Helping You Accessorize
I recently spoke with Anika Varma, who is the founder of Ikavee, a boutique jewellery and accessories business, about building her brand whilst working full-time and travelling the world.
Anika previously worked as an Implementation Consultant for TV broadcasters in London, New York and San Francisco and is now Director of Rights Management at AMC, the network behind Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.
In 2013, Anika entered the fashion world to help people find the perfect matching accessories in their 'moments of panic'. If you need advice, Ikavee offers a complimentary personal shopping service and all you need to do is email her your requirements.
In the following interview, Anika talks about how she started making jewellery, turning her passion into a business, the challenges she’s faced growing her online brand, the importance of supportive people in her life, and her best advice for starting a business without a big budget.
Who is Ikavee jewellery for?
The whole idea of Ikavee is bringing unique and beautiful jewellery to your everyday working girl; people like me who have a full-time job and who like accessorizing. I may work in the corporate world but I still want to play with fashion so that’s the kind of market I’ve always leaned towards.
Have you been always creative when you were younger?
Accessorizing, whether it’s painting my nails or jewellery or anything that’s adding colour has always been a huge passion of mine.
When I was very young, we would get a lot of chocolates from neighbours and friends at Christmas. The chocolates were individually wrapped in foil paper and I remember I used to make earrings from it. I would even put the paper into my ear and my mum kept telling me I needed to stop doing that (laughs…)
How did you turn your flair for creativity into making jewellery?
Back in 2009, I was going through a hard time in my personal life and I needed to put this negative energy into something positive to keep my mind busy and that’s when I began doing jewellery. I was travelling for work a lot and whenever I had time I would be making things and so I would have someone’s friend asking: ‘Hey, I’m looking for something like this, can you help me out?’
Turning passion into a business
What gave you the final motivation to make it a business?
In 2013, my work project in New York was coming to an end and I was told very last minute that I was going to be based in London. I wasn’t ready to leave because I was in love with New York. My life and friends were in New York and even my luggage was still there at friends’ places.
I realised that just my job back in London was not going to keep me motivated and going so that’s why I got back into jewellery and started it as a steady thing. Before, I only did it when someone asked me so really the inspiration behind it all was because
I couldn’t face spending winter in London.
I bought a neckless from Ikavee and received it in a beautiful package. How important is the packaging of your products?
When someone receives a package from Ikavee, I want them to feel like it’s a present and think: ‘Oh I’m excited, I’m about to get my Ikavee package!’
I want to make sure that the package is not going to bump into anything or break so I put it in the bubble wrap and cotton filled boxes. Then I would wrap it in a white paper and put a big pink bow on it. So a lot of time goes into packaging which is fine because I really enjoy doing that.
Where did you get materials when you started customising jewellery?
At first I would buy jewellery from regular high street stores and customise them because I didn’t know where to get materials from.
Dorothy Perkins, a high street store in the UK, always had a summer or winter sale. They put their jewellery initially a half price off and then after a while they put everything to £1. I remember saving my money all year round just to buy a lot of jewellery for £1 each.
As I got older, I saw that the high street stores didn’t have the variety that I was looking for. I wanted something more of a statement, more colourful and bold and that’s when I began purchasing jewellery from these stores embellishing them myself; taking out and adding different things and altogether changing it with having the base from a high street store.
What were some of the obstacles you faced when you lived in the US and what challenges do you have now in the Netherlands?
With me having moved so much, from London to New York and San Francisco and now living in Amsterdam, it is often my packaging and shipping items.
Shipping costs: Having to pay a lot of money in shipping. The boxes are not heavy but the size has been a big issue when people buy in bulk.
Packaging: Finding the right packaging boxes because jewellery is very delicate. When it’s in the post it can get bumped and bashed. In the US, I found cotton filled boxes which I was very happy with but I can’t get them in the Netherlands.
International taxes: In the US, when I ordered items and materials from India or Hong Kong, I wouldn’t have to pay the taxes because they would usually cover the costs before sending it so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Whereas in the Netherlands it is different, I always have customs and duty to pay every time I get a package.
Taxes in the Netherlands: I need to take 21% VAT charge in the Netherlands and extra shipping, tracking and postal costs. Trying to come up with a price where the customer is still willing to pay for it while all my costs are covered is a big challenge.
Tracking packages and costs: In the US, you automatically get tracking for international packages whereas in the Netherlands you don’t get tracking or it is very expensive.
Are you worried about competition?
I’m not worried about competition because I have such a variety. I don’t only specialise in one type of jewellery. Some companies or people only sell stone work or thread jewellery or tribal kind of silver jewellery that’s in fashion right now. Mine is a variety of everything so I’m not so worried about competition.
You mentioned that people copy Ikavee images online and use them to promote their own products. That must be really frustrating...
Yes, that’s another challenge I face. Sometimes people, who sell similar products to mine, take my images and use them to sell their own products or they use the Ikavee hashtag.
