As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, Rekha had the pleasure of interviewing Priyanka – a doctor by qualification, crafter by choice.
“Allow your passion to become your purpose, and it will one day become your profession.” –Gabrielle Bernstein
Upon completing BHMS and post-graduation in hospital administration, Priyanka had a bright career ahead of her in the healthcare industry. After a fulfilling stint of 6 years in reputed hospitals across the country, life took an unprecedented turn, making Priyanka re-evaluate her career choice. Ultimately, taking the plunge, she transformed her creative talent into a business venture.
Eight years have gone by; Aardra Creations is a successful enterprise offering customised gifting solutions to individuals and corporates with its array of handmade products – uniquely designed greeting cards to thoughtful desktop organisers, traditional festival hampers to the innovatively themed photo, scrapbook albums, and much, much more.
An inspiration to many who want to pursue what they truly desire, Priyanka shares her exciting journey; read on…
How did it all start – that moment you decided to start a business?
My journey began in the most unconventional manner. While working as an administrator of a reputed hospital in Mumbai, I met with an unfortunate road accident. During my recuperation time, a close friend and I thought of exploring the world of creativity. We decided to craft unique greeting cards made of easily accessible raw material with a view to exhibit them at neighbourhood gift shops to gauge people’s response, possibly actioning this into a commercial venture later. It so happened that my friend could not embark on this voyage while I, determined to test the waters, went solo.
While being confronted with practical difficulties involving packaging, pricing, display, and so on, a popular gift shop owner even ridiculed my initial creations commenting I had no business acumen, thoroughly demotivating me. Still, I did not give up, this proved to be a turning point for me and my venture – Aardra Creations.
Looking back, what do you think of these 8 years?
Absolutely no regrets on my 8-year-young journey!
As a kid, I was always inclined towards art. My grandmom and mom both were creative; they taught me embroidery and crochet during school vacations; I remember making 50 embroidered handkerchiefs in grade 3. I played the synthesizer in grade 7 and a guitar in college; even lead group dances during my BHMS. Post medical college, I got busy, and my creative side somehow got 2nd priority.
One compelling memory I have is of creating a greeting card of paper and fabric for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My grandfather was so thrilled; he blessed me with 100 rupees. Till date, I have cherished that note like a treasure. Little did I know, 20 years later, that gift would act as a beacon for my entrepreneurial journey!
I now realise the truth in the statement, “the best feeling in the world is getting paid to do what you love!” My biggest regret – why didn’t I do this earlier?!
What’s your product range, how has it evolved over time?
My humble beginning was with greeting cards made of paper, fabric, other recycled material. Slowly graduated to cards meant for festivals/special occasions; then progressed to brand-new merchandise with scrapbook albums, wedding, and office stationery items (calendars, desktop organizers, bookmarks, etc.)
An important curve in the Aardra journey happened with 3D designs or miniatures; these struck a chord with a niche segment. Now my clientele can choose from a wide range of articles – traditional festival hampers, wooden home décor, and accessories like nameplates, keychains, mobile holders, trays, to name a few.
How do you manage the entire product lifecycle from order to delivery?
The initial phase of product design starts with the client, who usually approach with an idea in their mind, a unique gift for their loved ones on a specific occasion. Over multiple discussions, we crystallise on a concept which I then bring to life.
The end-product photography and videos are an integral part of this entire process, as is packaging and shipping, which are crucial. Since most goods are handmade and customised, no two souvenirs are usually the same; hence there’s nothing called ‘standardised’ packaging.
I am blessed to have clients who place their full faith in me, allowing complete freedom to my imagination. With the business growing, I procured imported equipment to enable a faster turnaround, especially for bulk orders, but when it comes to highly personalised items, I prefer operating by myself.
Of course, there’s constant pressure to meet deadlines due to the attached emotional appeal. I need to regularly update customers ensuring timely delivery or, at times, even before the specified date.
What are the barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome these?
One huge challenge is packaging – frequent improvisation, adopting novel packing materials helped me in dealing with this. Earlier, most raw materials I used were imported and expensive; now, they are manufactured indigenously.
Also, due to my spouse’s professional demands, we happened to change cities within India every 2-3 years. This was tough for my business as I had to source brand-new vendors each time (the positive aspect was I got to interact with different people who introduced me to a variety of stuff).
I haven’t been able to effectively utilise the services of large e-commerce platforms as they demand standardised products on their portal, while at Aardra, “customisation” is our forte.
Last year was hard due to Covid – lockdown restricted courier facilities; hence procuring supplies and delivering products became a task; the business has been affected.
Tell us about your most favourite/satisfying project till date and why?
