Meet Zahabiya Gabajiwala, an art entrepreneur whose studio breathes life into blank spaces
While starting up in the art space may not be easy, for entrepreneur Zahabiya Gabajiwala, it’s all about following her passion. In a conversation with HerStory, she shares how she tackled challenges and came into her own as an independent entrepreneur in the art industry.
Mumbai-based Zahabiya Gabajiwala considers herself lucky that her parents were inclined towards art and encouraged her to nurture her artistic abilities. With her art-loving mother by her side, most of Zahabiya’s childhood went into painting and scribbling, so it was no surprise when she decided to study fine arts from Jai Hind College, Mumbai for her bachelor's degree. For her master’s from Rachna Sansad College Of Applied Art and Craft, Mumbai, she focused on commercial art to specialise in set design.
Zahabiya started her career working with art directors on films and advertisement sets. She worked on the set design of Dharma Production’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya in 2014, as well as various advertising campaigns under various production designers for tubelight brands, Parachute hair oil etc.
In 2016, Zahabiya founded her own visual space design studio,, in Mumbai. She started out as an independent artist and used her network and contacts to get commissioned projects. She started out by taking advance payment per project, and she invested her earnings to gradually hire and collaborate with artists to start ZA Works.
The visual space design studio helps transform simple plain surfaces into art chronicles through painting, murals, and installations. “For us, the world is our canvas, and we breathe life into surfaces to manifest speaking walls that communicate a narrative,” Zahabiya tells HerStory.
ZA Works is a service-based business that specialises in murals, art installations, decals, branding design, packaging design, furniture customisation, and canvas paintings. “We mostly work alongside architects and interior designers on residential and commercial interior projects. We have also been involved in a lot of digital design projects lately, like wallpaper designing. Our price range is usually between Rs 800 - Rs 1,200 per sq feet – this can vary depending on the scale of the artwork and the design brief,” adds Zahabiya.
While Zahabiya’s mother is an art aficionado, her father is a businessman who taught her the tricks of the trade when she decided to start her own venture.
“I am fortunate enough to have parents who valued my thoughts and gave me the freedom to make my own choices. They played a huge role in nurturing my love for art and my passion for kickstarting Za Works. My dad just had a toy shop when I was born, and over the years, he single-handedly built an empire of toys and games. I learnt many tricks of the trade from him and I’m learning how to take calculated risks. It has helped me a lot in running my business,” says the 31-year-old.
‘Eh eh eh, I’m on vacation cuz every single day, I love my occupation’ isn’t just a famous song by Dirty Heads but also Zahabiya’s life mantra. “So, every project I work on becomes my stress buster. However, the stakes are high while working on a commissioned project; the business aspect comes in, which is why I paint as a hobby. I paint whatever I want during my free time, just for fun!”
Challenges of running an art studio
While she enjoys being an entrepreneur as she gets to follow her passion, her journey isn’t devoid of challenges. Zahabiya shares that she faced gender discrimination in the early stages of her career.
“We had a male artist onboard who accompanied me in all business meetings. Even though I was the company owner, people discussed finances or any other business-related things only with him. Eventually, I found my voice and established myself as an independent female entrepreneur,” she adds.
Apart from gender-based discrimination, she believes that getting clients consistently is also the biggest challenge in her area of work. “Initially, we got a few clients through the help of family and friends or word of mouth, but maintaining a constant inflow of orders and scaling up simultaneously was a strenuous task,” she says.
She also states that she faced a lot of difficulties convincing people that ZA Works was a legitimate business and not her hobby. “Unfortunately, in India, many people still consider art as something you do on the side. It has also been difficult to make others believe in the company’s vision and converting ZA Works from a one-woman show to a team, with both employees and freelancers on board,” Zahabiya reflects on her challenges.
Despite all these challenges, ZA Works generates a turnover of Rs 40 lakh per annum.
Zahabiya felt a sense of accomplishment when Living Etc – a leading international digital media publisher which focuses on modern interior design – approached her for their ‘One To Watch’ feature for the first time.
Her second achievement was to train young designers to build her team and see them excel. She worked on an installation at LILT restaurant in Mumbai. “I count this as an achievement because we managed to execute well despite the massive scale of the art installation. We used a simple material like thread to give an expanded look to the entire premises – unlike anything we had done before,” she shares.
Finally, Zahabiya believes that overthinking and contemplation will not help one become an entrepreneur in the art space, and will only delay the process further. “Of course, everything else will fall in place along the way – do strive for perfection – but don't stop trying,” she adds.
She aspires to establish ZA Works as an international design studio. “We want to work with more designers around the world, empower and collaborate with more and more artists, and be recognised internationally. In 2022, we plan to collaborate with new unconventional artists. My practice caters to aspiring and talented artists who want their voices heard. I'm creating a platform to recognise these creative professionals and financially uplift them as they embark on their art journey,” Zahabiya shares her plans.
Edited by Kanishk Singh