Through undeniable talent and sheer hard work, these women have forged their own destinies
10/12/2018 12:54:40 AM
|written By : Nithya Subramanian|
They are artistic, innovative, enterprising and bubbling with positive energy. The five impressive women featured in our cover story this month come from different walks of life, but share a common trait – an enduring passion for what they do and a steely determination to succeed. Each one has followed her dreams, overcoming many obstacles along the way. That they have succeeded in establishing their brand equity in a foreign land – some within just a few years - speaks volumes for their talent and fortitude.
What further unites these dynamic women is that while they are all artistic in their endeavours, it is through innovation that they have become successful individuals in such a new and challenging environment.
Actor Daisy Irani, the senior-most among these formidable five, broke the glass ceiling to become one of the few Indians to make it big in the Singapore television industry while statuesque Anjali Venkat ingeniously reworked discarded shards of glass to create towering works of art that are much sought-after not only in Singapore and India but around the world.
Even on the fashion front, these women have left an indelible mark in a way that echoes the innovate insouciance of a marketing wunderkind. Ask the effervescent young Ranjana Saha from Assam and she will tell you how she used all the technology available to streamline her business while the soigné and soft-spoken Ruma Dass who hails from Calcutta stresses how quality control uncompromising attention to customer relationship management has been her key to success. Their attention to marketing fundamentals proves that making it big in the boutique business was not merely by channelling their inner diva.
In similar vein, Sweta Jain has mined a rich lode of marketing experience by working with her commodities trader father and equipping herself with a wealth of degrees that enabled her to start her own jewellery brand that is poised to capture the market.
Their stories are sure to be a source of inspiration to anyone who wishes to tread on the path of creativity and innovation.
All The Worldís Her Stage
Daisy Irani is one of the few NRIs who has broken into Singapore’s television scene by breaking the ‘Indian’ stereotype that existed here. She is loved for her comic timing and hilarious punch lines.
It is not uncommon to mistake her for a famous Bollywood child actress from the 1950s and 60s because they share the same name. But Daisy Irani, (no relation of her Bollywood namesake), is one of Singapore’s most-recognised Indian television artists thanks to her whacky performance as an advertising executive in ‘Under One Roof’ – a locally produced sitcom that ran for seven seasons.
Among the early wave of expats who came to Singapore in the 1990s, Irani made a mark for herself in television and theatre when barriers to entry were high. She is known to be the force behind the launch of a full-time extended channel for the Indian community (Vasantham) as well as a dedicated children and arts channel (Okto), which were both launched in October 2008.
The 58-year-old thespian has not only managed production for Mediacorp channels, but also ensured that through smart programming and business partnerships, the channels enjoyed high ratings, increased profitability and market penetration. Under her leadership, many shows and documentaries have also gone on to win accolades at various international festivals and television awards. Not one to rest on her laurels, Irani is now busy with her theatre company, HuM, which produces plays at regular intervals.
India Se: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what are some early memories?
Daisy Irani: Oh, I had a great childhood. That’s what I think. If you asked my school teachers, they would say I was the scourge of the school. If you asked my friends they would probably say I was a hoot. If you asked my mother she would say I was “a wild one”. And if you asked my Dad he would say I was an angel. Queen Mary School and St Xavier’s College in Bombay were fertile grounds for developing my positive but blunt attitude to life and theatre was where I got to express any residual energy I had left over.
India Se: When and how did you move to Singapore?
Daisy Irani: Love does strange things to us women. I just followed the man I loved little knowing where it would take me. First to Hong Kong and then in 1991 to Singapore where we dropped anchor and have never regretted it.
India Se: Breaking into the media space especially in television and drama can be difficult. How did you manage to break into the television and arts space here in Singapore?