You are asking a creator what her best creation is! I put my heart and soul into every project I undertake; hence it’s difficult to answer that.
However, I feel 3D/miniatures bring alive my vision. My personal favourites in this space are hookah bar, modular kitchen, Belgian waffle outlet, a vintage suitcase scrapbook album, typewriter, and piano desktop organiser.
An assignment that holds a distinct place in my heart is crafting a birthday gift for Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. It was a humbling experience to create something for someone of his stature. Delighted with the gift, he responded with an autographed self-portrait and a personal message on my birthday; it was such a thoughtful gesture! This brought my efforts into the limelight, extending it to a wider audience.
Clients provide me an opportunity to become an integral part of their magical moments through my creations. I am able to bring a smile to their loved one’s face and receive positive feedback; it’s the ultimate satisfaction; no joy is comparable. This keeps me motivated to do better.
Most customers become my regulars who keep coming back with fresh ideas for me to execute. Today we are what I call a big Aardra Creations family!
Any customer response that stands out for you?
I continuously engage with my customers; we are co-creators of the final product, and they deserve equal credit for where I am today.
Usually, I receive multiple product feedbacks via text messages. Rarely do buyers go out of their way to record an audio/video; those moments are exceptional as they are gratitude expressed in real-time.
One such audio came from a patron for whom I did a desktop organiser:
“Priyanka, I loved every bit of what you’ve made. I can’t understand how you can imagine and go into so many details. When I told you to make this, even I wasn’t sure what I should be expecting. It’s just out of the world! I was smiling when I saw the video; you’ve gone into every little aspect. I loved the kind of talent you have, the effort you’ve put into everything, considering every element on the organiser. It’s awesome! I am very happy; this is going to be something different, unique. Not only my brother but my entire family is going to look at it with awe, surprised that something like this can also be given as a gift.”
I would like to add; it’s difficult to draw a line in customisation; clients sometimes contact me with a particular thought process or a random photo of an online product, which they want to be replicated, but there are limitations, and it becomes difficult to convince them otherwise.
Who’s your personal/professional inspiration, how do you stay updated in this field?
Tara Brown (Tara’s Craft Studio) and Alexandra M are my favourite international artists who offer me immense inspiration. Like any other art, there’s a huge competition, and one has to continuously stay abreast of modern crafting techniques, marketing trends, contemporary art forms, raw materials, etc. At times your mind gets clogged; you struggle to innovate and think out-of-the-box. Social media provides a vast platform for learning and upskilling. Clients also facilitate and support me in breaking the monotony and stereotype, thereby pushing the limits of creativity.
Who’s been your support system?
My husband, Tushar, has been my greatest advocate. Men like him are rare and incredibly important. Due to his continuous encouragement, I never held back on achieving my goals. Tushar – thanks for being my rock!
At the same time, you get individuals who permanently criticise; in my social circle, there are people who still feel crafting can only be a hobby, and I should practice medicine full-time. It’s difficult to ignore such remarks/people, but I try!
How do you prefer to unwind at the end of a day/challenging project?
I love music; listening to music while crafting relaxes me and is my go-to stress-buster.
Both Tushar and I are travel enthusiasts. Due to hectic schedules, we prefer short but regular vacations. For me, travelling is not just about unwinding but also about exploring varied art forms and acquiring inspiration from worldwide talent. That’s why I always make it a point to visit factories and workshops – learned papyrus scroll (it’s the earliest forms of paper known to mankind and a part of my collection now) manufacturing in Egypt and mosaic painting in Jordan. To share our enthusiasm for travel, we launched the “Globetrotters” channel to enable others to plan vacations and shape a lifetime of memories.
What next for Aardra Creations?
After paper, I am experimenting with wood, intending to delve into resin art for home décor. Knowledge expands by sharing, planning to leverage our existing YouTube channel to inspire budding crafters via video tutorials. Looking forward to growing my base internationally, I recently tied up with resellers abroad to reach the NRI population.
I will soon be moving into a dedicated studio space with workstations and the whole setup, very excited about this new chapter of Aardra!
What would be your advice to others who may want to tread your path?
On Woman’s day, I was felicitated to recognise my efforts as a businesswoman; that award motivated me to keep moving on resolutely. Whenever presented with an opportunity, I like to spread the message for women to chase their dreams while becoming financially independent. I constantly strive to work with talented females, offer guidance to those seeking advice on diverse aspects of conducting business, and building on my network of women entrepreneurs.
My tip – It’s always about taking that first step that’s the most difficult. Listen to your heart, follow your passion; the experience to be able to convert your passion into your profession is unmatched!