O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!
by Vanessa Stevenson | Dec 11, 2021 | Christmas, Creative, Entrepreneur, Handmade, Inspiration, Interview, Self-employment, Start-up, True Stories | 4 comments
HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU
House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.
Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.
She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.’
I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)
Arathi, let’s dive right in. What makes HoK special?
Every person has a unique story to tell. At House of Kalart, we bring out the spirit of each story and showcase it through our products and services. Avant-garde jewellery inspired by arts & crafts around the world for the quintessentially free-spirited woman with a zest for life.
We aim to provide a holistic fashion experience for the bold and dramatic women all around the world.
Were your start-up costs affordable?
HoK is a bootstrapped business. I took a bit from my savings, and my mother (my business partner) invested a bit. I may not be able to scale up fast, because of limited funds, however we have been growing gradually and I am happy with it.
Was your age, gender, or lack of a university degree a hurdle in any way?
No, none of these have ever been a hurdle. I have mostly been able to do what I have wanted to do.
Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create?
Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.
I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.
Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.
When did you officially start your business?
HoK was established in Chennai, India, in September 2017, and we started selling from February 2018.
Is your mother a ‘silent partner’?
My mother is actually the numbers woman, and I handle the rest.
The brand name, Kalart, is a combination of both our names: Kala and Arathi (aka Art). Our names also mean ‘art’, which is what our products are all about.
Is House of Kalart your fulltime occupation?
Yes. However, I do freelance as a costume designer for movies — but only for a friend who is a director. We recently worked on our first commercial feature film, which is scheduled for a 2022 release.
What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business.
The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.
This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.
When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.
The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting
How scary was the plunge into working for yourself?
It was actually pretty exciting. Like most creative people, I hate to follow a routine; the best part of working in my entrepreneurial venture is that every day is different. One day it’s all about designing, sourcing, and so on, while other days are all about handling accounts and other administrative work. Some days are all about planning marketing, social media, my calendar, events and networking. I absolutely don’t miss the monotony of corporate life.
Who has been your greatest support?
My family has been pretty supportive and my networking group has also been a boon.
Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK.
After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.
However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.
Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.
Would you have done anything differently, in hindsight?
Every step of my journey has been a learning curve, and I continue to learn every day. That makes me a better business owner and a better person. I would not want to change anything. One thing I would definitely like to improve on, however, is my tendency to procrastinate.
What was your steepest learning curve?
Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.
Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect?
I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.
My Sales Went Down To Zero
How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt?
At first, my sales were drastically affected — in fact, they went down to zero — as HoK wasn’t online when COVID hit. But I was able to manage with my styling projects. During that time, I also took the opportunity to upskill myself and make time to network and build relationships.
The pandemic motivated me to finally take the brand online. I’d always wanted to reach out to global audiences, and at last I was able to do so.
Where do you promote your business?
The brand is now predominantly an e-commerce business. We mainly sell through the HoK website and are available on a few online marketplaces, like Afday, Lbb, and Amazon. We used to actively participate at art fairs before the pandemic, but these have come to a halt for now.
Do any special moments or memories come to mind?
One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.
I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.
I Am Making a Difference
Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running?
There are so many! A recent one comes to mind: I was struggling to categorise the products to fit my varied client profiles. Then I met a lady, in a networking group, who offered a free thirty-minute customer persona identification call. That literally switched a light on in my head. I had so much clarity and was able to add new ranges and categorise the brand to fit all my clients’ needs.
And then there was a client of mine who told me she loved art so much, she wished she could wear paintings. I told her I could help her with that; I could paint something for her on jewellery. She said she liked sunsets, so I painted an abstract sunset on a pair of statement earrings. And when I gave the earrings to her, the joy she expressed was beyond words. That day I knew: I was doing something right; I am making a difference to some of my clients.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.
What are your future plans?
The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.
With your vision and determination, Arathi, I am confident you will make it happen!
Tell me, what is the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve ever received is: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst response will be a no, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And it works! The help that comes your way when you ask is unbelievable.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs?
First of all, see your business as an extension of your identity. Second: everything can be learned gradually and you don’t have to do it all at once, or alone. Ask for help. Third: Never compare your beginning with the grown businesses of your peers. And most important of all: Always believe in yourself.
One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site?
We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.
And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.
Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!
GOOD TO KNOW: HoK ships worldwide. If you find their express shipping option a bit pricey, why not order your Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day gifts — or future birthday gifts for your BFF or special person in your life — now? Then you can afford to wait a bit longer for your package to arrive — and save some cash at the same time.
FYI: There’s a handy currency converter on the HoK site.
If you have any questions, you can contact Arathi at firstname.lastname@example.org