I put everything into taking good pictures making sure they look beautiful. And when other people take my images wiping off my watermark and placing their own branding onto it, it can be really frustrating.
I used to take it personally but now if I see something, I will contact the people and let them know that my images are all copyrighted and trademarked and that they can’t be using it.
What is their reply?
Sometimes they remove it or they just block me. Some say: “I found your image on Pinterest or Google” or “I didn’t realise it’s your image” but at the same time, they wiped off my watermark.
They figure out who is behind Ikavee and they’ll block my personal account so I have no visibility into that and a lot of these accounts are private.
Such things are disheartening but I focus on what I am doing because my products are so unique and I don’t fear that someone’s going to come and take my ideas.
Running a business whilst working full-time
How have you managed running the business while working full-time?
When I worked in New York, I would check in, send and chase up any invoices that were pending during my breaks. In summertime, when it was light outside, I took pictures of any new inventory. In winter, I would take photos in the mornings or weekends and do packaging and printing out shipping labels in the evenings.
After moving to Amsterdam, I managed to get everything ready. I launched my website in May this year and all the products, the pricing, the currency are up and running.
My customers can buy the products at any time of the day, they don’t need me to send them an invoice and time zone isn’t an issue so it is self-running. When I have new products to launch, I just have to take pictures and upload them to the website.
Do you make the products yourself or is someone helping you?
With having a full-time job, a lot of what I get is actually wholesale. I would change it and make small tweaks to it. I’ll add some embellishments or take off some beads or add some pom-poms so that I am not spending so much time making things.
Now I’ve began doing bridal hair vines which are fully hand-made, I do it all by hand and those take a lot of time. When I’m making and packaging things, taking pictures, editing the website; everything is 100 per cent done by me.
In terms of the actual designs, I have different suppliers worldwide so sometimes they send me catalogues of their new designs. If I feel it fits with the brand and it’s something that I want to add to my collection, it’s just a straight buy.
Other times I design them myself or I will buy them but change them. It also depends on what the customer wants as well.
What do you enjoy the most about having this type of business?
I am such a nerd as I love taking pictures in good lighting, editing them and creating beautiful images where you can see the actual colour and detail.
I also love creating the collections -- shopping around for different ideas and being inspired by a Bollywood movie or a trip to Italy or whatever the inspiration may be. And the hunt of sourcing items for my collections is a big part of it as well.
The role of internet in running a business
What impact has internet made on your business?
I’ve recently been to Morocco and been inspired for one of my next collections. This is where it’s good having the internet and being able to connect with small manufacturers in small villages and different places that you wouldn’t normally imagine going and visiting.
I also go to India and with the internet I found so many different suppliers in smaller towns that make such beautiful products of high quality and you get a better service than in a big city.
What motivates you when things aren’t going the way you’d like?
I’m probably the worst business woman ever because I think about creativity more than money so even if I’ve had a bad week in sales, it doesn’t make me less enthusiastic because I’m still getting what I want out of it. It’s crafts, art and creativity and that’s what I love about it and that’s why I’m still going.
Are you looking to grow the business and sell new products in the future?
Long-term, I want to start looking into clothing and creating new products, whether it’s a T-shirt or a dress and also bridal. I’ve grown such a passion through my brother’s wedding and my own wedding plans so I want to venture into bridal stuff a little bit more.
One of my favourite parts is when I get an email from a soon-to-be bride, saying: ‘This is what I’m looking for my wedding and my bridesmaids.’ Then she’ll send me the design of the dress and the colours. I like picking out different options for the bride. Especially with planning my own wedding, I love helping other brides-to-be.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
What are your top advice tips for people who want to start a product-based business with little or no capital?
If you have a solid idea for a product that you want to sell, you do not need a lot to start with.
Often when you start, you need the materials and you need to buy in bulk and wholesale. I didn’t do that. The way I started was I would buy jewellery from regular stores whether it’s H&M, Dorothy Perkins or River Island, and I would base it off that. It’s almost like having a template.
My advice to anyone who’s trying to do something is:
Be clear in your mind what you want to do and love what you’re wanting to create
Ask yourself: ‘If I were a customer, would I want to buy this?’
Set what kind of audience you want to target
Ask for advice and surround yourself with people who believe in what you’re doing and are supportive
When you have a really good vision and are passionate about what it is you’re trying to create, I feel like everything else will just fall into place.
Who inspires you on your journey?
I can't say there is one person that has inspired me to create Ikavee. I am inspired more by situations, cultures, colour and fashion. They are my inspirations, now. My fiancé inspires me to continue to pursue my dreams, even if I don't know how to; he would always tell me to try and I will figure it out one step at a time, as I would often fear the unknown. My heritage inspires me to create beautiful pieces of jewellery that can compliment traditional Indian wear or a T- shirt and jeans.