Pinklay India, a home-grown brand preserving handicraft heritage through their block print designs

Without having any prior experience in the field of business and leaving a highly paid corporate job to start her entrepreneurship journey was an extremely bold step, one for which Pinklay Founder and CEO Daisy Tanwani, was more than ready. Because her passion to build a brand that worked closely to uplift local artisans and promote gender parity across grassroots levels, was more. In a conversation with us on her start-up, she opens up on her start-up journey.

Pinklay India, a homegrown brand preserving handicraft heritage through block prints

The handloom and handicraft industry is quite big and acts as one of the important employers for artisans in the country. However, the majority of the finished goods, that too the best of the lot, are exported. For example, our block printed artifacts and fabrics are exported to over 71 countries.

India exported block print goods worth US$ 1.89 million in the fiscal year 2020-2021 (April-November). In 2020-2021 (April-November), the total volume of the exports was around 23,8000. It implies that these handicraft products are quite valued outside of India, while illustrating the fact that the best handicrafts are not accessible to us Indians. In addition, Indians over the years have slowly drifted away from heritage designs.

Realising the existence of this vacuum, Daisy Tanwani founded her home-grown handicraft brand ‘Pinklay India’ in 2015 to revive the unparalleled aesthetic of Indian artisanal work, and to make it accessible to Indians.

“We travel a lot and collect beautiful pieces from across the world. Most of my tapestries, murals and ceramics came from overseas, and ironically the pieces we loved the most carried the ‘Made in India’ tag,” she reminisces.

This made her realise that she wanted to make ‘Made in India’ available to the Indians in India and further, she wanted to transform ‘Made in India’ into ‘Designed and made in India’. “India has an unparalleled heritage of handicrafts and a shrinking population of artisans. These are too precious to be allowed to fade away into oblivion. Pinklay is a medium to preserve our handicraft heritage,” says Tanwani, as she opens up on her start-up journey with us.

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Daisy Tanwani, Founder and CEO, Pinklay India 

An unapologetically Indian brand

Originated in Mumbai, Pinklay is a home-grown brand that caters to various customer groups, from women to kids and stocks all kinds of items, from home textiles to statement furniture. But the thing that makes this brand unique is that the designs are all hand illustrated and strongly rooted within our traditional designs and colours. Tanwani’s love for exquisite block print designs also distinguishes her work from the products of the other made in India brands.

As a die-hard fan of block prints, which add immense glamour to her collection, Tanwani declares that her brand is unapologetically Indian.

Falling in love with handicrafts was not just by chance for her. “I guess, it’s in my upbringing,” she says.

Tanwani is from Jaipur, the art city, where every nook and corner screams art and is a hub of hand block prints. “I have seen it all my life. One can tell beautiful stories through hand block printing. It’s magical,” she tells us.

Besides that, travel excursions, books and nature have been a big part of the inspiration behind the art in Pinklay’s products. “Pinklay is a confluence of our travels within India and elsewhere, our culture, our experiences and nature. It’s a beautiful cocktail of past and present,” she says.

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Hand illustrated block printing

Building and supporting communities 

Tanwani started Pinklay for something that she loves—art. But besides this love of hers, there is a bigger cause that she fervently espouses. 

The revelation of the fact that almost all of the art and the handicrafts being produced in India were being appreciated elsewhere, was mindboggling to her. Tanwani’s belief is that Indians have changed and so have their spending habits—more precisely the middle and upper middle class. The premise is—we are missing out on the opportunities, as the supply is directed elsewhere, and the artisans were not aware of the fact that India too has a rising class of consumers that appreciate locally made products.  

“In 2015, Indian real estate was booming and there weren’t too many purist artisanal home decor and textile brands. It was also evident that Indian artisans were largely being employed to cater to the exports market. There was a newly placed demand in the country and the supply has always been there, it’s just that it was directed elsewhere. Pinklay was a medium to marry both these trends. In the subsequent years, we realised the need to pivot to grow and use our manufacturing capabilities optimally and so we ventured into clothing in 2020,” she says. 

Furthermore, Tanwani’s goal is not only to bring authentic and unique pieces of brilliant quality into the market, but also to empower the artisans with the sheer number of opportunities that India has to offer as a thriving market for their products. And most importantly, to give them the recognition and credit that they deserve. 

