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Keeping the roots of handcrafted bags alive

Updated: Jan 4


In My Experience...

Riddhima Sayal, Co-Founder and Production Head, RISA bags


Excerpts from an interview with Shrehya Agarwal in which Riddhima Sayal speaks about the ups and downs of owning a homegrown luxury brand, staying true to her roots and the challenges in the Indian luxury market.



Highlights:

  • RISA Bags was named after the initials of the two sisters behind it.

  • Inspired by the bags produced in their factory in Ludhiana for big western brands including Pepe Jeans and Armani, the girls decided to start their own brand.

  • Brand uses only upcycled leather to produce handcrafted bags.

  • The brand is moving towards sustainable choices and are currently developing concepts with the idea of using cactus leather and piñatex.

  • Their initiative to empower and train women who eventually start producing these bags, gives impetus to the Make In India and Skill India programmes.

  • By making sure that the each bag is produced using traditional Indian techniques, including hand embroidery and bandhani, they attract sellers from across the globe who appreciate them.

  • Among its challenges, the company is trying to establish itself as a well-known global brand on par with other same-segment established brands with a long legacy.

  • ‘A robust marketing strategy is of paramount importance,’ says Riddhima.


The COP26 summit may have ended recently, but the discussions about sustainability, keeping luxury brands in mind, have been going on for a long time. Over the years, many newer brands have come up that have adopted a ‘greener’ approach to production.


One of them that stands out is RISA Bags.


The brand, established by sisters Riddhima and Saloni Sayal in Delhi in 2012, uses only upcycled leather to create exquisite handcrafted bags. Now, it has become a household name in Canada and has got many adoring customers from across the globe. Women’s empowerment is the other important principle that the brand stands for, and both Riddhima and Saloni take a very active approach when supporting their team.


Q: The brand name RISA is very intriguing. Why did you choose it?

A: The brand name comes from the initials of my sister’s and my name. It sort of rung a bell when I came up with it so I went with it.


Q: A lot of new brands have a driving purpose behind their creation. What was that one purpose behind creating your brand?

A: The main purpose was to keep the art of handcrafting live. My sister and I grew up watching leather bags being produced in our family’s factory for different brands across the world. We saw so much handcrafting. Watching the women artisans weaving and hand-tooling, transforming leather into handbags, really encouraged us to start this brand. We want to keep handcrafting alive and stay connected to our roots.


Q: When you, or any other homegrown brand for that matter, create these products, where do we see Indian culture reflected in them?

A: We’ve always wanted to stay connected with our roots. All said and done, we’re an Indian luxury brand. Wholesalers and retailers buy from us because we’re from India. They love the concept of women producing these bags from home and the intricate detailing on the bags. As far as including Indian elements are concerned, we do a lot of tie-dyeing, weaving, hand embroideries and bandhani. In the bandhani method, the pattern created after tie dyeing is not perfect, but that imperfection is a hallmark of handcrafted goods.


Q: It’s been quite some time since you launched you brand. Can you tell us any funny anecdotes from when it was newly launched.

A: We opened our first store in Meherchand Market in Delhi. This was right next to Khan Market so we expected an excellent crowd. We would encounter these ladies in the store carrying expensive Louis Vuitton or Hermès handbags. These women loved our bags but they would ask for a discount. We thought why would they ask for a discount while carrying handbags that probably cost a lakh. My sister and I often laughed about this.


This was, however, a learning experience for us because it helped us understand what the Indian customer wanted. We learned how to get customers to believe in our brand.


Q: Can you think of three things you wish you knew when you were starting your brand?

A: It is very important to have patience. I used to be very impatient with customers in the beginning. The phrase ‘customer is king’ is very true despite being a cliché. Secondly, the Indian luxury market is very hard to crack. The third thing I would like to point out is value for money. It is very important for customers to feel like they’re paying the right amount of money for these bags. I wish I had known earlier how to use stories to convince customers to buy a bag.


Q: What are three challenges that you want to overcome to ensure RISA can grow further both domestically and globally?

A: The number one challenge would be the constant tussle between the brand and customer. Our brand can be compared to Michael Kors because of the price similarities. When customers ask us why they should buy a bag from us and not from Michael Kors, which costs the same and is a bigger brand, it is a task to convince them why my brand is as good or bad as any other brand in that same segment. So we have to constantly work on that through how we portray the brand.


The second challenge is a lack of knowledge that people have about turning a domestic brand into an international one. There are many details such as import duties, shipping and logistics which brand owners are unaware of. It is very important to study these things.


Lastly, never have a casual attitude or be over confident about your product. You need to know what you’re selling and whether it’s worth that price. A robust marketing strategy is of paramount importance.


Q: What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs who want to find their future in the luxury industry?

A: Be at it all the time and don’t give up.


If you want to start your brand, you should know your purpose, where you’re headed and what is your market. Come what may, continue persevering, be excited about the next thing coming your way. There can’t be a lull else your brand becomes stagnant. That is what I would tell them and I would love to help them in any ways that I can.


If you would like to watch the full interview with Riddhima please click here.

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