Using Jacquard and vegan leather, this woman entrepreneur is giving the handbag market a nudge
Ahmedabad-based entrepreneur Esha Shah started Maisha by Esha in December 2018. Her talent for design and aesthetics has led her to use Jacquard fabric and vegan leather for her bags.
Esha Shah had spent three years interning as an inter-CA student and had just sat for her final exams when she knew it wasn’t the career for her. She then decided to go back to her first love, design, and joined her husband’s packing business to help conceptualise tote bags for a travel company.
“I started designing travel bags with quotes stitched into them in different colours, and they were an instant hit with the client,” says 29-year-old Esha, who is based in Ahmedabad.
“Then, in 2018, my father, my husband, and I sat and brainstormed about how I could monetise my passion for design. Fashion was something that many people were doing, but it was still largely untapped at the time. Since I was very interested in designing and I have a good understanding of colours and combinations, I convinced them that we could start with tie-and-dye products. I started taking orders for that,” says Esha.
She soon set up an Instagram account and decided to name her brand, meaning prosperity. “In Swahili, it also means something that brings life. I wanted to create products that brought joy to people because life is all about happiness, right?” she remarks.
Thus Maisha by Esha was born, but it was not until later that year, in December 2018, that Esha first sensed a real business opportunity. “I got a call from a participant in a local exhibition and she asked if I wanted to share a stall with her. At the time, I was making canvas bags and tie-and-dye totes, beach bags, etc.”
While Esha manned the stall and interacted with customers, her father and husband ensured that about 150 pieces of her trademark three-pocket Jacquard bags in various colours reached the exhibition…ready to be tested in the retail market. When the products were sold out within hours, they stood awestruck. “They were our bestsellers then, and they continue to be so even now,” says Esha.
The fabric behind the business
There’s nothing quite like pop-up shops that allows entrepreneurs to get a first-hand experience in their retail market and industry. “I had realised while I was doing my CA internship that I’m not someone who could spend an entire day in front of a laptop. I loved designing and being amidst people. Even today, people find it hard to believe that I have not learnt design as such. I have been learning on the go,” remarks Esha.
Initially starting with cotton pouches, the design entrepreneur slowly moved to canvas bags, and then to the Jacquard fabric. “It’s popularly used for home furnishing. Before the exhibition, I went to Delhi and saw these amazing products that people were making with Jacquard--cushion covers, throws, etc. I felt we could use this fabric for bags and I knew they would look amazing,” recalls Esha.
“After that exhibition, both my father and husband realised there was immense potential in this, and immediately joined the brand. If I look back to the origins of Maisha, it always goes back to the pop-up stall,” says Esha.
Today, Esha is ably supported in her venture by her father Nayan Shah, and her husband, Neel Vora.
Post that first stand-out exhibition, Maisha by Esha touched plenty of other milestones like establishing its own studio and launching a website amidst the pandemic.
Covid and a learning experience
“During Covid, people experimented a lot and started shopping for small, homegrown brands. Throughout the pandemic, we kept our Instagram community engaged. I started some do-it-yourself projects (DIY), which our audience could do, given everyone was at home. At the same time, we also informed our followers that we had stock. However, we didn’t know when we would be able to ship them,” she says.
“We did not even have cash-on-delivery (COD) at that time. Only prepaid orders could work, but since there was uncertainty about the shipping, we could not promise anything. We received over 100 orders at the time, purely through Instagram, even though people had no idea when they would receive their bags,” says Esha.
It was then that Esha and her team decided to bite the bullet and launch their website amidst the pandemic in May 2020.
There has been no looking back since, and the brand has even seen its social media presence grow by leaps and bounds.
“In May, we had less than 10,000 followers, and now we have over 200,000 on our Instagram community.”
The brand’s studio in Ahmedabad boasts a creative space where over 90 percent of inputs are used or upcycled. Some of the articles are over 70 years old and were lying in a run-down condition at a waste centre. Being big on sustainability, the brand also makes sure to utilise leftover cloth from bag-making and convert them into scrunchies and diaries.
“We don’t throw away anything. We even came up with table runners that are made entirely from leftover fabrics,” adds Esha.
Sustainability at every stage
Starting with bags, Maisha by Esha is now a lifestyle brand, which offers handcrafted and handmade products by local artisans using cotton, jute, and vegan leather.
The products, priced broadly between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,500, are designed in-house by Esha, and are made by local artisans, mainly women karigars. Besides being the Co-founder, Esha is also the Creative Director of the company.
“When we started, we had one karigar and one runner. Today, the team has increased to about 15 to 20 people. We also have artisans who work with us on a contractual basis," she says.
“During Covid, there was literally no work, but we made sure our artisans were paid a salary every month,” says Esha.
The brand also faced its share of challenges along the way. Starting with an initial investment of Rs 1 lakh, Esha admits it was initially very difficult to make a mark in an industry that was already captured by big players like Baggit, A Big Indian Story, and others.
“Being consistent with our communication, evolving with social media dynamics, and converting these challenges into opportunities have really helped,” says Esha, adding that the brand’s turnover is proof they have done something right.
“In FY20, our turnover was about Rs 70 lakh. In FY21, we managed a turnover of about Rs 2.9 crore. This year, our target is to reach about Rs 7 crore.”
From a pop-up stall to a full-fledged D2C brand with one physical outlet, the studio, what next for Esha? “We are soon coming out with our footwear collection–all made from vegan leather and Jacquard pattern. It’s going to be exciting,” signs off Esha.
Edited by Megha Reddy