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In continuation of our series on women entrepreneurs, who have started afresh and are not part of an established family business, here is another dynamic lady, Ms. Neha Dewan, a civil engineer by education who has founded Ahmedabad’s first studio of natural dyes and prints – Advitiya. While studying, she found out that her interest lies in creative things. She never took up any job related to her training as a civil engineer.
Rather, she had worked in the hospitality industry for a little less than a decade till she became a mother. She decided to take a break to look after her bundle of joy which is normal practice if one is living in a nuclear family. This was the time of introspection and to think about how to move ahead in her career under the new responsibilities. It was during her days of being “a stay-at-home mom”, the idea of being her own boss and the associated freedom to work at her own pace started resonating again and again. She found it doable as it can be done around with her son’s routine, which was her priority.
Let us find out from Neha, about her journey as an entrepreneur.
Neerja – Welcome to the blog Neha. Since you decided to start your own enterprise and you already had experience in the hospitality industry, how did you start a clothing brand and not something from the vast hospitality industry which includes lodging, food and drinks service, event planning, theme parks, travel, and tourism?
Neha: I always enjoyed designing my own clothes and have always received compliments for that. So, starting a clothing brand came to me naturally. It was August 2013 when a friend who was curating an exhibition offered me a stall. I jumped on to the offer and there was no looking back after that. And Advitiya was born. Let me tell you that I have named my enterprise after my son’s name. So in a way, my both babies are – Adivitiya, which means Unique.
Neerja – That is really a smooth transition Neha. By the way, the name “Advitiya” is so apt. Starting a new business with almost nil family support, how did things work for you? Actually, these starting times are tough for any new businesswoman. How did it go for you?
Neha: My initial days of struggle were just like any other working mother. Managing a baby and a nascent business is tough, more so in a nuclear family and with no secure social system of baby care, it is definitely tougher. Hence, I took it slow and just participated in weekend exhibitions and limited that to my city only. This went on till about 2 years. I had to take a sabbatical from my business twice. 1st in 2015 and then in 2019 due to family reasons. I believe that this is the biggest struggle that a woman has to go through when she has to choose between work and family. Unfortunately, most of us end up choosing the latter.
Neerja: Advitiya is said to be an ethical and responsible business enterprise. Please elaborate on this for our readers.
Neha – We design and manufacture all our products consciously and ethically. Slow, ethical, zero waste, sustainable are not just words that we use, but are the values that we abide by. Along with clothing, we also make home decor products and accessories. We make accessories as a part of our zero waste initiative and hence they are sold as a limited edition. While planning to make any product, all of this is considered.
Neerja – This is so wonderful and thoughtful Neha. It is good to see that you have started your enterprise on such values. Tell us something more about your initiatives.
Neha: I stopped using factory-produced synthetic fabrics in 2015 after I learned how harmful they are to the environment. Since then, I have majorly procured the fabrics directly from artisans from various parts of the country.
We emphasise on fashion that is timeless and trendless that people can wear anytime they want. We take into consideration the fact that the end life of our product do not add to the alarming carbon footprints.
Neerja: You have been in the business for the last 7-8 years. How do you rate yourself as a success?
Neha: The barometer of my success is that I have been able to retain my customers even after taking sabbaticals. When my customers tell me that they have been wearing ADVITIYA for so many years now and they still don’t feel like parting with it, I sense success.
Neerja: In these times of online business, you have opened a studio in a popular shopping complex. Tell us about the studio you have opened recently.
Neha: I have recently opened my studio which is Ahmedabad’s 1st Natural Dyeing studio. For 2 years now, as a brand, we have shifted completely towards natural dyes and prints. I started learning this art almost 2 years back from various artists across the globe and am still learning. All the products are hand-dyed and printed by me at our studio. I plan to hold workshops so that people can learn and practice this art and more people choose sustainability over fast fashion.
Neerja: As you are scaling your business, it will be great, if you can share your business strategies.
Neha: Our business strategy is the same as our values. Most of our products are made to order, hence we have low inventory which helps us to keep our dead stock in check and we try to use all the leftover fabrics to make our limited edition products. We want to make more people buy sustainable and eco-friendly products by offering them a choice in fashion as well as lifestyle.
Today, the struggle is bigger and wider. We are a slow fashion and lifestyle brand and people are addicted to fast fashion that is cheap and available easily. It’s a long and difficult path but I am sure we will be able to achieve it someday with consistently good work and patience.
Neerja: “Women support women” is a popular jargon. What do you think about it?
Neha: Definitely, supporting women should be an ideal situation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you always buy from them. Women can support other women by simply sharing their business posts or pages with their other groups or on social media. This gives the small business larger visibility and potential clients without having to invest in marketing. Don’t ask or expect discounts from them. You wouldn’t do that at a retail store, whom you do not even know. If you are satisfied with their work/product, write a review on their page. These are small yet significant ways to support each other.
Neerja: Since sustainability is one of the virtues, you live by. How should one apply it when deciding to shop?
Neha: While buying anything, we must all reflect on a few things –
(a) how many times am I going to wear this? (repeating clothes should be normalized) .
(b) why is it so cheap? (think about the people who make this and how much they would have been paid for it……is it ethical?)
(c) think about investing in your products rather than just buying them. (look at the product and imagine it in its last phase…..will it perish at all? If the answer is no, refrain from buying it as it will end up in a landfill)
(d) think like your mother (new clothes later turn to clothes that you wear at home, later used as a duster or a wiper – anything that doesn’t pass this filter should be avoided)
(e) thrift shopping and borrowing from friends should be normalized. Remember, less is more.
Neerja: Wonderful practices to live by. Wishing you great success in your venture. May your tribe increase. We really need such sensitive and ethical business leaders for the sake of our planet our children and for everyone who is on the planet who values ethical practices over profit-making.
If you are a responsible citizen, who believes in sustainable living, you may connect with Advitiya on the phone number – 9825680078 or on their social media platforms and pick your unique dress. They courier pan India. Their social media links are shared below.