“My visits to artisan and cultural centres when I travel within India motivates me deeply. Every state has a nook & corner with something completely special. The skill, materials, and the kind of motifs artisans work on across India are so spectacularly unique that I'm inspired about the possibilities of using these skills in interiors or homes and about how we can bring these fabulous skills back into our lives,” shared Shibani Jain.
Extremely determined, a “Never give up” attitude, driven with strong lateral thinking skills & an analytical breakdown of ideas, knowing it’s all in the details, Shibani Jain leads her décor brand, Baaya Design in roles of Founder & CEO.
Her compelling story began with an opportunity to work in the multi-media space, she had just graduated from the prestigious National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and was offered a role in multimedia design with a Tata Group Company as Head of Design. It was a time of significant growth in Shibani’s career.
After an over 6-year stint at a Tata Group Company, she was struck by an existential question, “Is there more to life?” This spurred her on to launch a dot com in the craft sector, namely CraftsBridge.com, influenced and actively encouraged by one of her Professors at NID, Professor Ranjan, who was actively working with artisans of India and encouraged his students to think about the craft sector.
Incubated by a Tata Group Company, this venture lasted for over 7-8 years. After Craftsbridge.com, Shibani took a break for a couple of years and during this time conceptualised Baaya with the intent of bringing artisanal skills into modern living & interiors. She navigated through a long journey, faced many challenges, found her path and today, she is glad she stayed the course, having reached a sound place of recognition & reward.
In a conversation with The CEO Magazine, Shibani shared about her brand, challenges, leadership, and much more. Edited excerpts:
Shibani: The change that I am bringing with my brand Baaya today, is helping my customers connect with their own identities, with what India has to offer, with what their own culture has to offer and helping them take joy in art and to integrate art into every aspect of their lives because I believe that art can motivate, art can sustain, art can redefine many things, about how we look at ourselves, our surroundings and how we relate with others as well.
Shibani: Yes, as a woman, sometimes, there is a challenge of acceptance. Often on-site, when dealing with carpenters, skilled labourers, and even artisans who are mostly men, it is difficult for them to take you seriously.
I’ve always been very strong in my communications and have done so with conviction and that helped me navigate through these challenges and being accepted in the professional world of Interiors and working with artisanal groups and on-site work.
Shibani: With CraftsBridge, which was supposed to be a dot com when the dot com bust happened, we tried doing too many things. From exports, corporate gifting, some amount of local garment manufacturing, to local retail selling, these distinct directions in themselves were difficult to do justice to and we should have simply narrowed it to one or two verticals and focused on building that. That is one thing that I can say I could have avoided as an entrepreneur if I'd known better but of course this is all wisdom in retrospect.
Shibani: So, we are probably one of the very few design companies working with indigenous skills and indigenous artisanal skills and bringing them in a contemporary way into modern-day markets to the customers whose access to these skills have never been there the way we have offered them at Baaya. What I mean is a customer can walk in, get access to several different artisanal skills, we can design it for them in such a way that it makes sense in their interiors. This is a very special USP that we have.
Shibani: The team was built as the business grew. With a focus on growth, over the last year, we have established multi-disciplinary teams with strong capabilities in their respective areas. Whether it is delivery, design, production, project sales or experience centre management, all of these have come under specialized teams that look at each of these areas.
Shibani: I'm very proud of the fact that we truly work with grassroots artisans and are authentic in our representation of the crafts and how we bring those skills to modern-day homes.
I'm also very proud of our design achievements. We've won several awards over the years and very recently were honoured with this years’ ‘India's Best Design Projects’ award by the IBDA. This has only come to us because we are so conscious about quality, consistency, detailing and the creative process.
Shibani: Success, to me, is to see my vision that I set out to do, through to its fruitful culmination. And I see this happening day by day. We see the market is awakening to what we offer, the prospects of what we do, and we feel that people are truly beginning to recognize that we are creating something truly unique, spectacular & artful in their interiors.
Shibani: After each breakthrough, we ask, “What are the learnings?” “What did we do right?” “What did we do wrong?” “What was exciting to do and how can we do it better?”
We also continuously improve our breakthrough work. For instance, when we work with processes like copper enamelling, we are continuously evolving, implementing newer and newer ideas, adding bigger and bigger skills and newer processes when working with the same crafts. The question that we ask is, what more can we do with that breakthrough?
Shibani: We are scaling up the business. We have set up two experience centres already in Mumbai and are looking at setting up more experience centres in India. We are also targeting the exports market.
We have already started to create a range for the exports market called ‘The Uday Project’ which is in collaboration with Italian designer Mario Gagliardi. We would like to showcase the possibilities of using our artisans’ skills in creating furniture & lighting in international forums.
Shibani: I would tell a woman, it’s hard to handle home and the workplace. At the same time, don’t give up. Focus on your career and manage the two seamlessly to eventually be a leader.
A leader can give a vision, a standard, and raise the bar. Unless we raise the bar in our own lives, we will find it a challenge to keep raising the bar at work. That’s why I say, never give up on your career or your profession and keep at it.
Shibani: Yes, I believe in giving back to society because I believe, we are blessed to have professional educated backgrounds, disposable incomes, and privilege of many other comforts. One form of giving back is working with the artisans who are preserving our age-old skills and creating a difference in the lives of artisans by bringing innovation in the handicrafts segment particularly for interiors.