#Intervue: Meet Sruti Ashok of INAI

Welcome to our very first #Intervue, where we feature self-made retail entrepreneurs who are in the business of selling thoughtful and beautiful products. Through this series, we hope to share entrepreneurial stories and journeys that are inspiring and relatable, while showcasing diverse brands from across the globe. Our focus, as always, is on the small-medium enterprise and the small-medium entrepreneur. 

Today’s #Intervue is with Sruti Ashok is the owner of INAI. INAI is a leather accessories brand from Chennai, India that has a global vision and aesthetic. INAI creates beautiful leather goods by upcycling unused/discarded leather that Sruti sources from all over the world. INAI’s goods are handcrafted, totally sustainable and Sruti’s ascent from graphic designer to entrepreneur is one that is both fascinating and inspirational.

How did it all begin for you?

I was working as a graphic designer in Mumbai, but after a few years I knew I always wanted to start something of my own. After going in depth into ‘Sustainable Fashion’ and discovering the impact of the industry as well as the ‘Fashion Revolution’ movement, I really wanted to start something in this space. My father is in the leather exports industry, and I realised that they generated a lot of excess leather waste during production. This happened during pattern cutting or when small defects showed up and so on. They were just going to waste! This led me to the idea of upcycling all this material to make minimal leather essentials by extremely skilled craftsmen right here in Chennai/Madras. We deliver exceptional quality at affordable prices.

Sruti Ashok, The Founder of Inai

What were the initial challenges you faced during the process of manufacturing? How has your journey been so far?

I am not formally trained in Leather/Accessory Design, so there was a learning curve and to date, there still is. Understanding the material, the process of making a piece from start to finish, minor detailing and so on has been a challenge but one that I truly enjoy as I learn. I’ve also learned to understand how to craft pieces using the leather scraps we collect in the best way and waste management. The credit goes to my skilled artisans and most importantly, towards my Master Craftsman, Ilayaraja who’s a genius at his craft and is always there to assist me when creating new pieces, it’s been a fun and exciting journey so far.

My Grandmother is my role model. She’s always been my inspiration because she’s selfless. She has dedicated her life to social service, and she’s always supported handicrafts and weavers.

What has been your most memorable milestone?

I don’t think there is a single milestone as such, but everytime I hear amazing feedback and appreciation from customers, it brings a smile to my face. Even a returning customer is always proof that we’re doing something right. It means they truly appreciate the products we’re producing. One memorable incident that I remember is when a customer from the UK, found us through Instagram and made a purchase with us, mainly because she loved how transparent we were as a brand and the recognition we provided to our artisans. She even came down to the workshop in Madras during her trip to India!

The one thing I hate about being an entrepreneur? Accounts, probably.

Vue45 loves Retail, Vue45 loves INAI! Here are our picks from the brand

You obviously multitask a lot. What are your favourite productivity tools and work apps? 

I’m not much of a tech wiz and I’m a bit old school in that sense. I stick to the basics really –

Adobe CC for all my editing, making new creatives, packaging etc.

Pushbullet to transfer files from my laptop to my phone instantly

Todoist – for making lists/tasks to complete.

 My favourite part of the day is the morning, I prefer getting a bright and early start!

Sruti with her team of skilled artisans

Have you ever had a customer come up to you and give you feedback which made you go What! Why didn’t I think of this before?

There’s been no singular moment so far, but I’m always keen to get feedback and hear what our customers have to say. We developed a recent piece with the help from a customer and very close friend of mine. I think it’s definitely important to get feedback from your customers as you can always work on improving a product to make it more functional and versatile. We work with our customers a lot to create our products though – we add colours, variations and even do custom orders based on what they tell us. 

The factory at INAI

And that brings us to the end of our very first #Intervue! Do check out INAI’s gorgeous leather bags and accessories at their website, inaistory.com. 

Also, If you know someone who is deserving of an #intervue, feel free to shoot us an email at hello[at]vue45[dot]com!

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