Daisy Irani: The 1990s theatre and TV scene in Singapore came as a major blow to my expectations and I must admit, to my pride. Here I was a pedigreed actress of stage and screen thinking I could slip right into the industry. Whoa! I was in for a nasty surprise. The, then, Chanel 5 took one look at my resume and tossed it over to Vasantham, who in turn took one look at my face and obviously did not see a fit. The cultural barriers to entry were significant and seemed unsurmountable until Providence kicked in, as it always does. I was cast in the iconic “Under One Roof “as the Indian neighbour – Daisy. Well, they could not call me Letchumi so they played it safe and called me exactly what I looked like – Daisy. Once in, the well accepted Singaporean meritocratic system did the rest. The journey from being an actress to being a director, an executive producer, a juror at the International Emmys and, if I might pat myself on the back, a winner of six Asian Television Awards has been a joy.
India Se: You have also played an important role in getting the Singapore Government to launch two channels – one for Indians and the other for arts and children. Tell us about that process.
Daisy Irani: My first few years acting, directing and producing comedies for Mediacorp were transformational for me. It got me to comprehend, very clearly, the Singaporean ethos and what it meant to be a Singaporean. That was what generated the trust in the system to buy into the idea that I could design and launch a full form Vasantham channel for the Indian community despite the fact that I was not Tamil and did not speak a word of the language. My experience and interest in the performing arts and my sense for the comedic was also seen by the administration as being valuable to devising a channel for the arts and children.
India Se: What kind of challenges did you have to face? How did you overcome them?
Daisy Irani: Dealing with content that is directed to the minority groups, to the art aficionados and to children is fraught with political and cultural sensitivities. Navigating through this minefield and engineering a solution that passed the litmus test on all fronts was an extraordinary challenge. It meant being answerable to ministerial level interest, to the management of Mediacorp and to the audiences I was catering to. It was a wrestling match but I managed to deliver.
India Se: What prompted you to start HuM theatre? Your husband too is an actor and shares your passion. What is his contribution to this initiative?
Daisy Irani: I missed theatre. It has always been my passion. HuM Theatre came about because I wanted to work on content that I was intellectually aligned to. That’s the selfish reason. The selfless reason, is that I always felt that the diverse Indian community here was under represented in the theatre scene – not just in the matter of telling their stories but also in the matter of examining their transformation as immigrants. Subin (Subaiah), my husband, to my good fortune is a good partner in crime. He does as he is bid – he acts, he writes, he lights and he carries the props. And he does all of this quite well actually. Together we have tried to carry the voice of the Indians here through adaptations, folk tales and original scripts.
India Se: You were among the earlier lot of NRIs to come to Singapore. Today the number of expat Indians has grown tremendously, many of whom hold high positions. Do you think this has led to a rift between Singaporean Indians and the new Indians?
Daisy Irani: Indians have been migrating to Singapore for over 200 years. In that time, there was established here an Indian culture that, perhaps, was driven by certain cultural linkages to back home. These may have become a bit hard wired so when the new influx of Indians came about in the late 1990s some degree of confusion of identities emerged. I would not call it a rift between old and new but more a phase of building a sense of comfort in co-habitating as a single minority in Singapore.
India Se: How do you think this new group of Indians can integrate with the local community?
Daisy Irani: I think they already are. Much progress has been made in the last few years in building a rapport between the two. HuM Theatre played our part by surfacing and debating the issues in our very popular productions of “We Are Like This Only”. The National Integration Council and the National Arts Council were extremely supportive of these projects.
India Se: Tell us about your upcoming projects? What are your future plans?
Daisy Irani: My favourite project right now is called “From the Boat to the Pledge” which traces the journey of Indians into Singapore through the last 200 years. If I can get that done and done well I will move on to the next project.
India Se: Tell us a little about your family? What are your other interests and hobbies?
Daisy Irani: I am actively involved with the Rotary Club. My other interests are actually my family – my son JJ- the advertising exec, my daughter-in-law Ayesha – the legal eagle, my daughter Insha- the interior designer and my 18-year-old dog – Muggles the Beagle!
Six Yards Of Happiness
Rang Mantra is a fast growing apparel brand that focuses on sarees and lehengas. Meet its petite and young founder, Ranjana Saha, who hails from India and is now a resident of Singapore
There was a time not long ago, when most Indians in Singapore would have to wait to travel to India to buy quality sarees and lehengas for weddings and festivals. Now, thanks to brands like Rang Mantra, one can buy rich Kanjeeverams, delicate Chanderis and fanciful lehengas in the comfort of one’s own home. The Singapore-based online fashion company, prides itself in offering a wide variety of Indian clothes to suit all tastes and needs.
