She empowers rural artisans

traditional

She empowers rural artisans

When you throw entrepreneurship in the way of a woman with a passion for jewellery designing, you get Zola, a Chennai-based brand run by Gina Joseph.

With the aim to design jewellery that celebrates India’s rich heritage without compromising on quality, Gina decided to take a leap of faith and started this venture.

“I did not undergo any specific training in jewellery design; it was more of a hidden passion that surfaced at the right time in my life,” Gina begins.

Much of Zola’s foundation was formed when the former media professional attended an Arts Management programme at DakshinaChitra in Chennai. It was here that her interest in jewellery was born.  “As part of my Indian art project, I created my first three pieces of jewellery. It was exciting to craft those necklaces for my project and I wanted to explore the activity further,” she recalls.

Born in a classroom

While Gina had always appreciated art, it wasn’t until she did this course was she able to understand and appreciate the finer details of a sculpture or a painting. Armed with a better understanding of design, she started bringing a lot more character to her pieces.

“Traditional Indian jewellery and the rich culture they represent have always fascinated me. I was inspired by the art, architecture and culture of India. It fuelled my passion for creating something on my own,” says Gina.

With the belief that one must be ready to “get one’s hands dirty and enjoy the process of everything one does in life”, Gina began her journey to become an entrepreneur. Besides reading books, she travelled extensively and met people from various cultures to understand jewellery and the art of making it.

“When I started Zola, I didn’t have much of a plan. I just focused on giving my 100% to bringing in rural crafts into the market. And jewellery design was a new concept that got people interested,” she opines.

Empowering rural artisans

Her constant exploration of ways to give the various arts and crafts India a new lease of life in the form of jewellery is perhaps her USP. Her hopes is to bridge the gap between rural artisans and customers who can appreciate a great piece of jewellery. “After all it's more fun to wear a piece of art on your body rather than hanging it on the walls of your house!” she exclaims.

A milestone was crossed when Gina was asked by Gita Ram, the vice-chairperson of Crafts Council of India, to conduct a five-day workshop in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha for artisans. This happened by chance as she was there to show her jewellery. “I was nervous initially, but after the workshop concluded, I knew that I had found my calling, as no other job had given me such satisfaction,” she gushes.

What makes Zola stand out from the rest of the brands in the market is the fact that it works with rural artisans to create unique pieces. This enables them to make a living out of their craft and earns them respect.

Regular workshops

To ensure sustained economic empowerment for such artisans, Gina conducts regular design ‘intervention and innovation’ workshops. Through these, she ensures that there is open communication on the techniques and design to make a collaborative effort.

While doing so, she makes sure that their traditional style of working does not get tampered with. “I let the artist do what he is comfortable with. Only the form changes,” explains Gina. What’s more, as Zola runs as a decentralised setup, the artisans she works with do not have to move out of their homes.

What started off as a college project has today reached great heights. Not only has the brand been to expand their customer base, they have also been able to make a positive impact in the lives of the artisans they are working with. “It gives me a lot of happiness and a sense of fulfilment when I hear about the little changes Zola has brought in their lives,” reveals Gina.

While a lot of work goes into ensuring the brand’s uniqueness, Gina loves to unwind with a book or watch her favourite shows on Netflix on weekends. She also tries to travel as much as she can. “My work also takes me to some of the most beautiful parts of rural India, where I’ve met some very interesting people,” shares Gina. “Spending a few days with them, sharing and learning about their lives, I’ve made memories for a lifetime.”

With her customers being her biggest supporters, Gina hopes to continue to impact the lives of more artisans in a sustainable manner and produce quality jewellery  that celebrates India’s rich craft heritage.

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