Darshanaa Aswani, a graduate from the University of Exeter, holds a bachelor’s degree in business management. Once unsure about joining her family’s well-established jewellery business, she currently not only works with her parents at Darshanaa Sanjana Jewellers, but also launched her very own fashionable jewellery prêt line, namely Ornella. She is now a successful graduate gemologist from the Gemologist Institute of America and is here to tell us about the turn of events in her previously “planned” career path.
When did you first decide on joining your family's jewellery business?
To be completely candid with you, I never wanted to work in my family’s jewellery business. Since the beginning, I found myself being inclined towards a career in marketing and social media, particularly in the fashion industry. Thus, my degree in business management. But as they say, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.”
One evening, I was on the dinner table when my dad randomly asked what it would be like if I joined him in his already well-established jewellery empire. After surprisingly very little thought, I asked “Why not?” 6 months later, I was studying to become a gemologist (For those of you who don’t know what this is, it refers to an expert in the field of gemstones) at the GIA campus in BKC, Mumbai. This was definitely not part of my 5-year life plan.
What did you do in preparation to explore and cope with this entirely new industry?
During my summers back in India, I had interned at numerous firms. Even though none of them were directly jewellery related, I realized that they definitely set me up for success in my current role - working with fashion stylists, creating videos and such, gave me an eye for how to display my designs. I also attribute my communication and marketing skills to these internships (and my college degree), without which I’d have to take longer strides in attaining the level of success that I currently possess.
Due to the unbridled competitive nature of this industry, almost no jeweller is willing to take on interns (God forbid they are spies for their competitors!). After graduation, I was ready to plunge into the deep end of this pool but of course, I needed a float to survive my first few dives. So, I patiently spent my first 6 months studying to become a gemologist at GIA to learn the alphabets, and grammar, of this new language. I also applied for the Tiffany Academy, but all in vain. This certainly didn’t stop me from learning as I continued to enrol in a bunch of courses on jewellery entrepreneurship, social media, and digital marketing.
What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered while starting out? How have you evolved through these challenges and emerged successful?
People did not take me seriously. Period. There are a lot of reputable industries that work primarily on face value, and unsurprisingly the jewellery industry happens to be one of them. My dad has been very successful in attaining the confidence of his loyal customers. However, seeing a new young girl decked in a blazer dealing with large chunks of your fortune is not the most comforting image, I imagine. When I first started out, it was very taxing for me to prove my credibility, as the majority of customers would directly consult my dad (regarding material, pricing, etc). And honestly, I would not blame them - I was pretty raw, like a toddler playing Scrabble.
Very early in my career, one of my friends was looking to make herself a tennis bracelet with 12 cent diamonds (which is considered a considerable size of a diamond). She came up to me asking if it was a good size, and I spontaneously responded with “It’s very tiny, you’ll barely be able to see it.” Not only did we have a hearty laugh about it, but this experience served an indicator of the limited extent of my knowledge.
Today, I have come a long way since I (accidentally) blindsided my friend. I have been and continue to actively work on my knowledge of ornaments, and building relationships with my clients. I have been aiming my expertise towards new clients, with whom I can start developing trust and relationships, from scratch. Along with safekeeping their confidence, I have been effectively using my people and communication skills to create personal equations with each of them. You could ask me about my clients’ daughter's name, or where she flew for her last destination wedding, in the middle of the night and I could answer you correctly (warning: don’t do it though).
Everybody has skills that come to them automatically versus those that they actively work towards developing. What were those for you? How did you work towards mastering your weaknesses?
Immediately after getting on board, I discovered my inherent entrepreneurial skills, and strived to enhance them. There were a lot of things that came naturally to me, such as creativity and designing, but I have to admit that sales and communication did not make it on that list. It is difficult standing in front of an audience and having to promote the products that you’ve put your heart and soul in developing. What does one say? How do I convince her that this diamond would look better? What was her name again? I realized that this role was not tolerant of shy people. Luckily, time was on my side, and as the days passed, I not only became more experienced, but gained a lot of confidence that was previously untapped.
Soon after, I redirected my efforts from social media and marketing, to sales and customer service. And guess what? I came to realize that sales is one of my strong suits- it was like a surprise from me to me!