Ranjana Saha, an IT professional turned entrepreneur, believes she is a born fashionista. Therefore, when she was looking for start-up options, she noticed immediately the pent-up demand for upmarket Indian garments. Thus was born Rang Mantra. Three years on, her apparel company stocks a wide range of handloom collections from all across India, as well as designer wear.
India Se: Tell us a little about yourself
Ranjana Saha: Sometimes I think I was born for fashion. Even when I was five-years-old, I used to dress up for various school events and took pride in having the best outfit or making the biggest effort. I was brought up in a relatively conservative family and since my dad was in the police force, we had some strict rules at home when it came to dressing up. After my schooling at Oil India School, Dhuliajan (Assam), I did my graduation and then my Masters in Computer Science in Delhi. Throughout my student days I was admired for my style but I never dreamt of making fashion my profession and pursued a career in computers and IT. I worked at the National Cash Register in Delhi before moving to Bangalore to work in Fidelity Insurance.
India Se: What brought you to Singapore?
Ranjana Saha: My marriage brought me here. My husband, Prasun Saha, was then working at Deutsche Bank and I too worked here for a couple of years with local IT recruiting firms before our child, Samraat was born in 2012. I took a year-long maternity break and when I went back, I realised I was not able to give enough time to my little one which bothered me constantly. Prasun then suggested that I start something from home. After much discussion and trying out a few things, Rang Mantra just happened!
India Se: Could you tell us about the sarees and apparel that you sell?
Ranjana Saha: When we were discussing our start-up, my husband had many innovative ideas but I could only relate to clothes. Finally, after a year of market study, knowing who’s-who in the business and understanding the supply chain, Rang Mantra was incorporated in Singapore in 2015! Since then it has been a continuous evolution of my collections.
Rang Mantra today is an International e-boutique with a vintage charm. A perfect amalgamation of colours (“rang”), of ethnic fashion crafted by the most talented artisans from the weaving communities across India with the simplicity (“Mantra”) of a modern outlook.
In Rang Mantra, we work with weavers directly from almost all corners of India to get the best of the lot and we ship worldwide. It is not just a business but also an effort to help the weaver community to spread their talents worldwide and get recognized.
While Sarees and Lehengas are the two main product lines under the brand, we also have Indo-western dresses, kurtis, ready-made blouses etc. Rang Mantra stands apart from other similar business primarily on our transparent and FIXED pricing policy, FREE home delivery, our commitment towards high quality and, most importantly, our focus on the overall customer experience with proactive follow-ups and regular status updates to our customers.
Our customers are our asset and our brand ambassadors. Each buyer is a dear friend and a “diva”, irrespective of nationality, religion or language spoken.
India Se: Why did you choose to go the online route?
Ranjana Saha: We wanted to minimise our operational costs so that we could offer the best prices for high quality products to our customers. Going online was a strategic decision rather than investing in a boutique space in a commercial area. Also, e-commerce has a huge potential to reach out to the masses not only locally but internationally. Rang Mantra is an e-boutique so it has to be online but we do plan to have our flagship store sometime in the future. For now, customers can come to my home boutique in Balestier where I always keep in stock a collection of over 300 of sarees/lehengas.
Apart from our website, we have a Facebook page with 5K+ followers where I am always in touch with my customers. I am also available on WhatsApp at +65 91050132 and on email@example.com
India Se: What were some of the challenges that you faced as a woman entrepreneur? What role does your husband play in your business?
Ranjana Saha: I didn’t face any specific challenges as a woman but there were lots of other hurdles along the way. It was very discouraging when some of my close friends started businesses on similar lines, splitting the customers. But having overcome these obstacles, I have come to realise my own strengths and gained confidence to take on more challenges. I also had the support of my family and friends who stood by me in this journey.
