It takes a bold and brazen individual to turn their back on conformity. To do so is challenging. To do so can make it harder to be heard. In the end, however, those who step outside the box and shout for change are those we remember and those we look up to.
Indian product designer Manasa Prithvi is one of those individuals who’s unafraid of rocking the boat. In fact, challenging the status quo serves as the basis of her company Ira Studio. “I wanted to try and create an identity for Indian crafts that [wasn’t] necessarily kitsch or as ornate as Indian design is so well known for,” she says. With this in mind, she’s worked tirelessly to craft unique tables and lamps, each one inspired by Indian heritage while simultaneously pushing it forward. She hopes that, if anything, each piece shows the world a little bit more of what her country has to offer. Click through to hear all about how she got her start and everything Ira Studio has up its sleeve. Enjoy! —Garrett
Photography courtesy of Ira Studio
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
It had always been my dream to start on my own. Having worked for a few years under a designer at a design house [taught me how hard it is] to get your creative voice heard when you are working for somebody else.
I have a strong affinity [for] India’s artistic heritage, especially the traditional handmade products I was exposed to from very early on. The love for those simple pieces of pottery, brass and copper kitchenware [and] the beautifully woven textiles left me with a feeling of longing to create something of my own. There is a need for change in the Indian craft industry and a way to provide fresh opportunities for craft families to remain in the industry. Once this interest developed into a passion, I wanted to try and create an identity for Indian crafts that [wasn’t] necessarily kitsch or as ornate as Indian design is so well known for. That’s how and why Ira Studio was born.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I think it all started when I was a kid. I’ve always been inclined towards art and design. My mother and I would visit craft fairs in our city, and our house was dotted with vintage products or traditionally made objects. During my undergrad courses I knew I wanted to design products, but wasn’t really sure what kind. I hadn’t yet developed a unique aesthetic or a design sensibility by then, so I went to London to study Design and Making and completed my Masters in Visual Arts at University of the Arts London. Being in a different country [highlighted] the uniqueness of the Indian artistic heritage and how [much it influenced me]. Further research about the craft industry in India fueled my desire to work with artisans to reinterpret traditional designs and processes for contemporary living.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Do what you love, and do it well. I was always encouraged to pursue my passion, and work sincerely.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
It was to get the right people to notice the work: buyers and design publications alike. Apart from things like financing, it’s also a matter of self-discipline. It’s about setting standards for myself and making sure I don’t fall below those expectations.
How did you finance your business in the beginning?
I had encouraging parents and grandparents who generously helped me with the financing in the beginning. Since we make only limited-edition pieces and work with one product series at a time, I didn’t need a lot to start with.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that every product has to have certain procedures and quality controls or it just doesn’t work.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
It’s an ever-evolving process. I’m also slowly learning to trust my judgment and go with my intuition.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I think I would absorb those magical hours into my personal time. Perhaps [I’d] read, cook better meals or spend it doing something more cultural. These take a hit on normal [work] days!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I don’t think I’ve had to make any big sacrifices. I knew that there would be tough times, sacrifices of financial stability and the comfort of a regular job, but when you love what you do this feels totally worth it.
When you’re starting out and are in the early years of your business, it’s hard to strike a balance between work and your personal life. I’m still in the early years of my business and I’m still trying to strike that balance.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
Each time I get an email from an interested buyer saying that they love my work or when a client, after receiving the product, lets me know that they really loved it. For me, [that’s] success. It validates the work I do.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
I don’t think there has been one major event that has led me to success. I’m a big believer of the saying “Everything happens for the better.” [Not getting] into the design school I wanted led me to studying in London. I believe [this] opened many doors and really broadened my perspective.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Be sure and extremely passionate about what you want to do, and know that you are capable of running the show.
2. If you want to stand out, you have to bring something new to the table. These days, most businesses are global, so having a unique voice that can be heard is important.
3. Tough days, uninspiring days, great days, tiring days, days when you want to give up and days when you love your job are all part of the mix. Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
I wish I didn’t do this, but I open my email and Instagram. A quick browse at all the wonderful images gets me going.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
I’m responsible and answerable for everything. This can be mentally draining at times. The administration side of things can be a bit of a pain point for someone who is creative, but the reality is that you have to deal with it all. I’ve learned to prioritize and set schedules and [put] systems in place.