In the business of creating the most stylish décor destination in the country, Simran Lal, Goodearth’s CEO, shares her journey of discovery as a young mother, entrepreneur and design head.
Goodearth’s organic cotton pyjamas for toddlers, featuring cars, parrots and other playful patterns, are a big hit with urban, upper middle-class families across the country. So much so that Simran Lal, the CEO of the home and design brand, is bowing to pressure from young mums and dads to launch the Gumdrop label in adult sizes! Getting us to revive playtime with nightwear is just one of many achievements in Simran’s book since she took over the management of the company from her mother and brand founder, Anita Lal, back in 2012.
Having joined Goodearth in 2002, she has slowly worked her way across the company, from sourcing to retail to creativity, and now heads the 600-strong workforce. The woman who could at one point list ‘‘fluency in hieroglyphics’’ as a skill has expanded Goodearth’s offerings to include handwoven apparel for adults and children, toys, and the wellness line, Amritam. There are cushions with mustachioed rajas sharing space with ornate lanterns with jaali work or dinnerware in porcelain featuring their evergreen Periyar design, or bottles of cold pressed virgin coconut oil (Simran swears by its purity). The challenge now is to fine-tune e-commerce, though a website is up and running and sees 1,500 visits a day; this, without any publicity. Nine stores later, Simran agrees that brand expansion makes more sense internally, with their online store being accessed by foreign markets, and clients dialling in from the US and Japan.
Rooted in India
Goodearth, with its many idiosyncrasies, is unapologetically design-led. Dinnerware, for instance, may take a year or 18 months to finalise. ‘‘It’s an organic process. We don’t push or compromise on that,’’ shares Simran, adding that some products tour several states before completion. ‘‘We work with craftsmen across the country. For instance, a chanderi dupatta with chikan and mukesh work goes through 12 processes. Our challenge now is to simplify, not kill the design process,’’ she sighs.The business that was introduced by Anita as a ‘‘passion project’’, continues to be craft-based, sustainable, and rooted in India with contemporary design as a guiding philosophy. ‘‘This is what mum believes in and it still holds true,’’ continues Simran about Anita, whose eye for beautiful things is now legendary. In line with the company’s attempts to revive indigenous crafts, Goodearth has also adopted a kettuvallam or traditional rice paddy boat and is promoting sustainable, community-based holidays in Kerala’s backwaters.
Into the green
Simran, 42, brings a younger perspective to Goodearth. The teams work on a new theme each year, to be launched around Diwali, be it Farah Baksh (the ode to Kashmir) in 2012 or this year’s Ratnakara (Gems of the Indian Ocean), with smaller off-shoots every few months. Anita and Simran lead work trips to Kashmir or Bali, where they study the flora, fauna and botanicals, and return to create an aesthetic we are familiar with, that is global luxe in treatment.
It is sophisticated and, they insist, not kitsch. Initially, mother and daughter visited design fairs around the world. Later, with Anita plunging into her new role as Creative Head, Simran found herself constantly travelling between the product development team in Delhi and the nine stores for retail updates. All that hard work was rewarded when in 2012, Goodearth was profitable for the first time. For the company that was launched in 1996, it was a major achievement.
Today, Goodearth has a turnover of around `120 crores and Simran is allowing herself to relax a bit. After the constant race in New York, Boston, Bangalore and Mumbai, she is finding some balance, making time for both her young family — six and four-year-old boys — her business and her personal interests. She talks about her love for archeology and anthropology, has qualified in product development, museum design and interior design, and plans to connect the dots soon. For now, she makes it a point to wrap up work at 4.30 pm each day to get back home to her boys. ‘‘Earlier, I used to return tired and brain dead, so I decided to change my schedule. I have learnt to delegate – it does not come naturally – and finish much of my phone work in the car,’’ she adds triumphantly.
The family now lives in the historic Nizamuddin neighbourhood in Delhi, where Simran enjoys morning walks to Mughal emperor Humayun’s tomb, where she is often greeted by sparkling peacocks and parrots. What better as inspiration, she asks. And in Mumbai, she unwinds by hanging out with her children on her terrace, which overlooks the sea. Currently reading Anand Neelakantan’s Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, presenting Raavan’s version of the Ramayan, Simran loves the power of interpretation. Recalling how she wanted to be an archeologist, to crack the code of the Indus Valley civilisation, she pragmatically settles for a visit to the 15th century Inca site, Machu Picchu, sometime in the near future.
Gumdrops has been a revelation, she shares. What started as a small line inspired by her children’s needs is now bursting out of the room it has been allocated at each store. There are plans to introduce books on the characters seen on the quilts, pillows and mugs. Meanwhile, Goodearth’s role as design consultant has resulted in the revamped Hotel Rajmahal Palace in Jaipur, which is yet to open. Simran has always seen potential in the unlikeliest places and their flagship store, in Mumbai’s cavernous Raghuvanshi Mills, is an example. ‘‘When I first saw it, it was dank and full of bats and rats.
But the bones of the structure were spectacular,’’ she recalls. On the business front, she wants to capitalise on the demand for gifting and wedding registry services, minus loud marketing. Brother Siddharth Lal, MD of their parent company, Eicher Motors (who rescued the iconic Royal Enfield motorcycle when senior executives considered selling or shutting it down), pitches in with his views. But Simran insists it is her sister, Tara, who is the most talented, saying, ‘‘She is a Mad Hatter, a free spirt, a chef and graphic designer. She designed our gem-toned Cartouche glasses, but you can never pin her down.’’
Women on board
Incidentally, the heads at Goodearth, be it in finance, operations, retail, and the creative department are all women. ‘‘It was not a conscious decision,’’ shrugs Simran, adding, ‘‘We are flexible and not a harsh, corporate environment. Women have a great sense of ownership and the freedom is not misused.’’ For now, she is dealing with issues like deadlines, and bluntly observes that they grapple with ‘‘lengthy internal processes.’’ But Simran believes she is finding her rhythm and is geared towards new launches. A beach apparel line, with sarongs and flowing drapes, is one of them. Just in time, too, for when this CEO takes a much-deserved summer break.
- Rosella Stephen (firstname.lastname@example.org)