Have you ever left a bag at the airport or had your wallet stolen? There's good news. Luxury goods brand, Issara now offer a unique trackable luxury collection, called Smart that is embedded with bluetooth and crowd GPS technology. The collection offers different models of handcrafted leather bags, which come in various colours and are suitable for both the male and female market.
In 2014, Rosh Govindaraj founded Issara, an online one stop shop online platform for those seeking high quality, handmade travel and everyday use leather bags. In this interview, Rosh takes us through her business success journey, speaks about failure in business and goal setting.
What is the story behind Issara?
“Issara” means freedom in Thai. It’s a concept and a liberty that I hold very dear. I started Issara as I was so frustrated with the fruitless search for an intelligently designed, long lasting leather bag that didn’t break the bank. Also, the prevalence of unsustainable fast fashion replying upon planned obsolescence to keep the industry moving had me convinced that there was a better way to consume. At Issara we work with artisans to produce minimalist, luxury quality leather goods that are fairly priced and benefit the community making them. Each piece is hand drafted, cut, sewn and burnished so there is no waste and each item is a work of art. The materials rival those of high fashion brands (premium full grain leather, quality hardware, Japanese zippers, UV resistant nylon thread) so your bag will last several years and become more beautiful with age (good leather develops a patina from the oil in your hands and the environment it is exposed to). It becomes a unique piece that tells a story. Our current range is optimized for travel and work and includes weekenders, totes, wallets and laptop sleeves. Each piece can also be personalized with your initials for a unique touch.
Our community is a big part of our business, and each of our artisans receives a fair, livable wage, health insurance and is enrolled in a savings plan. Our tanneries are compliant with environmental and waste management standards, and hides are sourced from New Zealand, renowned for strong animal welfare laws. By circumventing large factories, middlemen and excessive marketing, we deliver premium, personalized pieces at a fraction of the traditional retail price.
What prompted you to want to start your own business?
Business can be an avenue to make significant impact and with great scale. I love the idea of creating something that did not previously exist, of adding value in the form of a new design, process, service or product. Of course, only being answerable to yourself (and your customers) is a great feeling. I love to travel and have freedom to spend my time in pursuit of things I love and running my own business was a way to achieve that and make a difference at the same time.
What failures did you encounter and when? How did these happen and how did you deal with them?
Failures always lead to some kind of learning though it’s hard to see that at the time! For me, finding and working with the right artisans and workshops was initially a really big struggle. When working with smaller workshops, the processes you might expect from a large factory just don’t exist. Even little things like getting them to check emails regularly were initially an issue. They’re artists, not business people and that shows. All that effort is starting to pay off now, and we’re at a stage where I’m really happy with the results. To get here, I spent months on the ground implementing processes and training the team on working in a more structured and “professional” manner. There were lots of tears and frustrations in dealing with language and cultural barriers, not to mention sexist and ageist attitudes that pervade this industry. I grew a much thicker skin because of it.
Another huge challenge lay in sourcing premium leather and hardware. There are lots of brands which retail handcrafted leather goods (try Etsy), but I wanted my products to rival the high-fashion brands in quality. We now have Grade A, full grain leather custom-developed for us in tanneries that also supply luxury Italian brands. This was a massive step forward.
Tell us about the new Smart campaign, how did you come up with it? What inspired you?
I had my work laptop stolen by a taxi driver a couple of years ago and am always hearing from friends who have lost / had things stolen while traveling. And who can't relate to an instance where they've left the house only to realise much later that they've left their wallet at home? Technology has done so much to improve our lives. I just felt like it was time it was incorporated into our everyday carry items to simplify daily life. Our smart, trackable collection is embedded with Bluetooth and crowd GPS technology so you'll be alerted before leaving things behind by a free app on your phone. You can also can track down your bag or wallet on a map if it's lost or stolen. There are early bird specials at up to 55% off retail price so it's worth having a look for some good presents :)
What would you say your biggest success in business has been up to date and why?
Being featured on TechCrunch and Forbes. They were great PR wins that gave our brand some serious credibility and traffic.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Is there a particular public figure who inspires you?
Elon Musk for his focus and grit, Michelle Obama for being an amazing, compassionate and impassioned leader and champion of women, Arunachalam Muruganantham (an Indian social entrepreneur and inventor) who alienated his wife, mother and entire community because of his commitment to provide low-cost sanitary pads and education about proper hygiene to women across India. His story is incredibly inspiring and he is such a humble and humorous speaker.
How do you set goals for your business?
I break them up into the following categories:
How do you keep your work/life balance as a business owner?
It’s really hard to do this because when you’ve put all your energy into something, it is no longer just work. It’s your baby and every little thing seems like such a big deal. It can get difficult to distance yourself. I try to keep the balance going by reminding myself that that only way I can work effectively is to take care of myself, and to keep loving what I do, I need to avoid burnout. So I am fiercely protective of my time and am selective about how I spend it. I say no without feeling guilty an be picky in the activities I take on knowing that whatever I am committing to, I am now doing better as a result of focus. I schedule everything on my Google calendar (even things like workouts and time to paint). Reviewing my short and long term goals periodically also helps keep everything in focus and make decision making (and balancing life) easier.
To see Issara's brand new luxury trackable collection click here
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