangements of ferns and flowers that cannot be repeated”.
The products are available on the startup’s website. The Bengaluru-based entrepreneur sources flowers and ferns from vendors in the US, Russia, and China.
What began as a passion project with a Facebook page quickly got her the first order within four days. She now has celebrities like actors like Navdeep, Samyuktha Hornad, and Ahaana Krishna among her clients.
One of her standout moments is having her work appreciated by her childhood idol Harun Robert, better known as Rob, the host of Do It Yourself (DIY) MAD show.
Challenges along the way
Supriya, who hails from a family of businessmen, says entrepreneurship runs in her blood. Even as a child, she recalls her grandfather telling her about the independence in being your own boss than working for someone else. She believes that the entrepreneurial seed may have been sown then.
However, she faced many challenges as a first-time entrepreneur. With little professional expertise in the art of jewellery making, Supriya says it took a lot of research and learning, from getting the right materials and scouting from different vendors to finally starting production.
“People do not always believe in what you do. They told me what I am pursuing was just a hobby without a proper business plan, and would not work out,” she says, adding that support from her family and close friends helped her through the journey.
Additionally, as a bootstrapped company so far, Supriya says money is a challenge. There are other brands such as Alankara and individual artists doing similar work, but Supriya says her designs are unique, and the quality service and product set Leafy Affair apart.
The road ahead
At present, most non-essential business activities have come to a halt due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. Once economic activity resumes, Supriya hopes to conduct workshops around craft and product designing.
The Bengaluru-based entrepreneur says, “I think there is a huge scope in working on customisations of bigger wall hangings. I am getting a lot of individual requests for these as well. For instance, people send me flower bouquets from their wedding ceremony, and want to get them encased as keepsakes.”
In India, people often spend lakhs of rupees on flowers for decoration during wedding ceremonies. Supriya is looking to work with wedding planners so that those flowers can be put to good use.
Supriya says she aims to ramp up from organic marketing activities to paid advertisement, and is “looking to hire more designers to produce greater variety”.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)