“We are an online first brand, which partners with local artisans to fuse traditional and modern designs in unconventional ways to create stunning products. Currently we work with 500 artisans and pay them fairly, often above the prevailing market prices. Also, there is no place for gender entitlement in my organisation, so we hire and pay equally based on skill and not gender,” she tells us.  

In Pinklay, women make up almost 50 per cent of the artisan workforce. In socio-culturally disadvantaged clusters where women can’t travel to work, Pinklay takes the work to them. “All our quilting, embroidery, and tassel making happens remotely in clusters where women cannot leave their homes,” Tanwani informs us. 

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A woman artisan at Pinklay India

Until 2017, her team was a small one, comprising of just 10 artisans and three employees, which included Tanwani, her partner and a warehouse manager. But today, they are 500 artisans strong and have a team of 28 people who are running the show.

Apart from leveraging the local talent, the company also sources locally, keeping away from imports and synthetic materials, which makes this start-up a sustainable business. “We don’t promote mindless consumption. Everything we do is locally procured, from talent to raw material. We work with pure fabrics while keeping away from all synthetic materials, leather, and plastic. Being conscious of its environmental impact, we restrict the majority of our packaging to sustainable and eco-friendly materials. Our garments are made to last and to be passed on as well,” Tanwani informs us.

Being a woman entrepreneur

Tanwani’s sense of fashion is comfortable and minimalist. As she says, “It’s one that doesn’t essentially follow trends.” But being an entrepreneur is not about being in your comfort zone.

Having studied journalism and having worked as a marketer at Danone, Tanwani never received a formal education or experience in the field of design. She left her high paying job at Danone in 2015, to kick off her venture. From thereon, after putting in all of her savings, she self-funded her business and thus began the journey of an entrepreneur.

“But it wasn’t an easy passage. People often questioned my judgment as a woman, my ability to strive in a male-dominated world, and my gumption to leave my job and start afresh at 30 years of age,” she reminisces.

“You don’t even have a design degree, you’re just a graduate! You will soon have kids; how will you manage? Why don’t you just source your products and open a boutique, like other women? Without funding, how will you grow? These were just a few of the many questions that were thrown at me, when all I needed was ‘you got this’,” she tells us while recounting how people treated her initially.

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Daisy Tanwani with a woman artisan at the workshop

But the tables have turned. Today, Pinklay clocks in 3,000 orders a month, with their wide range of textile and handicraft products such as metal etching, wood carving, pottery, hand painting, quilting, screen printing and embroidery among others.

The pandemic spurred their growth

“We happened to be at the right place at the right time with the right product,” she says while talking about how the pandemic affected Pinklay.

It was in a really positive manner, she tells us.

During the pandemic, March 2020 to be exact, just six days before the nation went into one of its first lockdowns, the brand launched its resort wear and loungewear collection.

“We had no indication of what was coming. But it just came to be that WFH became a necessity and so did comfortable and stylish clothing. And that was the aesthetic of our collection. Importantly, even though the first two months were difficult with everything including e-commerce on a halt, our team worked harder than ever to ensure that we were ready to deliver as soon as the lockdown was lifted. We grew at 400 per cent in 2020-2021,” she says.

Going forward, as the nation is back at the office, and the consumers have more clarity on the concept of YOLO, her start-up has a lot more to work on and there are various plans and strategies in their pipeline. To begin with, they remain committed to their initiative of hiring more local talent and being more sustainable. “I am determined to add to our artisan workforce. We want to have 2,000 artisans with us by the end of 2023. We are 85 per cent plastic free in our operations and hope to take this number to 90 per cent by the end of this year,” Tanwani asserts.

Down the line, the start-up is working to expand its footprint in India. “We are a self-funded business and are in no haste to raise funds. Our goal is to grow the brand with strategic and meaningful partnerships and not just financial funding,” she further avers.

Also, Tanwani’s roadmap is to create a mix of an online and an offline brand and they have recently inaugurated an offline store as well. She also wants to launch bigger stores in Mumbai and Delhi. Ultimately, Pinklay India foresees its presence internationally and wants to further entrench itself in the market as a solid, sustainable digital brand.