Q & A with Vaani.co

Vaani Collection (vaani.co) is a recently launched brand (@vaani.co) that sells gorgeous Indian jewelry, with the aim of empowering girls to be proud of their raw beauty and achievements. Vaani recognizes that our successes are not defined by a number but more our personal experiences, stories, and the struggles we have overcome to get to where we are today. With this in mind, Vaani.co created the ‘Extraordinary Women Project’ to highlight the stories of some extraordinary women in our community.

What inspired you to create Vaani.co? Why that name?

For a while now I had always found Indian jewelry so beautiful but I felt like it was underappreciated and somewhat inaccessible and expensive. And those frequent trips to India to stock up on jewelry aren’t so easy! I wanted to bring a label to everyone where the pieces could be worn with Indian outfits but also to make a statement worn with our Western outfits.

The name Vaani is actually part of my own name. It’s not the name I go by everyday but I found that adopting this little persona or “alter-ego” helped me feel more confident and carefree as I ventured out on starting something like this. It helped me have a clean slate, no rules, no expectations, no pressure. I know I’ve been so lowkey about who I am but I’ve found that that’s worked best for me so far. I’m not doing this for any personal fame or glory or attention and staying on the low like this has helped me keep my focus on what’s important.

Going by my “own” name, it made me feel restricted and bound in a sense. I had built up a distinct personality type and I had different expectations for myself, and I didn’t want the label to be bound by any of that. Being Vaani and running Vaani Collection I am completely free to do what I like, act how I like, talk how I like. Personally I am not someone who anyone would expect to start a full on fashion jewelry label. It’s those expectations I wanted to steer clear from. I feel so different now and when I do put my face to the name, I know I won’t feel the pressure from anyone to act in a certain way they’d expect from me or I’d expect from myself. I’ve proven to myself that I can be whoever I want, so I’m actually super excited to eventually “come out”!

To me, Vaani embodies every girl at her best and living her best life, without any restrictions or expectations – even any she’d established for herself.

Who are the three people that have inspired you the most in your life?

I tend to look up to “real” people in the sense that I admire those around me going through struggles I can relate to and getting results from the hard work they put in. So the first would be my parents (sorry I’m counting them as 1 entity!) – for migrating to Australia, starting basically from scratch, giving us the life they do and investing so much in us, and also adjusting to the culture shock and allowing us to do “Western” things that they wouldn’t have done at our age. Secondly is my sister – she has been through her fair share of struggles but still remains optimistic, and no one expresses more excitement for me in life than she does. Lastly is my boyfriend, who I haven’t known for my whole life of course but the impact he’s had on me has been monumental. Only he and my family know who I am behind this label and he’s been one of my biggest supporters. He’s talked me through times when I’ve felt low and like a failure, he’s helped me package orders at midnight after work and he even posted the packages for my first round of collabs. His support inspires me to keep going with this all.

What fashion brands have inspired you?

I would definitely not consider myself a style icon or fashionista in any sense. I don’t follow Western fashion brands as closely as I do Indian ones, day-to-day I just wear whatever looks nice. I like florals/patterns but my go-to is leggings and an oversized sweater. Indian brands though I love Swati Manish (florals!), Tarun Tahiliani (gold and embroidery) and Shyamal and Bhumika. But I’m most personally inspired by the emerging fashion brands who are making a statement currently, namely MissDesiCouture (@missdesicouture) and The Saree Room (@thesareeroom) – first and second respectively.

Tell us a bit about the creator behind vaani.co? 5 fun facts about you?

 I want to split this up a bit to give a balanced picture of my ups and downs, so 2 things I’m proud of:

  • I’ve been to 40 countries
  • I’ve always been academically driven – my ATAR (university entry score if any non-Australians are reading this) was in the top 2% in Aus

2 things I’m not proud of:

