Usha Bora, graduate from the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad arrived in Paris seventeen years ago to take an MBA in Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC. After four years in a promising career at L’Oreal she decided to revisit her roots through the creative medium of textiles and created “Jamini”, a portfolio of products available in over 50 outlets across the world, soon to include the Bon Marché and a second boutique in Paris.
You are very attached to your home town Assam. How has it influenced your designs and the vision you had for Jamini?
Growing up in Assam was wonderful – surrounded by the fragrance from the tea gardens around the house, jasmine flowers, lush greenery, watching deer and rare birds like hornbills from my veranda and spending time in the forest of Kaziranga. I was once chased by a wild elephant, went tiger tracking and had so many adventures in this gorgeous part of India. Assam is very present in Jamini’s DNA. Our logo comes from the hundreds of lotus flowers growing around my home. The woven line of scarves and home items come from tribal influences in garments the women of the region wear, and our famous paper is made from rhino and elephant dung from the forests. When I launched Jamini, I was committed to promoting the arts and crafts from this lesser know region of India.
Jamini is a high-end accessories and lifestyle brand combining Indian craftsmanship with a strong dash of Parisian chic. All products are hand-made. I work with expert artisans showcasing and promoting their work to allow them to pass on their skills to future generations. Jamini is also a family story. After retirement my father set up a small enterprise to make paper from rhino and elephant dung – the paper I use for our lovely notebooks. Our creations are for people looking for authentic products with a story.
Has your initial vision remained consistent, or have you had to adapt with time?
I have been true to my vision of promoting lesser-known arts and crafts from India. We started with hand-woven scarves and have expanded to include cushions, bags, stationery, shoes and jewellery – with more still to come!
What are you most proud of?
I am really proud of my family’s endeavour to protect and conserve the forests of North East India. My grandfather was conservator of the forests of Assam. When he died, we wanted to keep his memory alive. He had spent his life trying to protect the forest. My dad had the wonderful idea of tackling the HUGE poaching problem of rhinoceroses and deforestation together. By converting dung to paper, we save trees. We employ women from the villages surrounding the forests, educate them about poaching and provide them with a livelihood discouraging them from looking for other, often illegal, forms of revenue. My family also set up a foundation awarding prizes every year to the brave forest guards who fight against poachers.
How do you manage the fine line between keeping authenticity of the design and adapting it to appeal to western consumers?
I work with master craftsmen. Their skills are priceless and they know their job! Our products use traditional techniques with a creative twist that comes from my French side combined with strong Indian roots.
Tell us about some of the milestones in the Jamini story.
I worked as a product manager at L’Oreal, but I missed India terribly, so I started working to adapt beautiful Indian things to suit French tastes. In 2007, I started sourcing fabrics, embroideries and weaves for big brands like Agnès B, Dior Kids, Bonton, and BAandSH. In 2010 I decided to launch my own line of accessories with our first line of scarves. We opened our flagship store in the trendy 10th arrondissement last year.
What were the biggest hurdles you’ve faced and how were they overcome?
I have been extremely lucky to have met wonderful people who have supported and encouraged me. It’s very important to have a positive attitude and not to take things for granted. The space I wanted to rent for my first store was initially not worth my applying for. It is owned by an offshoot of the Mairie de Paris, (SEMAEST). In the 10th arrondissement, they specifically wanted to avoid textile companies (the area is flooded with T-shirt and other wholesalers) so when I sent my application, they said “No. No textiles!” I persisted, sent them the story of the brand, a link to my website, development plans for the future…They came back with a BIG “Yes”! They now help and encourage me and do their best to talk about me in the media. My advice to all aspiring entrepreneurs is don’t take the first “no” for an answer. Push the limits and boundaries. The French are not necessarily used to that. But they are not all that averse to it either! With persistence and a little luck, one can do a lot here.
The challenges are mostly financial – taxes and hiring policies. France is not an easy place for hiring people. The rules are complicated and disadvantageous for entrepreneurs. However, ideas come easily and creative people are so easy to find. A million projects may be born every day! My favourite thing about being an entrepreneur is having the freedom to try new ideas. Being able to trust my instincts and take the plunge!
Do you think being an expat helped in launching your brand here?
I think it was an enormous advantage. Being an expat means people are more tolerant of you when you think «out of the box ». They don’t necessarily expect you to play by the rules “à la française” because you are not supposed to know them! French people also love novelty and are very open to experiment. It’s a great place to try new things.
I am a desperate dreamer, always pushing myself in terms of creativity. I’m launching a line of jewellery with beads from India assembled here by French artisans, a candle based on tea and ginger fragrances in collaboration with a niche perfume manufacturer based in Paris, opening the second store in three months, a third next year and taking the brand global very soon!
What advice would you give readers looking to follow a similar path?
Trust your instincts and dare to dream! Make sure you have support from friends and people you trust. It makes all the difference… And don’t take no for an answer!
Website : www.jaminidesign.com
Boutique & Showroom : 10 rue du Château d’ Eau 75010 Paris