“It’s a great time for women entrepreneurs of our country to give wings to their ideas.”

Establishing her own business, was a matter of pride for Gina Joseph, Founder and Chief Designer, Zola India She shares “Zola India is a culmination of my creative ideas about jewellery/wearable art. It draws from my many inspirations and appreciation of art, architecture and culture of India; the vibrant colours, textures and rich cultural heritage”.

Labeling herself part crafts revivalist and part jewellery designer, she collaborates with rural and folk artisans across India to give their art a new lease of life through a contemporary form and expression. “With each piece of Zola, you wear thousands of years of history, folklore and experiences and stories of artisans from rural India,” she ensures.
Another feather in her cap – she was recently selected as one of the 15 entrepreneurs in the Milestone Maker’s India program, organized by Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center and Startup India.

Here’s what she has to say:

Q. How did the idea of becoming an entrepreneur strike you in the beginning? How has the journey been?

I did my graduation in Visual Communication 10 years ago from Loyola in Chennai. I started off my career in advertising and then I was a journalist for about 5 years and then was part of the corporate world for 2 years and always been an appreciator of art. I did not have any specific training in jewellery design; it was more of a hidden passion that surfaced at the right time in my life. I think the literature is very important when you venture into anything creative. I took a break from work and did an Arts Management program from Dakshinachitra in Chennai; before that I had a peripheral knowledge about art. I appreciated art but did not the fine details about a painting or sculpture. So, while doing this program, as part of my Indian art project I created my first three pieces of jewellery. I was very fascinated by the temple women in Indian sculpture, that is the salabanjikas (tree huggers), madanikas and yakshis (goddesses of fertility) so I got them carved in wood and put it together with semi precious stones. The concept was ‘to wear a piece of history on you’. If not for what I had been exposed to in my Indian art, western art, temple architecture and cultural studies classes I wouldn’t have been able to start Zola and make it what it is today. Am very much an accidental entrepreneur who happened to meet the right people at the right time and that’s how Zola came into being.
It’s been a great journey with it’s share of ups and downs and learnings. Zola has got a overwhelming response in the country and few places internationally too and I foresee a bright and long road ahead for the brand and for me as an entrepreneur too.

Q. Could you tell us about the challenges faced by you?

The jewellery sector is a very competitive one and to make a mark for myself and build Zola as a strong brand will take time. When I started Zola, there was no mantra that I had planned out, I just focused on giving it my 100 percent and bringing in rural crafts into jewellery design was a new concept which got people interested. In the past year there have been instances where I’ve found exact copies of my work by ‘designers’, calling them out eats into my time and work.

To keep my Zola wearers interested for more, I keep exploring new arts and crafts and see how can give it a new lease of life in the form of jewellery. After all it’s ;s more fun to wear a piece of art on you than hanging it on the walls of your house!

My biggest supporters are my customers, most of whom I can call friends today. They have not only encouraged me with each collection but also are my strongest critiques and that pushes me to my creative best every time. Most of them who started off with buying 1 piece of Zola, today own over 10 and that’s the best kind of support and love any artist can get. Always grateful!

Q. Do you think the current business scenario encourages women entrepreneurship?

It’s a great time for women entrepreneurs of our country to give wings to their ideas. From a market perspective, there is a demand for something new and innovative on a regular basis and if one can feed that need and maintain it, you have a bright future ahead. There are various programs/ organisations and grants that back women entrepreneurs these days and if you have an idea that you believe will yield returns, give it your all and take the plunge.

Q. How do you handle competition?

There are many designers across the globe whose work I look up to and be inspired. The key for Zola so far has been to come up with something fresh and innovative that grabs the attention of our current and future customer base. When I conduct workshops in rural parts of India, I completely cut off from my city life and people. Complete focus on the craft, material, artisans ideas and the history behind it and my surroundings, shape each and every piece that comes out by the end of it. There are many hardships but I thoroughly enjoy the process and wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

I think that is my USP for Zola and that’s what makes each collection stand out and so loved by people. There will always be competition, but focusing on our craft and customer needs has helped Zola reach great heights.

Q. What are some strengths that a woman entrepreneur should possess?

I wouldn’t answer this just for women entrepreneurs but every entrepreneur out there, these are primarily mapped from my own journey and experiences.

• Be passionate about your ambition and ideas and give your 100 percent to it.
• It’s not necessary to have it all figured out when you start off, I did not even have a business plan till over a year in the business.
• Keep yourself busy and see how you can better your product or service everyday
• Be patient and don’t rush yourself and others, there is always a better impact on your business when things are done with patience and perseverance
• Listen to each and every customer and take criticism more seriously than compliments. The feedback you get on your work is important for your brand’s journey ahead.
• Be hard on your opinions and stand by them. if you believe in something do not let someone bully you or your ideas down.
• Be intellectually rigorous and challenge yourself with something new on a regular basis. Having an active body and mind is the key to new learnings
• Be positive and do what you can to spread that positivity around, with your team, customers, and people around.
• Respect people who have lesser power than you. Some of my best ideas and dialogues have happened with people who I had nothing to do with my business, but being open and receptive to them gave me some great professional insights
• Don’t panic. In a situation of crisis, try not to panic and try and solve it in a calm and peaceful way. panic only leads to chaos.
Q. What are your future plans?

Zola India revives age-old arts & crafts by creating a decentralized network of local talent across rural India. Zola India creates sustainable livelihoods by preserving India’s heritage, discovering new forms of expression and sharing it in the form of wearable art to the world.

Taking this forward, we one day want to create a global network of local talent that come together to create wearable are for women and men across the globe; each piece narrating a story of the craft, artisan and centuries of history behind it.

Q. What advice would you have for someone starting out new?

Believe in yourself and your ideas. Be open to criticism and learning something new everyday from people around you. Be patient and keep giving your best, the world will surely take notice!

(As told to Shree Lahiri)

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