My husband, Prasun, supported me initially in the administrative part, setting up the IT part and the media management part. Our www.rangmantra.com website was designed and developed in-house by him. He also developed an e-invoicing system, an automated order management utility and a dispatch tracker which has made my operations seamless. Prasun is also the official Data Protection Officer (DPO) of Rang Mantra, ensuring the customer’s personal data is well protected under Singapore’s PDPA enforcement.
India Se: Singapore is a small market, but there seems to be stiff competition in the apparel retail space. What keeps your brand apart from the others?
Ranjana Saha: Absolutely! Every day is a challenge especially in a market like Singapore which is small and where there are more than enough competitors. Over the last few years, we were able to set up a great procurement team, good administrators and a very good order management, dispatch and follow-up system. We have also taken brand Rang Mantra overseas. Apart from Singapore, India, Malaysia and Australia, I have regular orders from the US, UK and Europe and also from Dubai/Abu Dhabi. Our prices are kept reasonable and fixed to be fair with all our customers and the prices include home delivery anywhere within Singapore and India.
In Rang Mantra, we value each of our customers and acknowledge their patronage of our brand. The Rang Mantra Diva photo shoot initiative is one of a kind and is free for all our customers. We conduct two annual photo-shoot sessions and one fashion show, the details of which are available on our website. The next professional photoshoot is planned in November 2018 and RSVP is available on our website.
India Se: What are your future plans?
Ranjana Saha: I plan to make my mark not only in Singapore but also internationally promoting Indian Handlooms. I’d eventually like to have my own flagship store and to be stocked in various retail fashion stores and boutiques. I hope the Rang Mantra label will be recognised as a well established and reputable brand. Most importantly, I want Rang Mantra to be a successful business no matter how big or small it may be.
Thus far, I’ve made some really great professional friends by networking and participating in various events. I plan to continue and increase these social collaborations. From this year, Rang Mantra has started co-hosting Open House Sale events with other entrepreneur friends which has yielded very encouraging results. I plan to continue such Open Houses in different parts of Singapore and probably abroad to bring my collections closer to my customers.
India Se: Could you tell us a little about the current trends in women’s wear?
Ranjana Saha: My favourite fashion trend will always be, the saree. Fusion sarees is a new trend for women. In the handloom space, linens are back with a bang. And then there are majestic handlooms like the Kanjivarams, Muga, Benarasis, Ikkat, Paithani, Gadhwals etc which will always be trendy. Apart from these, hand painted sarees on pure silk are always in demand in Rang Mantra collections. I am proud to associate and work directly with artists from NIFT who design and hand-paint for my collections with incredible precision and quality.
India Se: Tell us a little about your family?
Ranjana Saha: My family has always been my life-line and support. We are a family of three. My husband is a banker and is currently working with BNP Paribas. My son is 5 years old will be going to primary school next year. We love watching children’s movies together, going out for adventurous sports, and barbeques. We also ensure we have dinner together every day.
India Se: What are your other interests and hobbies?
Ranjana Saha: Apart from my interest in fashion, I enjoy listening to music, cooking, travelling and spirituality.
A Glass Act
Inspired by nature, Anjali Venkat’s glass art is not only exquisite but also environmentally friendly – she mainly uses recyclable materials
Glass sculpting is a precison art. The slightest mistake or delay could burn your fingers. As celebrated American artist William Morris said, “Glassblowing is an animal unto itself. It requires skill, knowledge, physical strength and respect.”
In a brightly lit studio in the central part of Singapore, Anjali Venkat, is blowing the glass world away with art pieces that are unusual and quirky. She enjoys giving a new twist to ordinary things by incorporating unusual materials in her works. It could be by using a piece of shell or agate, upcycling old bottles, transforming repurposed wooden furniture or incorporating metal to make wearable art. And the results are mind blowing – shards of glass become a coral and teal glass sculpture in a bowl, glass bottles are transformed into beautiful planters and broken pieces into mosaics.
In a short span of five years, the 53-year-old artist who moved from Madras to Singapore to join her sea-faring husband, has become extremely popular here with her workshops and community iniatives.
India Se: What are some of the best childhood memories?
