Image: Good EarthHer excitement is child-like, almost infectious. “Did you hear the Good Earth Flashback25 playlist on Spotify? It plays all the songs I played at my first store in Kemps Corner 25 years ago,” says Anita Lal, the 72-year-old owner of lifestyle and luxury store Good Earth, on the phone. I immediately get on to the list to find ‘The peanut vendor’, a Mambo number by Cuban music composer Perez Prado, ‘Hum aapki ankhon mein’, a popular song from Bollywood movie Pyaasa (1957) and Elvis Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’. Lal curates the brand’s playlists herself, which are as eclectic as Good Earth’s collections of home products, apparels, beauty products, fragrances, etc. The still-in-the-making 2021 collection Bosphorus, inspired by the Turkish strait, looks beyond India and to the world, borrowing elements from Roman, Greece, Turkish, Persian and Indian design influences. Even last year, in the middle of the pandemic when most brands were not particularly launching anything new, Lal pushed her team to create a collection centred on flowers, Pushpanjali. “Flowers, I think, make one happy and elevate one’s mood. So, in the distress of the lockdown I thought that the collection will make people feel better.” Lal, a psychology graduate, is an instinctive businesswoman. She started her first Mumbai store on an impulse in 1996. Her husband Vikram Lal, founder of Eicher Motors, was going to set up a bike showroom in the Kemps Corner space, but she convinced him to let her have the store. “As a studio potter back in the days, I saw a market gap between the dying art of India’s village potters and the urban consumer looking for high-quality home products. We began our journey with a mission to bring our crafts into the contemporary, to make them relevant and elevate artisanal products to their original level of luxury,” she says. The other important aspect was to articulate a design philosophy and over the years, the company started creating products for a lifestyle relevant in the Indian context. Today, Good Earth is a Rs150-crore brand with 10 stores in New Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Its products are also available in 235 countries like the US, Turkey, Singapore, and others. “When I started Good Earth, it was a passion project. It stemmed from a desire to create something unique, which is the reflection of an India that I know and love, where respect and value for crafts, and longevity, are simply a part of who we are,” says Lal. Even today, Lal does not follow any trends. “I don’t do market research. I do what comes instinctively to me. Good Earth’s growth and its very existence have always been an entrepreneurial response to personal need and customer demand,” says Lal. For instance, in 2010, she launched her apparel line Sustain to create elegant clothes for slightly larger women. Good Earth’s botanical-based products (soaps, skincare, fragrances, and oils) are a result of the difficulties Lal faced curing a rash in her thirties. Paro, a wellness brand that she launched in 2018 with a store in Chanakya mall in Delhi, is Lal’s most ambitious project. She saw a gap in the understanding of Indian culture and philosophy and thought of a brand that goes deeper into it. “The Western world sees yoga as an exercise whereas it’s so much greater than that. I felt that an Indian brand must talk about Yog–the union of the body, of holistic wellness,” says Lal. She knew it was not a very commercial thing to do, “attempting to do something that may not be very tangible.” But, for Lal, it’s never been about massive profits. “We must be profitable, but I have never wanted to be wildly profitable,” she says. “The business will always stay intimate and never become mass. I feel very strongly about the heritage of the country and will work diligently to promote it.” Since the beginning Lal has been actively promoting and supporting the Indian crafts and artisan community. “When I feel that people are in distress, especially in the crafts sector, I help them,” says Lal. She supports Sally Holkar’s The Handloom School, Dastakar – A Society for Crafts and Crafts People and JDH, Jodhpur’s Urban Regeneration Project. “Instead of giving artisans hand-outs, we give them work and work together with them to improve quality of their products.” Along the way there have been lessons in leadership and entrepreneurship. Lal believes that just like her brand she has evolved as a leader as well. “One becomes a leader by default. I have learnt to create a team over time. It didn’t happen just like that,” says Lal. “As a leader you have to be fair and honest to everybody and also be authentic yourself.” Considering self-growth is important for her, the growth of her team is also just as important to her. “I want everyone to grow and give them ample space to do so. When you trust people, they outdo themselves and do a lot more than I would have ever imagined.” She also believes that making mistakes is a learning process but what is important is to give her team a safe space to do so. “You think I don’t make mistakes? I make hundreds. I know that mistakes are made by mistake. The important thing is to find solutions and ensure that the same mistake doesn’t happen again.”
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