  • I am/was ridiculously socially anxious. I hated making or receiving phone calls to the point where I’d find it hard to do my job if I had to make a call, or I wouldn’t pick up calls from unidentified numbers. I’d also stress and panic about upcoming social events and dwell on interactions for ages afterwards, and I’d always convince myself I was boring to others. Solo travel and professional treatment really helped me so if you’re feeling anything similar, go and get help even if you think your feelings are stupid or normal! It’s okay to tell a professional why you feel like your friends hate you because they don’t post selfies with you (#truestory). Australians on Medicare, you can get 10 free sessions with a psychologist by going to your GP and asking them to refer you!
  • I have androgenetic alopecia (female pattern hair loss – which normally affects women over 50!) and I started losing hair like crazy when I started full-time work and full-time uni 4 years ago. It won’t fully recover and there’s no cure. I’d get so insecure about it to the point where I’d wear a wig to hide bald patches and how visible my scalp was. It has definitely improved a lot in the past year and I don’t wear a wig or hair fibres anymore! I used to feel so sorry for myself but at the end of the day it’s just hair and I’m fortunate that it’s nothing that affects my ability in daily life.

And a random fact!

  • I’m allergic to kiwi fruits?!

What is the one thing you love about being brown and what is your biggest brown girl struggle?

I love way more than one thing about being brown! I love being brown, literally, I love how rich our skin colour is. I love all the colours of being desi – our outfits, our jewelry, our spices. I love our big families and all the noise when everyone gets together. But that’s probably the biggest brown girl struggle too. I hate all the gossip! As Hasan Minhaj perfectly put it: “log kya kahenge?” I’m sure all our parents brought us up with this mentality front and centre, but I can’t wait for our generation to be parents and be like “f**k Naila Aunty!”

Other than that real brown girl struggles I experience regularly are: my pink nails going yellow after eating a haldi-strong curry (I just have to pretend it’s some sunset ombré style thing and ignore that my other hand is still pink) and sometimes not washing oil out of my hair completely and it dries but I don’t realise there’s still oil in my hair until the next day so it’s all greasy until I can wash it out, ugh!!!

What is your ultimate Indian bridal look you would love to wear?

 For my wedding day I’d have to wear red, so I’d love a mix of red, gold and pink colours. The biggest focus would be my lehenga skirt so I’d have to do something stunning for that! I’d love a patterned blouse and a sheer gold dupatta. I also love floral patterns so I honestly have no idea what I’ll end up wearing! When I came across Shyamal and Bhumika, it was the first time I looked at an outfit and thought of my wedding.

For jewelry I would wear some dramatic polki statement earrings (as you know I love earrings), matching necklace and Maang Tikka and a big set of bangles (I also love bangles). I haven’t seen any jewelry sets that have stood out so far but I would avoid anything too big or heavy – I don’t want to be falling over on the day!

Hair and makeup, as much as I’d love to do it myself I know my Mum would kill me! It’s not that I’m so good at it, I just feel weird wearing too much makeup and I tend to feel uncomfortable when someone else has done my hair and makeup. But if I were to get married tomorrow I’d definitely go for a big glitter eye look (@aditimakeup does some amazing glitter looks) and probably a pinkish/nude lip. I pretty much only wear nude lips but if it’s my wedding I’d have to wear a bit more colour for the photos! I also prefer my hair down since I have a kind of round/chubby face and hair-up hairstyles make me look wider! I love the loose beachy waves look.

How difficult was it to organise everything pre-launch – what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

It was difficult but I had spread everything out over a while so I guess I didn’t feel it as much. I’d actually started formulating the idea of this label in my head a long time ago but between work and uni I didn’t take myself seriously until I had made the @vaani.co Instagram page and started getting positive feedback from real people! By around November 2017 I was OBSESSED with working on the business – so much so that I was hardly focussing on my studies during exam period. I was literally on a mark of 50% for one of my uni subjects but the label had become my priority.

Some of the challenges I faced – and continue to face – are prioritising and managing my time. Fortunately I passed all my subjects (including the one I almost failed!) so uni is out of the way, but I still work full-time so I’m usually working on the label during coffee breaks and to-and-from work. I also love my 8 hours of sleep so I’m still working out how to manage my time! I use to-do lists like crazy and I think that’s helped a lot so far. I have off days more regularly than I’d like to admit, days where I feel unmotivated and don’t want to do anything. I used to succumb to that and leave things to be done “tomorrow” but as time goes on I feel like I can fight those feelings. I’d say that’s definitely a result of all the support I’ve been getting from my nearest and dearest and all the lovely people I’ve come to meet through Instagram!