Anjali Venkat: My childhood was spent marvelling at the beauty of found objects, broken mirrors, and vibrant glass bangles. I spent hours on end gazing through kaleidoscopes, and staring at oil stains that reflected the colours of a rainbow. All this, and the opportunity to travel and experience the sights, colours, and crafts from around the world, led me to live the creative life.
My experiments with glass began when I was 10 years old, when I bent thin glass bangles over a candle flame, linking them together to make a curtain for my room. Practising more techniques since then, I began to work professionally with glass in 1994.
I have attended workshops in hot glass work at the Corning Museum of Glass, New York state, glass blowing at Oslo and learnt how to make Tiffany style lamps in Perth, Australia.
I am an Economics graduate but my heart has always been in art. I am trained in commercial art and used to design book jacket covers and carpets. I used to paint and in the beginning used the money from that to fund my glass working.
India Se: What brought you to Singapore?
Anjali Venkat: I moved to Singapore in July 2013, to join my husband, who runs a shipping company here.
India Se: How did you continue to pursue your passion here in Singapore?
Anjali Venkat: I moved to Singapore while running a glass working studio in Madras, India. I was initially a tad nervous about setting up a studio here but the people in Singapore have been very kind and my art has been appreciated.
I also spend a lot of my time conducting workshops with the community. I’ve conducted these at the Istana and in collaboration with schools and senior activityinentres.
As an artist, my objective is to spread the joy of working with glass, and the therapeutic effects of making mosaics. To see someone’s eyes light up when making a beautiful piece of art, or even when being introduced to new materials and possibilities, gives me a sense of joy and accomplishment.
India Se: How would you describe your artistic sensibilities? What is your creative process?
Anjali Venkat: My sense of art and design is eclectic. I like to incorporate the unusual into my work - to give a new twist to ordinary things.
The design process always starts with a flash of inspiration, be it a colour combination, a motif or the play of light and shadow forming patterns on a wall. I pay attention to the world around me and try to see things in new ways. My muse has always been nature and her many forms.
If I am making something to display in my studio my freewheeling imagination takes over. For a client, attention is paid to the brief - requirements in terms of style, design, colour and function.
The more I work with glass the more I am aware of the possibilities that can be achieved. Also, with time my design sensibilities have got refined and today I am more aware of it and work towards reusing, recycling and a more energy efficient method of work. My passion for our environment led me to use mainly discarded materials in my work too. I collect glass bottles, broken windows, and mirrors, and repurpose them into workable glass for my art. This discarded, post-consumer glass goes through a gruelling process of being cleaned, sorted, cut to shape, coloured, layered, melted in a kiln and then used to make art.
India Se: Glass is a difficult material to handle. Do you work every day?
Anjali Venkat: As with anything else there is no substitute for hard work and practice. Glass is a difficult medium to work with. It has a mind of its own and the challenge is to be able to control and manipulate the material to do what you want it to.
I travel quite a bit, but when in Singapore I’m at my studio every day. Even on weekends I end up teaching.
I work from 9.30am to 6pm but the mind is always dreaming up of new possibilities.
India Se: You have also mentioned that you like functional art. Why do you enjoy that so much? And can someone walk into your studio and purchase them?
Anjali Venkat: Yes! I love pieces of beauty that serve a purpose. Be it beautifully mosaic-laid tables, stained glass lamps, simple glass bowls etc. This has been my passion for the longest time. Of late I’m also thinking more in the abstract. I’ve had the opportunity to make some art pieces for hotels and commercial offices and the thought of depicting an idea or emotion in the abstract in glass excites me. It’s tough to do, but exciting.
Clients are most welcome to visit my studio, have a look-see, buy something or place an order, but I meet people only by appointment.
India Se: What does the future hold for you?
Anjali Venkat: I would love to continue learning new techniques in glass working and make more beautiful work.
Currently, I have an ongoing solo show in Madras, India. It’s called ‘Altereal – Dreaming in Glass’. The work depicts forms and the elements of nature as dreams in glass – offering every viewer a chance to discover their own interpretations.
I hope to make more meaningful art.
India Se: How supportive is your family in your artistic endeavours? How do you unwind?
