Thank you to all those who responded to our freelance opportunity ad! We will start sifting through the responses today and will be in touch if there is a good match. As you know, it’s summer here in the US and everything has shifted into s-l-o-w mode. We have been revisiting some posts and articles from our archives all through summer, and today, I want to share the story of Lai Designs and Puja Bhargava Kamath. I love reading about the person behind the brand and a chance to get to know what inspires and drives them. Plus it’s always great to hear everyone’s entrepreneurial tips! Lai Designs have a new collection out, the Nilaj(a) collection that we featured that in our July issue. It’s crafted with silver and lapis lazuli and is a must for every indigo-lover!
Puja Bhargava Kamath almost went to medical school but a graduate course in Accessory Design from NIFT at New Delhi led to a career in jewelry design. “I had taken the NIFT entrance exam for fun & when I went for the final round of the interview, I fell in love the BV Doshi-designed campus & felt I really had to be there! It sounds like a really silly criteria to base such a big decision on but I didn’t realize the impact of that decision on my life at that point. Also I’m blessed to have parents who believed in letting us make our own decisions & doing what really interested us versus following the herd. So there I was, a quasi-geeky kid wandering into the amazing world of art & design…..quite by chance really!” She grew up in New Delhi and later moved to the San Francisco Bay area via Bengaluru, India.
“Being a free spirited soul and a bit of an adventurer, I opted to work as a freelance designer, rather than join a company. This gave me an opportunity to work across various sectors while I zeroed in on my true passion. During this time, I supplemented my knowledge in jewelry by studying Gemology. I designed fine jewelry for a number of leading national & international jewelry houses, dabbled in heritage properties & interiors (Neemrana group), designed bags under my own label and worked extensively in the handicrafts sector, traveling the length & breadth of the country to work with different artisan groups. It was a rather chance meeting at Fabindia that actually led me to turn into an entrepreneur from a designer.” Fabindia commissioned Puja to design and produce a collection for them and the rest is history. Lai Silvery Jewelry as an independent brand was born. Focusing and combining her three big passions, i.e. traditional craft, jewelry and history, Puja designed jewelry for the contemporary woman- inspired by cultures around the world, accessible yet heirloom quality and handcrafted. She held exhibitions and shows as well as retailing online via Facebook, relying on word of mouth to get the word out. “In terms of challenges, the biggest one at the moment is the divide between where I live (USA) & where our operations are (India). This did take a toll on our work and coordinating across time zones with my production team and our logistical partners took a lot of operational tweaking till we were able to get up and running. My mother jumped in to help & is handling the everyday office issues in Delhi (India). While we have a patchwork solution going on, we know that we still have some fixing to do.” …“the accomplishment and goal for Lai would be to continue to come up with exciting designs based on the best art the world has to offer. We also want to revive & rejuvenate some lost jewelry making techniques & hope to introduce our clients to all the various regional skills in jewelry making as we possibly can.” There are plans to extend the Lai aesthetic into other items such as textiles, bags and home decor items and maybe, not too far into the future, a store. “Given our nomadic life right now, I just want to keep things really flexible & focus on our wholesale & online sales and as far as other projects go, I’m currently trying to build a crowd-sourced databank and online archive of traditional Indian jewelry pre-1970s. The project is called ‘Indian Jewelry Project’ (IJP) and we can be found on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ijponline) and this is something that I’m really keen to grow!” Collaborations and new designs are all in the works and you can keep updated on Lai Silver Jewelry’s happenings and products at their website.
Puja’s tips and advice to all entrepreneurs:
(1.) Love what you do!! That’s the only way you will find the passion, conviction, perseverance and guts that you will so need in your journey as an entrepreneur!
(2) Build a support system- take help & discuss ideas with people whose judgment you absolutely trust. You don’t have to look too far. In my case, my mother looks after the affairs in our Delhi office & my husband offers the best business consultation (it also helps that he can take awesome photographs & write a mean copy)!
(3) There are fantastic small business-related tools available on-line (mostly free)- from inspiring reads, understanding social media, marketing, photo editing to accounting tools. Please use them!
Images credit and copyright: Lai Designs.