Rohini Shah is a woman who knows what she wants. When she realized that she had had enough of the corporate world, she left to start her own company, Blu Salt
. Her goal was to try and create the perfect work/travel bag that she had
been searching for herself. She then took it a step further by making sure
her beautifully crafted products are
made from sustainable materials in factories that provide a living wage.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My background is in business. With undergraduate degrees in Economics & Advertising, as well as two MBAs (my father says I can’t learn anything the first time around), I was well-suited for my early career in management consulting, marketing and corporate finance, and was well-prepared to take my leap into entrepreneurship. I enjoy my work designing and running Blu Salt, but my love is my family and the life I have with them.
What made you decide to leave the corporate world and start Blu Salt?
Over time, the dissonance between what I was doing for work and how I wanted to live my life became too much to bear. I felt I was sacrificing a lot on a personal front and was not doing justice to the commitment I needed to make for my job in consulting, so I decided to leave my job to start Blu Salt. My interest in designing bags for professional women came from my experiences while I worked, where paying for expensive bags that didn’t quite work as well I wanted them became a nagging pain point.
What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your business? The most rewarding?
Dealing with ambiguity is both the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of starting my own business. Since there has been no other Blu Salt before this, every step of the business is about creating structure out of the unknown. From designing the bags, to finding the right manufacturers, to deciding the tenets I want to base my business on, there is no one else besides myself who can make the final call. The responsibility is ultimately mine which feels immense, but that is also what allows me to look back with satisfaction of everything we’ve achieved so far.
Blu Salt follows the tenets of "Mindful Production, Mindful Consumption." How and why did you decide that your company should follow this path?
Leaving my consulting job to start a company gave me a lot of time at the beginning – to think about what I wanted to do for a living and how I wanted to contribute to the greater society, and based on a lot of self-reflection and discussion with other people whose opinions I respected, I thought that there was a need for Thoughtful Luxury.
No one needs another bag or another bag company, but what you need is a way for you to purchase a product that leaves the world a little better off for having been created. We have a responsibility as a business to our customers, our communities and to our suppliers and that responsibility is encapsulated in Mindful Production, Mindful Consumption.
For you, the user, Mindful Consumption is achieved by providing you with a well-made luxury product that is useful, beautiful, versatile and durable, thereby reducing your need to purchase more than you use. Similarly, other aspects include reusable packaging and building out a demand based production model to minimize waste.
With Mindful Production, we ensure that our products are made with sustainable materials whenever possible, that we work with factories that provide fair living wages and working conditions and that we commit to giving a percentage of each sale to a non-profit that supports programs that help women in rural areas learn employable skills.
Why did I decide to do it? I realized I had a rare opportunity to run a bit of an experiment: to be in a position to start and run a business that creates value beyond profit. I wanted to create something greater than simply earning me a comfortable life, and this was the way I felt I could contribute meaningfully to society with the skills that I have.
Your collection of bags and wallets are beautifully made from recycled and organic fabrics in factories that are audited in person for good working conditions. How do you ensure and maintain these standards?
When I first started looking for manufacturers, I chose to look at manufacturing facilities that already worked with other sustainable brands and/or luxury brands since that would mean that what I was looking for in terms of quality and materials were already something they had sourced before. I worked off of referrals for several manufacturing facilities and had them make samples of my products.
I chose to work with the ones that allowed me access to understanding their costs, margins and gave me full access to see their manufacturing facilities so that I could satisfy myself that there were no practices that I was not comfortable with. I have invested a lot in developing a relationship with my suppliers beyond simply that of a customer, so that I understand their pressures and pain points. Similarly, they understand my goals and values because that trust is critical to me being able to ensure that we are able to negotiate fairly and not simply take money that would otherwise allow them and their workers living wages.
What is a typical day like for you?
This is the hardest question since no two days are alike! Well, for the most part, I start my day around 5:30 or 6:00. The first hour and 1/2 or so is taken up getting my son ready for school, getting breakfast on the table and taking care of our two dogs and three cats. If I am not feeling lazy, I spend another hour and ½ or so working out and getting ready for work.
I start my work day by about 9am and am at my desk for the most part till 4pm or so – most meeting are via Skype with the team or in person at my favorite local coffee shop. My husband works nights, so some times we sneak in a lunch date or movie on slower afternoons. My son comes home by 4:30pm and we both spend time with him until he goes to bed. After that, it’s time to unwind with a good book or show.
How do you come up with the designs for your collection?
Out of my own necessity. Each design was based on improvements I wished bags I bought had. I work with a talented product designer who creates the specifications for manufacturing and I am intricately involved in material choices, features for utility and durability as well as final aesthetics. My first and foremost concern is maximizing the versatility and utility of each bag – no design feature on the bags (barring the logo) is added that doesn’t contribute to one of those two aspects.
What advice do you wish you had before starting Blu Salt?
To be realistic about how long a process this will be. One of things about starting a business is realizing how much of a marathon it is vs. a sprint. We see so many stories about how these young companies are overnight successes and it’s great for them, but the honest truth is that, those are more the exception than the rule. Realizing that you will make mistakes along the way and that success is hard earned, is critical to being able to keep going even when times feel tough.
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