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Female Entrepreneur: Aradhana Nagpal – Designer and Curator of Dhoop


Don’t ever give up what you  truly believe in …..

Tell us about yourself and your background

Aradhana-Nagpal-DhoopNeedless to say, I love India. I guess the interest and passion came thanks to both my parents. My mom has a keen interest in Indian craft and culture and growing up we visited every craft exhibition and cultural event in the city. While mom and dad both enjoy travelling, dad is a very passionate traveller and an Encyclopaedia on almost every topic in the universe (our customers who visited Dhoop while he managed the store for nine years will vouch for that) and our summer holidays were spent in exotic and gorgeous destinations within India, that he would have researched extensively. I think these real journeys, were the beginnings of my interest in India, its history, craft, culture and aesthetic.

I graduated with a double major in Ancient Indian Culture and Anthropology  after which I went on to do my masters in Ancient Indian Culture for which I received a gold medal, as I topped Maharashtra.

Also, I had realised that some of our best craft was being exported, and it was time well-designed hand-made Indian products were showcased in India.

While I was studying for my masters I worked at the Morarka Foundation for Craft – a privately funded not for profit that supports craft and design. The office was at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, one of India’s best theatres and post work relaxation always ended in a play, a dance performance or a talk at the NCPA, in Mumbai. It was here that I also got the chance to curate Mumbai’s then largest craft exhibition held at Kala Ghoda, and for two years consecutively, I was researching, interviewing and writing to craftspeople and tribal artists all over the country whom we could invite for this fair. The ability to understand an artisan’s mind, be sensitive to their needs, brief them about what might sell in an urban craft fair, were all things I learnt at a fairly young age. From here I moved on to working with India Book House, a publishing house, where I worked as a researcher and photo researcher for various art and architecture related books on India. Royal Palaces of Rajasthan, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mumbai Masti and The Tata-India Book were some of the larger projects I did. Research was and will continue to be a passion, but the urge to travel, design and explore made me quit a full time job and travel…

What drove you to become an Entrepreneur?

I started Dhoop in 2003 shortly after a month-long trip to the north east of India. The north-east happened because I had heard of a seminar on Bamboo that was taking place in Assam, and I was determined to go. The seminar had several experts who spoke about craft, design and natural materials and this was just what I needed to fuel my enthusiasm and urge to work with craft and design. This trip strengthened my will to work with Indian craft, and gave me direction. I was convinced that setting up a store in Bombay would help bring this beautiful, handmade work to the forefront. Also, I had realised that some of our best craft was being exported, and it was time well-designed hand-made Indian products were showcased in India.

In Nagaland and Assam I was simply amazed by the beautiful craft and hidden talent this region is filled with. When I returned from Nagaland I had bought so much of the craft that I had a staggering 100kgs excess baggage on the flight! I returned in Jan 2003, and immediately started looking for a space to open our first store, much of which contained a lot of the goodies I brought back from the north-east.

Dhoop opened its doors in August 2003!

What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?

Marketing, delegating work and often quality control. Also communicating new designs and colours, procuring samples etc has been a mammoth task. With the internet, now available in some rural areas, and the mobile phone has helped to an extent. When we started Dhoop, all ordering was only when we travelled or through letters that were couriered and photographs that were exchanged.

Also, since the world is shrinking with the internet, we have had to make sure that what we have at Dhoop is still unique and exclusive. However, this has motivated me to design many more exclusive collections for DHOOP.

Ancient Culture and especially Indian culture has been my biggest inspiration.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

I think to be driven and passionate about something for 10 years is a great achievement. DHOOP is like a baby I gave birth to 10 years ago and today it’s great to see the recognition the brand has achieved. Also, while so many other retail businesses open and close so quickly, I am happy  that Dhoop has managed to stay around and create a name of its own in the craft world. What’s most thrilling is that people don’t just call us another home décor store, but see value and depth in the products that are curated and designed for the store.

Another achievement I am proud of is the Tata India Book I worked on as a photo researcher. It was part of the centenary celebrations  – 100 years of Tata in India. I  travelled to the smallest libraries and archives in India, and put together more than 3000 images and letters for the book. I feel truly happy to be credited as Photo Editor for such a prestigious project!

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Ancient Culture and especially Indian culture has been my biggest inspiration. Even My latest in-house collection conceptualised by me, OWLISTIC, is a series of Owls wearing Indian accessories, that has been translated on to hand made tableware and other hand made, hand-painted furniture.

I also feel very inspired by other motivated and driven people who have pursued what they believed in and its great to see how many of them have achieved their dreams. Even big brands like Crete and Barrel in the international home décor scene.

How do you balance your work life and home life?

My family has been my biggest support. Not only did my mom and dad support and encourage me to start Dhoop, they also supported and believed in my dream and helped me financially when I decided to start. Even today, they  continue to be a part of the Dhoop team. In fact my father managed the store for nine years and helped build the brand and let people know the story of every product in the store. My husband (who was then my boyfriend when I started), has been my biggest fan and my biggest critic and this has always helped me strive to keep getting better. My husband and me live with his mother, and home life is easy when you have good help at home and a supportive family.

Clearly, starting a business (I hate the word but have to acknowledge that I am a business woman today) is like giving birth to a baby , especially when you’re so passionate about it. And even though I have the flexibility to take time off on my terms, I do think about Dhoop a lot, also since I enjoy it so much.  However, I can switch off when I need to, and make a point to spend quality time at home post work and meet close family and friends over the weekend.

What advice do you have for women starting out on their own?

Don’t ever give up what you  truly believe in …..

Can you recommend any organisations or networking groups that have particularly helped you on your journey?

Our clients have been our biggest networking tool. In 2003, when print media was the source of advertising, Dhoop grew only with word of mouth as advertising was never really something we thought about.  As for organisations working with craft, they have been a big inspiration and motivation, driving me to take forward their work and showcase in Mumbai. I have worked with several organisations like Kala Raksha, Sasha, Kishkinda Trust, Industres, and many others  and promoted their products at Dhoop.

If you could ask for one thing to help propel your business what would it be?

At this point in Dhoop’s life, I hope to find like-minded partners who could help us take the brand further.

What does the future hold for you?

So far, growth has been very organic and as it comes. But now, with the world getting smaller, we are also planning our move and focussing on where we would like to go with Dhoop. We hope to have Dhoop in other cities and are working towards selling our products online as well.

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