[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Meet Aparna Thyagarajan, an engineer who built an ethnic wear brand

In a conversation with HerStory, Aparna Thyagarajan, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Shobitam, talks about her journey of starting up.

[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Meet Aparna Thyagarajan, an engineer who built an ethnic wear brand

Friday March 03, 2023,

4 min Read

Aparna Thyagarajan is the Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Shobitam, a startup that makes Indian ethnic fashion accessible globally. An engineer by education, she designed her first clothing when she was 12-years-old. 

“It was during this time that I would do a lot of DIY stuff. I was fascinated by fabrics and different art forms. For my sister’s second birthday, I wanted to do something special for her so I took some leftover fabric and made a dress for her. It turned out to be good. The feeling was very empowering, it was something that I could do with my hands. And most of my clothes would stand out,” says Thyagarajan in a conversation with HerStory

Apart from following her passion for fashion and making dresses, she also went on to do her engineering and worked for Microsoft for 10 years. But the passion for design and making clothes followed her all the way to the US, where she moved after her marriage. 

“When you move abroad, the feeling of bonding with your roots and country is even stronger. We found that ethnic fashion was a big way to tie back to the roots. During a casual conversation, Shobitham was born,” says Thyagarajan. 

But this is where technology played a significantly role. While there are multiple players in the space, she realised the space was fragmented and crowded, and technology could be a great differentiator. 

“A person sitting in Australia is able to order a saree and other value-added services like fall stitching, blouses, etc. We are tying up with weavers and artisans across India, where the team works with them on designs that are global,” adds Thyagarajan. 

During one of the family dinners, she put out the idea of starting an Indian ethnic fashion brand that would cater to the demands emerging from outside India. The family’s excitement and belief in her idea made her more confident, and she started Shobitam in March 2019 along with her sister Ambika. The sister duo is currently based out of the US. 

She started by selling 15 sarees, and in just two years, Shobitam is shipping products to over 30 countries. The brand has witnessed over 300 percent annual growth in the last two years, and had an annual turnover of Rs 9 crore in FY 21. It has more than 1,000 products listed on its website, and is featured as one of the top stores on Etsy, she claims.

Shobitam is also empowering the artisan community across India—from Sozni in Kashmir to Chikankari in Uttar Pradesh, Dabu in Rajasthan, Ikkat in Odisha, Moiran Phee in Manipur, Pen Kalamkari in Kerala, and more. It is associated with over 340 weavers and artisans across 16 cities in India.  

Both the founders are women so are focused on empowering women in the journey. “Being women entrepreneurs is always harder, because you have to always balance work and family life. For men it is easier as they believe the women counterparts will take care of the domestic affairs, but women don’t have that choice,” says Thyagarajan. 

She adds this is where the support system plays a large role. Whenever the challenges are presented, the confidence levels help. Thyagarajan says being independent and confident from day one has given the confidence to deal with the challenges. 

“Today, there are more women leaders—whether it is business partners or people I deal with there are more women leaders. This brings ease and working towards our journey,” she says. 

Advising all women leaders, Thyagarajan says, always follow your passion. 

“We have been in the tech space, and we benefited from it, but we had our creative passion. I was in my 40s when we wanted to start something of my own. So, follow your passion. It is never too late. Once you set your foot out there and have the confidence, the universe will help you,” she says. 

Edited by Megha Reddy