Anjali Venkat: I am blessed to have a hugely supportive family. My husband, Venkat runs a shipping company here in Singapore. I have two boys - Shreyas is an engineer and works in New York and Ishan is a writer working here in Singapore.
My life revolves around my family. I love to travel, discover new places and read.
Style With Substance
A pioneer of sorts, Ruma Dass entered the fashion space 29 years ago with garments that are high on quality and taste
Not your typical aggressive marketeer, Ruma Dass believes that the quality of her clothes will speak for itself. As someone who set up Ruma’s Collection almost three decades, she has seen the retail landscape for Indian apparel change. But despite the stiff competition, her brand has held up on its own.
Learning the ropes of the textile trade from her father, Ruma lays great emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. Hard work and good work ethics have also stood her in good stead. No wonder she has three generations of happy customers!
India Se: Tell us a little about yourself – your childhood, education and formative years.
Ruma Dass: I grew up in Calcutta in a middle-class family and I’m the second of three sisters. All of us studied in a prestigious school in the city and were given the freedom to pursue our own interests. My father owned a well-known textile business and I’m the only one among my siblings who was keen on learning the ropes of the business from my father. Soon after Class X, while I was still in high school, I started working under his guidance . My father noticed I was interested in learning, however he didn’t make it easy for me: I was told I could begin training there but only if I was prepared to take it seriously. I learnt the business from scratch, starting at the bottom and this turned out to be an invaluable learning experience, something that continues to help me conduct my business even today.
India Se: When and how did you come to Singapore?
Ruma Dass: I met my husband while I was still in college in Calcutta. His family was based in Singapore, so after we got married, I moved in 1989.
India Se: What prompted you to start your own boutique? Could you talk about the apparel that is available in your store and how these are unique?
Ruma Dass: Even though I always wanted to start my own business, I hadn’t planned on doing it so early. However, when the opportunity came along I grabbed it and started selling clothes from my house. As the business grew, it was obvious that I had to shift from home. My husband also encouraged me to have a store of my own and helped me find this place. That was almost three decades back.
There’s a wide range of choices in clothes and accessories in our store – from contemporary tunics and Indo-Western outfits to traditional Salwar Kameezes in cottons, silks, chiffons and other fabrics. We believe in fashion for everyone; the cuts and silhouettes we store suit different body types; fresh stocks are added regularly and we have special ranges for festive and wedding seasons, for both ladies and young girls. There are dressy bags and clutches, along with beautiful costume jewellery. And it helps that the prices are extremely reasonable. The staff is knowledgeable and always ready to give suggestions.
India Se: You chose to have a brick and mortar retail store while also selling online. Unlike many others, why is it important for you to have a physical store?
Ruma Dass: When I started out, online businesses were unheard of. Our steadfast loyal clientele – some of whom have been regulars from the time the store opened – prefer to visit the store. Sometimes we even see three generations of women from a family come to shop. Even while placing orders online, customers often opt to pick up their purchases at the store. I guess most people still like to try the clothes on, feel the fabric, before taking them home.
India Se: What were some of the challenges that you have faced as a woman entrepreneur and how did you overcome them? What role does your husband play in your business?
Ruma Dass: I must say I’ve been lucky that I have had support from everyone – family, friends, business partners. Of course, there have been challenges, but I’ve managed to tide over the difficult times due to sheer hard work, strict ethics and maintaining a certain standard of quality and craftsmanship. Also, when it comes to Indian ethnic wear, it helps being a woman since my clientele is all women.
My husband is a pilot, and he is ever encouraging. He has been a great support, especially when I was setting up the business.
India Se: You entered the business in the early 1990s, and so have a head start over others. But, what keeps your brand apart from others?
Ruma Dass: We have thrived on quality, and we have survived on service.
In the 29 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve had only one quality related problem: a batch of Salwars was found to be defective. Instantly, we recalled the product and exchanged it. Till this day, we haven’t had a single complaint after that. Quality, I firmly believe, sells. Many customers say, they have really old things from Ruma’s that still look great, so they can’t throw them away!
