Meet the Woman Extraordinaire – Aparna Das Sadhukhan

Aparna Das Sadhukhan

Aparna Sadhukhan is the founder of Nine By Thirty, a jewelry business that sells silver and beads/gems.

Tell us more about yourself and what you do? What inspired you to start working with jewelry?
I was born to a modest family with middle class values and aspirations, in India. Like most others who grew up in similar circumstances in those days, I chose the safe, tried and tested path of going to college to earn a regular degree. I graduated in psychology and chose (a slightly different path) of media & communications for post grad. After passing out, I tried my hand at advertising and in various other communications led roles across several diverse fields (albeit all short-lived jobs).

In the 5-6 years of working in different ad agencies, an NGO, film production and a corporate house, I did feel one thing constantly – a desire to do something else. The ‘something else’ was not a clearly defined dream. It involved silver jewelry, books and a coffee shop – a cliché done to death by many. I toyed with the idea and often spoke of it to my partner and friends about it.

We have all heard the often-repeated adage of following your dreams, but I just didn’t know how. Come to think of it now, I never really paid much attention to what I loved doing – that we could make a living just out of whatever we loved the most, was a realization that hadn’t yet dawned on me then.

So when you ask what inspired me to start working with jewelry, I’d say, it wasn’t really an inspiration – it was a part of the plan I had been carrying with me. The way it all worked out in the end is what I’d say, was born out of inspiration. I never thought we could make a living out of something we love. It sounds great in books and in self-help articles – but to actually do it, is something else.

Strangely enough, each time I toyed with the idea of doing something with silver, I always thought of owning a shop with sourced silver from all over the world. That, I would become a designer was never really a part of the plan!

What was your inspiration behind starting Nine By Thirty? What major challenges and problems did you face and how did you overcome them? What is your favorite part about owning a small business?
The Lehmann Brothers crash in 2008. Had that not happened, I’d never have realized my true potential. The lack of jobs which the crash brought along with it, left me jobless in Australia, where we had just moved. After a year of several rejections and bordering on clinical depression, I serendipitously discovered silversmithing in Sydney Art School.

That is where inspiration struck, first. I hadn’t imagined that a one off silversmithing workshop would be responsible for a scintillating new life and career. I had merely gone there to distract myself from a depressing rain-swept afternoon.

Once I knew that I had literally stumbled upon my calling, I couldn’t leave the rest to happenstance. I was hell bent on making a career out of it. I was hungry to learn more, but Sydney being the expensive city that it is, made it impossible for a single income family to support this whim (to learn at Sydney Art School). So, to fund further classes I started Nine By Thirty (NBT).

To be outright honest and sound not so business-like, when I started out I was too busy having fun to realize what my challenges were. Sure, I wish I had more buyers in Australia. People there were still not used to buying from Indie artists like me. There was an unwillingness to buy from someone who has just started out – that to a great extent has changed these days with the advent of online shopping. Of course, the biggest challenge of them all remains – capital. Though there are several avenues these days to raise capital/ crowd source, you are stuck in an indecisive zone of whether you really want that capital and grow bigger or stay small and satisfied.

One other challenge I face and hope to resolve soon, is the need for a dedicated set of kaarigars (artisans) here in Singapore. A lot of time is lost trying to coordinate with my suppliers in India and I really wish I could do something about it (other than having the manufacturing base in India- everyone does that and it is the most practical thing to do. But what’s a business if we cannot think innovatively?)

About NBT being a small business: I love the fact that I am not answerable to anyone but my clients and myself! I have a firm grip on all aspects of the business. It feeds the perfectionist in me. I personally despise mediocrity in one’s work – being small still allows me to keep strict checks on quality and other aspects. Also, being small helps me in being personal with my clients – interacting with them directly over mail is always a positive first step when a prospective client approaches you.

This is however gradually changing, much to my horror, as we grow bigger. I do realize I need to make a decision very soon about how big I really want NBT to be! For now, NBT is still my baby in my arms.

Does your family play a role in your work? If yes, how?
My family is perhaps my biggest motivator and support. Without their backing, NBT would just be another home led business without any passion or purpose.

To keep a balance with your family and work, I have always believed, a woman needs more than just a helping hand from the partner. The responsibilities need to be equally shared and a couple needs to work in sync. I’m fortunate to have found that in my partner, who is very supportive of my work and involves himself in most of my exhibitions. He does know where my weaknesses lie – spreadsheets and accounting are some things my partner helps me with. My little one too chips in, in her own way. Days close to the exhibitions are very strenuous where I do several all nighters. Those days I receive maximum support from my family – I am not expected to help my girl with homework etc. I do feel like a queen on those days despite the high stress levels!

How do you approach a new collection? Where do you draw inspiration for your new designs?
Travel is my biggest inspiration. I need to clear my head and have a clean slate before approaching something new. Apart from that, I’d say, inspiration is rather whimsical and even, elusive. Try too hard and you are left with the most ordinary of thoughts. I just leave my thoughts and ideas to consume me. If that requires me to take long breaks, I oblige. There are no set rules. Stories, places, photographs, mythology, motifs, a beautiful sunset, art, music, color, movies, people– they all play their part in wooing me. For example the ‘Return of the Goddess’ collection – that collection was heavily borrowed from how I was feeling. My emotions played a big role as did Mythology. For any East Indian living abroad, Durga Puja is a time when old memories come flooding back. We literally wait for Goddess Durga to descend on earth, as the mythical story of Durga and Mahisasur goes. My collection was based on this very sentiment – the anticipation of the festival.

Who do you envision wearing your jewelry? Do you think about a certain genre of women when you create a new collection?
I do have a wish list of women who I wish would wear my jewelry. However, it’s not really about who I create my jewelry for (the muse is always in a designer’s head) – for me what’s more important is how the person wearing my jewelry feels. I don’t necessarily think about a genre when I approach a new collection. I seldom have audience in my mind. It’s always the product that takes precedence over the person who will finally wear it.

What is your idea of an empowered woman?
To me it would begin with setting ourselves free – free from deep-rooted social conditioning, free from preconceived ideas, limitations we have set on ourselves and on our dreams, free from societal norms and pressures. Free from fear. Once a woman in confident in her own skin, accepts herself for what she is, she begins the journey of empowerment. However, it’s a word that holds little meaning to millions of women out there.

Message for our readers related to women’s personal safety and the issue of violence against women.
Unfortunately the society we live in is far from being a helpful one. Till such time that women’s safety becomes the top most priority and agenda of the state, we all must strive to be our own guardians. Being alert and smart in most situations can save you from trouble. But being prepared would be a far more effective way to deal with this growing menace. Women must be trained / take active interest in self-defense techniques. I am also a huge advocate of women taking self-defense classes.

Domestic violence however, is more complex. Women need to start speaking up and be fearless about the consequences. Speak out and reach out. I also feel that women don’t support women, enough. We must be more willing to help our counterparts

Aparna is an ex-advertising and media professional turned jewelry designer. She pursued several careers in the pursuit of happiness and serendipitously stumbled upon her calling in Australia 4 years ago. She now spends the better part of her days strategizing and paving new paths for Nine by Thirty, the jewelry label she founded. She is also an avid blogger and has been a guest blogger with Vogue India in the past. She is an enthusiastic traveler and a hobbyist photographer and travels far and wide in search of rare and unusual silver jewelry and people stories.