Less than a year into this business, you launched your own prêt line - Ornella Jewels - within Darshanaa Sanjana Jewellers. What was your underlying motivation behind this notable initiative? How did you work towards achieving it?
Being born and bred in India, I noticed that it’s only after a certain age that a woman is willing to invest in jewellery. It is rather uncommon for you to find a young girl wearing heavy jewellery on a regular basis. On the other hand, how often do you notice your mother being donned with a bracelet, or a ring even just on her way to the grocery store? I wanted to alter this school of thought. I worked endlessly to create designs that would resonate with all age groups, particularly the youth. I put myself in their shoes - well fingers and necks in this case - and started designing products that I myself would enjoy wearing daily. When I came up with the idea, I had found a niche in the market that I had to instantaneously take advantage of. I kept finding myself in doubt of whether I rushed into it but my parents’ advice stuck by me: “Everything you lay out now is an investment for the future. A lot of people in the millennial generation want instant gratification, don’t be one of them. Just go for it!” Since then, I have been patient and continue to water my baby daily. It started off with minimal orders - mostly from friends and family expressing their support - but we soon started receiving online orders, and continue to do so.
It was surprisingly a lot easier than I thought. Since the jewellery industry runs on reputation and brand image, having my dad’s already established umbrella protected me from a lot of hail and storm. I was excused from spending endless hours trying to source karigars, designers, etc. However, this certainly does not take away from the struggles of developing your brand and its image. We tend to focus most of our efforts towards developing new designs, while also constantly marketing our brand. I have come to terms with the fact that promoting this label demands constant nurturing, and is a practice that can never be halted.
Can you tell us more about what inspired the name and your designs? What are your plans for Ornella in the near future?
Ornella is derived from a Roman word “Aurum” which means gold. The sole reason I chose this abstract name was, if and when I start something in the west (America, other countries abroad), I want it to be a simple name, that rolls off the tongue. With regards to my designs, you’ll often notice that jewellery designers in India attribute their designs to nature, history, heritage, amongst others. Not to sound sappy, but my biggest inspo has been each individual woman and their personal style. jewellery shines and takes the shape of the person wearing it - one set of earrings might illuminate your face, while it might barely be visible on mine. Each woman needs and deserves personalized jewellery and I aim to fulfil that need. The minute you walk into my store, I can look at you and come up with a design right away that will suit you best.
I am proud to say that I have utilized this quarantine efficiently and come up with a 1-2 year plan on different collections that I wish to launch. My ultimate goal is to make this an international luxury brand which people, from different parts of the globe, will take pride in wearing.
In an ever changing jewellery industry, how do you aim to keep yourself updated? What are some steps you take to actively upgrade Ornella?
People get bored easily, and this is especially true in case of millennials (our target audience). In order to beat this rusty routine, we keep creating new unique designs that align with the latest trends. We keep our competitors on our most watched accounts, to learn what designs are occupying their store’s display windows. For example, the new “in” thing at weddings is pastel colors and we aim to create designs that directly contribute and add value to such waves in fashion.
For Ornella specifically, I work closely with designers who help me produce my ideas on paper, along with social media experts who help me advance these designs. Since social media holds critical importance in every market today, we shape it to our strengths. We promote our posts to reach a wider audience, keep uploading frequently to stay on our targets’ radar, and carry out photoshoots to best display our products.
In hindsight, are you glad you joined this business? Is there anything you wish you did differently?
My only regret is that I was not able to gather enough experience of working in the retail sector. I would definitely be a lot better prepared for any of the supply chain, logistics, organizational challenges that have come my way. However, this turned out to be the best surprise of my life! Going to my dad’s store as a child and watching their interactions with the clients always intrigued me, but never fascinated me - that was until I started doing it myself. The start always seems dark and scary, but now, I cannot imagine myself in any other role. The work is anything less than monotonous, owing to my clients that all come from different age groups, tastes, and backgrounds. Where else would I get a chance to develop such strong ties, discover my hidden talents in sales, and showcase my limitless creativity, all while also spending time with my parents?
Confused about entering your family business? Looking to get advice on ways to navigate the jewellery industry? Want to get a bracelet made ;)?
Reach out to Darshanaa!
Check out her fabulous designs!