Location is always important. Ours was not in the middle of the Indian milieu, which was a challenge. Yet, being in a mall had certain advantages. Back then, Thomson Plaza used to offer free parking, and that would help bring in shoppers. The first MRT line had just opened, and we were in close proximity of Bishan and Ang Mo Kio stations, again an advantage. However, we had to work extremely hard to build our clientele, have a steady customer base cutting across different backgrounds and ethnicities.
The market in Singapore is not vast, and there’s always competition, but we have done well and are looking forward to new things. There’s plenty of growth prospects, I think, now especially with the online world opening up. We are on Facebook (Ruma’s Collection), and Instagram(@rumas.singapore), and our online store is going live soon.
India Se: What are your future plans, where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Ruma Dass: We’re keen to access the online space and find a niche there. One part of that is, of course, to develop a digital platform for Ruma’s, offering all the features and conveniences that resonate with the online shopper. The other aspect, equally important, is to understand and effectively use digital media for communications and advertising. Social media has disrupted the market. We’re focusing on this, reaching out to the customer in new and different ways. It’s an exciting time to be in retail and we’re busy negotiating this transformation.
In the future, just as before, we hope to bring fashion with quality and value to our customers.
India Se: Could you tell us a little about the current trends in women’s wear?
Ruma Dass: At Ruma’s Collection, we’ve always been guided by our customers’ preferences and perception of fashion. Our collections are often a step or two ahead in terms of trend, but that is also because our clientele is open to the latest ideas and silhouettes. At present, I’d say flowing lines are in, in not so bold colours. A little less bling perhaps, though a touch of it is still very much in style, especially for evening wear. Confidence and authenticity are emphasised. Women are expressing both their sensitivity and strength. And of course, an escape to the fanciful once in a while. Who can resist that!
India Se: Tell us a little about your family?
Ruma Dass: My husband is a pilot, and at the moment, stationed abroad. We have three children, two girls and a boy. Both my daughters live and work overseas. My son is in university in the US. We’re very fond of animals and we have two dogs right now. Naturally, as we are all scattered across the globe these days, we look forward to holidays together. Thankfully, we do manage to have at least one, if not two, every year. It’s wonderful to have the children home over vacations and term breaks.
India Se: What are your other interests and hobbies?
Ruma Dass: Ever since I can remember, I wanted to run a business of my own. Though I hadn’t planned on starting so early – I was in my early twenties at the time – but an opportunity came along, and I jumped in. It’s been almost 29 years now, and I must say, I feel I am still learning, still gaining new insights every day. Now there’s this whole new digital world to explore, it truly intrigues me, and I am keen to understand it - I am taking an online course, actually, at the moment. The fact that I love Maths may have something to do with it too. As for other interests, I enjoy solving puzzles, and I spend a lot of time playing Sudoku and other problem solving games. I am also very fond of sketching. I am an avid movie watcher, and rarely miss a film that I’d like to see. Friends are important to me and I like travelling and visiting new places.
A Diamond In The Making
Business runs in her family, but young entrepreneur Sweta Jain is adding more sheen to it by setting up her own jewellery line. Her elegant pieces seek to make a woman feel empowered.
Shattering the common myth that jewellery is only a means of adornment, young entrepreneur Sweta Jain believes in celebrating the power and strength of women through jewellery.
The 28-year-old Singaporean who has recently launched Boudica Jewellery believes that every woman is born with strength and her jewellery encapsulates the spirit of the British folk hero, Boudica, herself. Her pieces are modern – made of gold, diamonds and coloured gemstones - to suit the tastes of young modern women, reflecting Jain’s own style sensibilities.
Although very passionate about jewellery and an expert in gems thanks to her training at Gemmological Institute of America (GIA), she is also greatly interested in branding and product development and is confident that Boudica Jewellery will become popular among discerning women all around the globe.
India Se: You moved to Singapore as a child. Tell us a little about your childhood and formative years.
Sweta Jain: I have been living in Singapore from the age of 4. I studied in Anglo Chinese School International School and completed a Business Management Degree at the Singapore Management University. During my teenage years I discovered my passion for jewellery and decided to pursue it further at the headquarters of Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) in the USA where I trained to be a certified gemmologist and jewellery designer for a year. I spend a lot of my time on art and creativity and if I were to describe myself as a child I would say - fun loving, jovial, artistic, creative and always-up-for-a-challenge girl.
