Priyanka Sarkar: “Your workers are always your most valuable asset”

Your workers are always your most valuable asset- If you lose your best ones during the crisis, rebuilding your operations is going to be even more difficult. Even if you have to cut labor costs dramatically during the crisis, you want to maintain your ability to rehire your best workers when the world is open […]

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Your workers are always your most valuable asset- If you lose your best ones during the crisis, rebuilding your operations is going to be even more difficult. Even if you have to cut labor costs dramatically during the crisis, you want to maintain your ability to rehire your best workers when the world is open for business again. The key here is to focus on the long term and to be human.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Priyanka Sarkar.

Priyanka is a designer by heart (and training), retailer by mind and omnipreneur by choice!

An entrepreneurial-driven senior management professional with over 16 years career in Fashion Retail Industry that reflects an exceptional record of achievements in delivering strong market oriented product performance(apparel and accessories) and operational results across India, GCC and KSA.

International experience includes working, traveling, and conducting business and supply chain in the Middle East, UK, Europe and the Far East regions. Motivational team leader with strong communication and diplomacy skills, and the ability to easily work with and manage a multinational staff. Passion for success and maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, energy and style.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I come from a lineage of Art Historians, Restoration Artists and Academicians who have spent their lives working with Design, Craftsmen and Art. With my maternal roots firmly placed in the cultural hub of India, I have always had a strong connect with ‘Design and Sustainability’ from early childhood days. Getting into ‘Product Design’ was my ultimate wish list. But as the legend goes- “man proposes, God disposes”!

With eyes set on product, I ended up at the National Institute of Fashion Technology which to my surprise further stretched and strengthened attributes toward Design and product development apart from growing my interest in Fashion and Jewelry.

And jewelry has been a point of fascination from an early stage in my life. It’s so versatile, it’s like the exclamation point of one’s personality. Combining art and conceptual designs into jewelry was the most obvious choice!! And that’s how House of Biori got formalized after working through a varied array of markets, segments and hierarchies across 16 years.

Biori is developed on 3 principles of Omniprenuership — Giving, Earning and Sustaining.

Biori means Be Original. Bi is the phonetic transcription of Be. BIORI stands for sustainable, handmade, unique designs created by artisans for the contemporary women who know to appreciate and adorn design led craftsmanship.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

The most interesting story is ‘Entrepreneurship’ in itself! It’s a continuous journey towards self-discovery and the results have been fascinating.

My days are ever changing…I am constantly researching, reading, scribbling, communicating be it with my artisans, customers or on any new possibility. There are mad days, crazy schedules, re boot times and at peace with self-times but there is never a dull moment in BIORI. Picking up that chord by self to stay high on energy, self-motivated, passionate and resilient is a daily to do list. Thanks to my core support- my boys at home (hubby and my little man of 14 years) and my bunch of honest, real 3am friends who just make it all so worth it!! And of course, my customers, whose smiles and comments make all the sweat an absolute value!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

While the average shopper may not be aware of all the details behind a product, mind sets are beginning to shift. On one hand people want a good deal on the investment they make in terms of quality, design, look and feel. On the other hand they also want to have an assurance that the same is not being done at the cost of trashing the environment or affecting someone’s life. Be it in fine jewelry or fashion, shoppers have become more discerning, appreciating design, craftsmanship and uniqueness rather than an ostentatious display to demonstrate status.

And our ongoing and future projects completely revolve around building unique, design and craft led pieces that are light on pocket and high on design expanding both on brick and motor and digital platforms. We are working towards launching new product lines like a range of eclectic upcycled fabric accessories and jeweled hair accessories in addition to our seasonal jewelry collections.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I love this question! Anytime, you do something that is not the norm or that is not directly related to status quo, it’s easy for people to think that they should take pit shots at you! And I have been dealing with stuff like this all my life because I have never taken the conventional route! And the journey so far has just been incredible, thanks to my partner in crime, my soul mate, my husband Sandeep Arora and my wonderful little man Orion.

I dragged him into the world of Fashion and he came in with open arms and a vigilant mind watching my back at every step 21 years ago. When I decided to leave the cushioned, well paid corporate throne and put in the savings on my dream project BIORI, he didn’t even think twice! He gave every bit to create my name. When no one knew me or my brand, he touted my name. When critics loved my work, he was beside me and when there was a dead end or nowhere to look through, he loved me more.

BIORI or I couldn’t be here if he wasn’t there besides me. It takes a lot to make someone else’s dream as your own dream and Sandeep does that so beautifully day in and day out. Blissful and priceless, indeed.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

When the news is all doom and gloom — as it has been since the outbreak of the coronavirus — it’s hard for even the most optimistic amongst us to stay positive. It’s true that we need to take this virus seriously.

Right now, many of the patterns we know and love have been obliterated. Like getting into happy hours without checking space and occupancy, stepping out for a walk without carrying anything or even planning annual trips or short staycations.

What I meant was that we can’t plan for the future, because in the age of the coronavirus, we don’t know what we’ll be doing in six months, or even tomorrow. We’re stuck in a new kind of everlasting present. “And so everything seems completely otherworldly,” when you take people away from the things that are familiar to them, it’s surprisingly easy for people to lose track of themselves — their identity, the things that are important to them.

With that comes tremendous stress. The lonely and isolated are now more lonely and isolated. Existing conflicts and stressors, like alcohol abuse and abusive relationships, can resurface or worsen.

