Monisha Gupta had just completed class 12 from Modern School, Delhi, when she got her first taste of entrepreneurship making gift wrapping paper. Having secured an order based on her beautiful samples, she got 2000 copies printed by a local printer.
In just a few days, however, she was devastated to see her ‘exclusive’ print all over the wholesale market. She’d been too naïve for the system.
The Lady Shri Ram student shut shop but the lesson stayed with her.
The founder of Craft House – which retails high-quality Indian crafts and curios through the Metropolitan Hotel in central Delhi and from New Delhi International Airport – recalls her youthful sojourns with vivid detail.
Her role models belonged to her own family. Having inherited the business and feminist gene from her maternal grandmother, who moved from Pilani to Mumbai and set up a manufacturing unit full of women making small gift articles in the 1940s, Monisha also learnt the art of retail from her mother who handled the distribution of those wares in Delhi.
Her paternal grandma, too, inspired Monisha with her resolve. Having opened a leprosy home in Meerut and Modinagar, the lady never took any money from her wealthy family and instead held exhibitions of Banarasi saris all over India to fund her social work.
Born of the same mettle, Monisha did her MBA from the US, and then trained in gemstone value enhancement in Germany before working with a luxury brand on Bond Street, London. “That’s where I learnt about the nakhra customers, the demanding ones,” she smiles.
She returned to India and got married a year later. In 2000, her husband Vipul launched a new hotel, the Metropolitan, and asked her if she wanted to use a little space of 150 sq ft under the large stairway to set up a shop. Monisha took it.
She started out with a handful of products that would appeal to tourists – handicrafts, shawls, jewellery and so on – though it was challenging. “Is this a shop or a closet?” one customer snidely remarked. But appreciation from the diplomatic community encouraged her to keep going. Then came a big leap in 2004 when she got 4000 sq ft of space in the hotel basement. Monisha took it again.
Overnight, she had to scale up operations thousands of times over.
Consciously sourcing eco-friendly products from women artisans and employing only women in her store, Craft House grew over the next decade to defy Monisha’s own expectations.
She amped up the variety of her wares – from tea and pashmina to fabrics and Ayurveda-based beauty products – in a price range to suit every budget, from Rs 50 to Rs 3.5 lakh.
She soon had a huge international client base – including, she jokes, nakhra customers who became regulars, placing repeat orders even after going back home, or bringing along new customers.
In 2012, another opportunity came up: a bid for the central spot at Indira Gandhi International Airport’s Terminal 3 Departure in Delhi. Monisha grabbed it with open arms, though this was a whole new ballgame. She’d now have to run a retail outlet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with a footfall of over 1000 customers per day. Besides, the rate of pilferage was inordinately high at the airport; costs would shoot up.
But the challenges only drove Monisha on. She sought the resources she needed in Jiddu Krishnamurti books, and in herself.
She drilled the idea of perfection in her manufacturers. “This is about representing your country,” she would pep them. “We will make India proud,” they responded, roused.
In 2014, she launched the e-store crafthouseindia.com. Today, with over 100 employees working with 150 vendor groups across the country, there is unmistakable passion and pride in Monisha’s gaze. “This is my contribution to my nation,” she says of her 17-year journey, evolving at every step, being receptive to feedback from customers and fearless in the face of opportunities.
“Following others is easy,” she says. “It’s far more difficult to walk your own path. And everything you pass through makes you.”