India Se: Your family runs a commodity trading business, but you chose a slightly different path. What got you interested in the jewellery business?
Sweta Jain: I’ve seen my father work as a commodity trader and it was very fascinating but the creative side of me flourished when I took up a jewellery design course at the jewellery school in Singapore, JDMIS. Initially I took the course to fulfil my artistic desires but never did I think that I would absolutely fall in love with it. I couldn’t stop designing from that day.
India Se: Your brand has a very interesting name – Boudica Jewellery. How did you choose that?
Sweta Jain: I have a lot of respect for women that are able to influence and make a lasting impact on people around them, my mother being one of them.
Another such woman was Boudica. She was the queen of modern-day East England during the Roman era. She successfully led armies to victory across several regions and is regarded as a British folk hero till today. Boudica Jewellery aspires to encapsulate her spirit of a powerful women in every jewellery piece so that when a woman wears a Boudica jewel she feels strong, confident and empowered to take on the world.
India Se: Tell us a little about your designs. What inspires you?
Sweta Jain: I am very receptive to the environment around me. From architecture, nature and fashion to shapes, angles and even shadows. The inspirations are interpreted into a modern, abstract, timeless jewel a woman can use to showcase her unique identity.
India Se: Tell us about your artisans and how hands on are you in the entire process?
Sweta Jain: I create Boudica Jewels alongside extremely talented and experienced engineers and craftsmen. Every piece requires me to be completely hands on as there are many technicalities and ways of engineering the smallest details to make the design come alive in the most beautiful way. From start to finish, it is a very rigorous and comprehensive process.
India Se: The jewellery business is very competitive. So how do you distinguish yourself from others?
Sweta Jain: Every jeweller has his own strengths. I believe the strength of Boudica Jewellery is in its ability to give any woman an edge and individualistic identity while ensuring she is fashion-ramp ready.
India Se: What are some of the challenges that you faced as a woman entrepreneur? Do you seek advice from your father?
Sweta Jain: Looking back, it has been a very long journey and there have been challenges at every stage. The biggest challenge was not having a family jewellery background so the entire infrastructure and process had to be set up from scratch. It also took me a year to find excellent craftsmen with great finesse and quality. I would say I overcame each challenge because of my own immense love and passion for jewellery and determination to succeed. My parents have been significant pillars of support in this journey, continuously encouraging and believing in me. I do seek their advice and thoughts before making strategic decisions.
India Se: What are your future plans, where do you see yourself in the coming years?
Sweta Jain: I envision Boudica jewellery will be accessible to women worldwide through its own stores, yet with a strong ethos of understanding every customer and providing them with the highest level of service and satisfaction.
India Se: You also have founded a snack brand - ‘VIT Activated Cashew’ - that is currently retailing in Singapore. How did that come about?
Sweta Jain: I am very fond of branding and product development and love to take on new opportunities. While I was working with my father, I wanted to take the cashew processing factories a step further to create a retail snack brand. We developed a unique healthy product called ‘Activated Cashews’ where the nuts undergo a sprouting process that significantly increases nutrient absorption in our bodies. It is now retailing in many flavours like truffle, caramel and Sriracha in Singapore and online like RedMart and Lazada.
India Se: Tell us a little about your family? What are your other interests and hobbies?
Sweta Jain: My father is the founder of a commodities trading company, Valency International and also the president of the Marwari community in Singapore. My mother is a homemaker and also my personal motivator. My older sister is a senior commodity trader and lives with her husband in Yangon, Myanmar (the land of rubies!).
In other interests, I am very big on art and dance and in my spare time you will find me at art exhibitions, painting or Latin/swing dancing. I am also very interested in women entrepreneurship and charitable causes that I am constantly looking to support.
India Se: Where can our readers view your jewellery?
Sweta Jain: I am very excited about the launch of my brand at Jeweluxe Singapore from the October 17-21, at the Tent at Ngee Ann City. For private viewing or customisation, they can reach me through my website at www.boudicajewellery.com