My biggest challenge though was, and still is, my self-doubt. I have so much faith in this label and what it stands for, but I’m constantly worrying if I’m the person who can take it to its heights. I’ve always been a quiet person and a lot of things made me question if I had it in me to run a real business. In high school I couldn’t even get a few friends together to do a dance, how was I supposed to run a business? I tried other things before but they also fell through so I was coming to a stage where I thought I should just accept that I can’t do it and just accept my 9-5 office life, do MBA etc. But at the same time I know that’s not me, I have so many ideas and ambitions that will just evaporate if I live behind a desk for the rest of my life! If I have the ideas it means I have the potential and literally the only person telling me I can’t achieve what I want is myself.

I would get really hard on myself by comparing myself to other businesses and people. I was worried about the low number of followers I had before launching and the “negative” follower-to-following ratio. Other pre-launch fashion labels usually had thousands of followers before launching and their founders were such strong presences in the “Instagram community”. I’m literally the opposite, I have like 10 followers! I’m not a style icon at all, I literally got my first eyeshadow palette in 2017 and when I got fake lashes on for the first time I celebrated for like 3 weeks. Comparing myself like this, I was constantly wondering if I had it in me to do it. I was constantly comparing myself to another person I know and their jewelry/fashion label and how well it was doing and I wondered what I was doing wrong, or what strengths and qualities they had that I didn’t. That thinking is so dangerous and I admit I still do it. I find myself questioning whether I should replicate what they’re doing but since the vision is so important to me and such an integral part of this label, I don’t want to compromise values for the sake of profits and quick success. I get picky about who I reach out to to work with and it’s important to me that it’s they feel enriched after the collab. My boyfriend teases me about how quickly I get attached to people and objects but I honestly do get attached to the people who interact with us. As I said in a post before, it’s not about the number of followers someone has. I appreciate those who give off that positive vibe. I won’t compromise on that for accelerated growth. If we work together or interact, you have a loyal and lifelong fan in me!

How did it feel to finally launch? What has been the best part of building your Vaani.co family?

The day before launching I was ridiculously excited and also so nervous. I don’t have a technical background so I was worried about the website, and the shipping and the product range and the prices. I had tested it all before of course but you can never be too sure or too ready! The day of the launch I was super busy and didn’t get around to checking how things were going until the end of the day. Honestly? I hadn’t made a single sale. I felt like the biggest failure and could have given up right there and then.

Luckily I didn’t because I did eventually get an order and things picked up after that. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that that had been the case, but if I had given up just because of that initial setback I would never have gotten to the point of real progress or maybe even doing this interview!

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The best part of this entire experience has no doubt been the people I’ve come to know. I’m definitely an introvert and socialising isn’t my thing, but I have met so many amazing and EXTRAORDINARY people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s so amazing to see how different everyone is and all the different things people are doing. Hopefully I can play a role in recognising all these people for who they are and what they do – beyond how pretty they are!

Where do you see Vaani.co in the future? What are your ultimate goals/aims?

I feel like I’m onto something monumental here after seeing how much the Vaani Vision resonated with all the girls out there. That was such an insane feeling because when I started out I was just taking a risk and seeing how it went. I definitely have a lot of motivation to grow now!

It would be amazing to take Vaani to a point where I’d have to cut down my day-job commitments to dedicate more time to Vaani and maybe even hire some employees to help out with things like packaging. Ultimately my goal is to make Vaani an accessible and affordable jewelry label for any event – Western or Indian. I’d love to see people wearing our pieces on the daily as stunning statement pieces. Seriously all of our pieces at the moment look amazing with our everyday Western outfits, I wear them often myself! And I keep this in mind for future pieces – I can’t wait to showcase new products coming soon!

Anything else you would like to say?

Being INTERVIEWED is such a milestone for me! I would never have expected someone would want to interview me. But taking myself as an example, I think everyone should go out and take a chance at whatever it is they want to do. Never put yourself in a position where you look back and regret not even trying. If this label doesn’t go well for me, as disappointed as I’ll be, I’ll be proud of myself for overcoming so many personal fears and taking the leap. I’ve had so many opportunities I would never have thought possible already, and I have so much excitement for the future now. I feel myself walk, talk and act differently now – with more confidence.

Thank you Oshin and Eka Society for this amazing opportunity!