To combat our aimlessness, we need continuity, and luckily that’s one of the few things you can easily create for yourself right now. Physical activity is critical, staying social is critical too, so have a few drinks with your friends over video chat or meet in check.

If we manage to keep some of our old habits, especially those that we like the most then we are less disoriented. So it’s less surreal and more grounded.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Obviously, there are things you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak to protect yourself and those around you, but you do not need to become a COVID-19 expert, nor do you need to hear about every unpleasant detail from dawn until bedtime. Instead, focus on the positive so that you have the energy and resolve needed to weather this storm. Below are some of the things that I have been following up with my family.

Limiting the intake- instead of listening to multiple sources for news and status, we listen to one and that too for a limited time.

Look to the past — Reminding ourselves of our past resilience on a regular basis. If we got through that, we will get through this too.

Doing things together — cook a meal, make a DIY project, watch a film or funny videos, do a karaoke night etc.

Supporting our local favorite brands and businesses — shop local

Sending gifts via mail- Unexpected treats can be a huge pick-me-up-in times of stress.

Take a daily inventory — losing every day, with a positive acknowledgement of something we accomplished, learned or are grateful for. This helps to dilute some of the negativity we’ve absorbed and reminds us that not everything that’s happening right now is bad or depressing.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

It would be a lie, if we said that we are doing okay considering the fear of unknown and uncertainty is quite engulfing but the thing that has kept the smile button on is the constant support and trust of the team who creates BIORI.

As we continue to do our business with compassion and intelligence, financial support through sales is what all small businesses like ours need the most in current times.

In a market where supply is more than demand, design labels like us surely deserve a fair chance to sustain and grow because we continue to invest in true design and craftsmanship in such challenging times pushing the narrative forward.

So support small business, encourage ethical consumerism, embrace handcrafted, celebrate design, wear Biori.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I believe that if we all do our parts right, helping and supporting each other while staying home with safe social distancing and making a choice of purchase through insight and not impulse, then the chance for getting good will happen and will happen right.

Our creative process has become informal. Lately I’ve been expressing myself mainly through color and forms, wearing it, working with it, altering it, reusing, repurposing and upcycling it. But most likely doing everything to re asses, re prioritize and reevaluate the core of the foundation.

Reviewing design documents as teams on virtual meeting grounds rather than brainstorming in seclusion staying within one’s own bubble.

We have become more organized and adaptable learning to cope and sustain the new normal. The reset button is not something that comes naturally but staying real, honest, enthusiastic and determined will surely help.

Community is the foundation on which our brand was built. Our belief and actions have always been around giving, earning and sustaining. Now it’s the time to grow symbiotically in unison and not compete or cut each other.. None will survive if the intention is to walk alone and away.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

As I mentioned earlier that following a routine is very critical. An altered work environment, cannot impact performance for long. This is the new normal and one needs to go along with it. Do not forget self-care and self-love inclusive of subtle differences between the two.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  • At some point, we always bounce back- And so we need to use this time to get ready to come back even better… Nobody wanted this to happen, but if it has to be this way, now we can take advantage of the time and work to get better at what we do.
  • I truly believe if we all do our parts, including staying inside, helping our neighbors, asking for help if we need it, and investing in the products we believe in, that can and will happen.
  • Don’t rush on your decisions but make plans- give yourself time to decide. It can be tempting to run out and make big decisions — to just do something. Many like action and refuse to leave something sitting on their desk when they can help it. But that’s a bad strategy when every day reveals a bit more about how the Covid-19 crisis will play out. Everyone makes better decisions when they have better information, and you will have more information tomorrow than you do today. Before making any big leaps, take a cooling off period — and maybe even having a trusted third party such as a friend or colleague look over things with you — might help you avoid doing something you’ll come to regret.
  • Figure out how your customer’s / client’s need have changed — people are building new habits right now. There are millions of isolated households whose normal routines have been upended, and just like them you have to experiment if you want to remain a part of their lives. Reach out to them to learn how their lives have changed and figure out the most exciting thing that you can offer your customers once they can leave their homes. Ask them what they are looking forward to and help them look forward to the day that they can buy from you again.
  • Try to form realistic estimates of your cash flow- both during and after the pandemic. Compare that cash flow with your fixed expenses and with those expenses that you can cut. Remember that sometimes it makes sense to cut the more flexible expenses early, so that you can still keep paying the more vital expenses later.
  • Your workers are always your most valuable asset- If you lose your best ones during the crisis, rebuilding your operations is going to be even more difficult. Even if you have to cut labor costs dramatically during the crisis, you want to maintain your ability to rehire your best workers when the world is open for business again. The key here is to focus on the long term and to be human.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. One of the key steps would surely be to limit intake from multiple sources of news. Limit how often you check for updates.
  2. Focus on what you can control — washing hands, personal hygiene, avoiding crowded places, eating right, exercising etc.
  3. Use multiple channels to communicate with loved ones, don’t just stick to Whatsapp! Stay connected even when physically isolated.
  4. Stop the ‘what-ifs’ from spiraling — ground yourself in the present moment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life mantra is about keeping it simple and real. I don’t over think or build assumptions. My measure of success in life and business is to see the people I love are happy and close to me. Also in this process of building and creating design together, if I, with my team can make a positive difference or bring in a change for good, it will be awesome!

How can our readers follow you online?

Would love to hear from you at [email protected] or get a DM on my Instagram account — @thebiori or reach out with a new possibility on my linked in as Priyanka Sarkar

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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