Your mom’s cupboard was a magical place as a child. Her wedding jewellery that was so heavy that you could barely stand up, her favourite lipstick she occasionally wore to special events. But the thing that caught your attention the most was her sarees. Silk, chiffon, cotton, georgette with prints, embroidery, handwork and so much more. And the memory of draping one of her soft sarees and playing dress-up is a part of most girls’ childhood. And one sister-turned-entrepreneurs duo has managed to capture the nostalgia in their brand of handwoven sarees.
In conversation with TC46, founders of Suta, Sujata & Taniya Biswas talk about the heritage of Indian fabrics, utilising the right platform for monetary growth and the need to plan your finances perfectly to achieve success in this competitive market.
1. What is your educational and professional background?
Both of us did our engineering and MBA. I have a B. Tech in IT from College of Engineering, Bhubaneswar and an MBA in Marketing from Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi. I got placed in Essar and had a great experience working there. I then worked at JSW steel as well. Taniya has an engineering degree in Ceramics from National Institute of Technology, Rourkela and an MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow. She worked in TRL Krosaki Refractories after college and then went on to work with IBM as well before we started SuTa.
2. What prompted the idea for ‘SuTa’?
Both of us were happy with our jobs and had good growth in our respective careers. It wasn’t unhappiness that drove us to start SuTa but rather it was this urge to go out there and make a tangible impact on society in our own way. We have always been creative people; handlooms and crafts have always been very close to our hearts. Whenever we visited our hometown in Kolkata, we would see these amazing weaves and fabrics made by incredibly talented weavers who were struggling to sustain their livelihood. This had stayed in our hearts for a while and the thought of creating a business to bring these masterpieces to market kept brewing in our minds. Timing also played a role because we were staying in the same city (Mumbai) after a long time of staying away for education and jobs, which gave us time to discuss what we really wanted to do in our lives. So, it was a lot of these factors coming together that gave birth to SuTa.
3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?
We have always been fascinated by clothes and the stories that fabric can hold and pass on. So many of our memories revolve around sarees that our moms, grandmoms and aunts used to wear. We grew up falling in love with the simplicity, elegance and heritage of various fabrics. All this left a deep impact on us. Also, empowering the makers of fabric, the weavers and the artisans, has been a dream for as long as we remember. So, subconsciously, yes, I think we were always drawn to this space and we consciously understood that this was our passion when we paused in life and looked within.
4. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?
Coming from a non-fashion background and diving into the fashion business wasn’t easy. So, every little step was a milestone for us. We did make a lot of mistakes too and learnt everything from scratch. From selling our very first product to setting up our website to meeting strangers walk up to us in Suta, every single step was a milestone. From a financial standpoint, I think the first milestone was when we broke even. It was a sign that we were on the right path and there was potential for growth. We were selling via our social media handles earlier and then moved to Shopify. The platform has been helpful for us to scale and grow further.
5. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?
- Before taking the leap, think of your ‘why’. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy and sustaining in this path needs passion, agility and a pragmatic approach. There will be roadblocks and one needs a solid purpose to ride through challenges
- Be frugal with your finances. Spend every penny with caution and cut any expense that isn’t essential
- Build an MVP and test out your product before zeroing down on it. Be flexible to pivot as per feedback
6. What suggestions would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start an online business or wants to shift their offline practices online?
- Entry barriers are low for online businesses, which is a good thing. But this also means there is that much more competition. So, one needs to be prepared by defining your USP to take on the competition
- The digital world evolves quickly, and one must always be on their feet to stay abreast of the various aspects of e-commerce, from hosting platforms and payment portals to social media promotions
7. What were the 3-best business/financial decisions you made?
- Knowing where your money is coming from and where it is going- is the key. Watch your cash flow like a hawk
- Keep your costs low, especially in the beginning. For example, you don’t need an over the top fancy office. ‘Go Frugal’ is the mantra
- Hire right. A good team will make or break your startup
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