Making India Home
After moving out from Hidesign, Jacqueline jumped into the unorganised retail market for accessories with Ayesha (a brand named after her daughter). Suppliers from China, Malaysia and Thailand and buyers in India – she's kept her import and sales strategies simple in the past many years.
Neha Dewan | March 2016 Issue | The Dollar Business
“I am in the middle of a cooking session and a horse riding competition. I will get back to you soon,” says Jacqueline Kapur, Founder & CEO of Ayesha Accessories on the other end of the phone line and scurries off. A woman of many talents, Jacqueline ensures that entrepreneurship is not the only hat that she dons. Jacqueline came to Auroville (in Tamil Nadu) when she was all of 24 and has not looked back since. Right from taking charge of the garments business at Hidesign in her initial days to starting her own brand – Ayesha Accessories – her's has been a diversified journey. Today Jacqueline sources fine artificial jewellery from China and handicrafts from India for her brand Ayesha, which is present in 30 shop-in-shop outlets as well 30 independent outlets across the country.
While Jacqueline is the quintessential business woman, her love for cooking exotic dishes and horse riding
is evident when she talks passionately about her daily schedules. “I live anything but a boring life is what I can tell you! I get up at 6:30 am and then ride till 8 am. Thereafter I am in office from 10-5 pm, post which I go to the riding school. Once I am home, I cook something delicious,” she quips.
Spunk and verve is in good measure when you speak to the lady who made India her home for all these years and continues to revel in wholeheartedly.
TDB: You came to India as a tourist in 1988. Right from heading the garments business initially at Hidesign to picking up the culture here, how would you describe your journey so far?
Jacqueline Kapur (JK): I am the kind of person who jumps in cold water! One fine day, I was made the head of the garments business and I took to it. My English wasn’t very good either then. So it was a lot of trial and error. However, I do feel that doubt will kill more successes than failure ever will. If one doesn’t try, one doesn’t learn anything.
When I came on board, after a few months there was a big leather fair in Germany – Offenbach Fair – in 1989. We went to the fair and I remember we were not expecting any orders. But by the end of it, we had too much for us to produce!
The journey over the years has been quite fulfiling – there have been a lot of ups and downs. But I am very happy that I made it to India and decided to stay back in this country which is so culturally vibrant.
TDB: Being a woman also means certain other commitments. How do you juggle your timelines and strike a balance between personal and professional lives?
JK: There are few countries that are as good to work in as India. My schedule is quite packed – I have two children, I love to cook and then there is riding school. All these activities would not have been as easy to do in Germany due to lack of such a strong family support system.
Building a successful business, taking care of two children, riding, cooking and looking good after cooking – sure takes a real support system for one to manage all of this together! And I am glad I have that here.
TDB: You started Ayesha Accessories in 2009. What made you start this brand?
JK: I started Ayesha as it wasn’t easy to work with my husband. There was an extreme degree of difficulty to work with Dilip, though I am sure even I am not easy to work with. Financially, I was dependent on him so I wanted to start my own company. My managing style is very different from his. I compare this difference with horse riding – you can either beat a horse to obedience or you can make him want to work with you. The latter is a longer way of lasting associations. So when I hire someone, I tell them to imagine that this company is theirs. I think when one takes ownership of what one does, that works out really well! Today Ayesha is present in 30 shop-in-shop outlets and 30 independent ones, with presence in both Tier I and Tier II cities across the country.
TDB: What is your sourcing strategy for Ayesha?
JK: We source from India and China primarily. China has a lot of fine, artificial jewellery which we import. From India, we source more of handicrafts, metals, beads, and the like.
TDB: How do you view competition from other accessory brands? What works better for Ayesha?
JK: There is competition from international companies like Accessorize and Claire’s. However, I feel our USP is that we are targeting Indian girls and we have picked up traditional elements and modernised them. So our range is very fashionable too. The fact that our range is specific to the Indian market adds to our appeal.
TDB: What are the challenges that you faced as a woman entrepreneur and how did you counter them?
JK: I have faced challenges as an entrepreneur, not as a woman. There has never been a problem with me being a woman or a foreigner. There have been the usual issues that any entrepreneur would face – cash flow issues, corrupt mall contracts, etc., but one should just keep trying and that’s what I did when faced with such challenges.
TDB: Where are Ayesha products primarily manufactured? Are you importing any raw material too?
TDB: What do you think of India’s strength as a manufacturing destination and how is Ayesha taking advantage of it?
JK: When you go to China, you seek perfection. All 100 bags will look the same and be perfect. But what is missing is the soul. In India, one looks for producing something handcrafted and one can feel it as it is a lot more artisan. The hand beaded work makes the product quite different. But India will not be able to produce the kind of bulk quantities as the Chinese do as India is not organised enough.
Having said that, if I still have to choose between India and China, I will most certainly chose India. I know for a fact that I would go nuts in China. The country is too rigid and there is no individuality.
If I expect Chinese perfection from Indian suppliers or Indian artisan work from Chinese suppliers, I will be disappointed by the approach. One needs to be aware of the strengths of people – it is a question of having the right expectation.