"Prior to starting Leafy Affair, I had been working in the corporate sector as a project manager. However, the idea and passion behind Leafy Affair eventually propelled me to leave my job and pursue it full-time"- Supriya Donthi.
Supriya Donthi, the founder of Bangalore-based brand Leafy Affair, has successfully transformed her love affair with nature into a unique botanical lifestyle brand. Leafy Affair stands out as the first-of-its-kind preserved botanical brand in India, offering a captivating range of jewellery along with other lifestyle products that allows individuals to carry a piece of nature wherever they go.
Supriya's deep-rooted appreciation for nature began in her childhood, as she would collect twigs and pine cones during her travels. The concept of botanical products struck a chord with her, inspiring her to embark on an experimental journey with Leafy Affair.
Abhishansa Mathur was in a candid conversation with Supriya Donthi regarding her journey of starting Leafy affair, challenges, future plans, and much more. Here’s an excerpt of the interview below.
Tell us about Leafy Affair and how it is different from other jewellery brands.
Leafy Affair is something that started because of my affair with nature. I really loved nature since childhood. Whenever I used to travel, I used to collect little twigs and pine cones and keep them. And I came across the concept of nature jewellery which struck me so hard that I wanted to give it an experimental try. Leafy Affair is a brand of jewellery predominantly right now where the jewellery is made from preserved botanicals that include flowers, seeds, and leaves. We have also come up with a stationery line recently and looking to expand into home décor. There are just so many ways to expand this niche into. It is different from other jewellery brands in terms of what it encases – natural botanicals. Here, we have taken something created by the universe to make jewellery so you can keep nature closer to you.
What made you start Leafy Affair and make your passion into a profession?
Leafy Affair began as a result of a combination of factors and personal passions. The process of collecting botanical elements for our designs was quite spontaneous and driven by a genuine appreciation for nature's beauty. Whenever we came across a captivating flower or plant, we would take a closer look and collect it. However, our motivation extended beyond mere collection. As someone who was not particularly inclined towards technology and yearned for a career connected to nature, I initially considered biotechnology and research. Yet, fate had other plans. The attraction of working with nature, assisting people, and creating design elements and jewellery that could bring them closer to the natural world became something incredibly special to me.
From a young age, I used to go on walks with my grandfather, and we would gather random seeds and leaves, further fueling my connection to the botanical realm. In 2016, I conceptualized Leafy Affair, and while it officially became a registered company in 2018, the journey had already begun. In those early days, botanical jewellery was a relatively novel idea in India. Although it had gained some traction in the Western world with a few artists excelling in the field, I wondered why such an exquisite, profound, and meaningful concept was absent from India.
In fact, my own desire for this type of jewellery, coupled with the absence of suitable options in the market, led me to start experimenting and searching for ways to create what I envisioned. Recognizing the immense market potential and the lack of awareness around this category of products, I felt a strong urge to venture into uncharted territory. Launching a new product category is undoubtedly challenging, especially when people have little knowledge or understanding of it, but I was driven by the vision and potential I saw in Leafy Affair.
Looking back, I feel happy to have taken the journey. Bootsnapping is not a very difficult task, unlike many people think. Nothing can stop you if you have the power of doing it. I started with a minimal investment of 25k. Taking some part of your saving and investing it in learning is a big deal. I didn’t care about the savings somehow because even if it wouldn’t work out, I will learn something. Last year, we closed our revenue around 3 cr – 3.5 cr.
Prior to starting Leafy Affair, I had been working in the corporate sector as a project manager. However, the idea and passion behind Leafy Affair eventually propelled me to leave my job and pursue it full-time. I am a calculated risk-taker, so before taking the plunge, I dedicated six months to meticulously developing Leafy Affair while juggling the demands of my regular job. Weekends, evenings, and any free time I had outside of work were dedicated to nurturing my newfound passion. This period was intense and demanding, but it solidified my commitment and allowed me to lay the foundation for Leafy Affair's future.
How has the journey been so far? How was it in the initial days, and how is it now? Any challenges that came your way?
It has been a beautiful roller coaster. People usually say I started my startup from a garage, but I would say I started it from a shoebox. Everything I was experimenting with would fit in two shoeboxes. Now, we have a 2,000 sq. ft. office, and a team of 10, work is going well, and we are fulfilling thousands of orders every month.
In the beginning, there were challenges, and things were going slow, but I kept learning from them. To be honest, back in 2016, if someone had told me that I'd be giving interviews soon, I wouldn't have believed them. I did not expect that – the only expectation was to learn and hustle.
At present, I feel equipped to deal with the challenges, so nothing feels like a challenge. Back when I started, I used to be excited to face the challenges. I feel like I have always enjoyed challenges. It is hard for me to point the finger at any particular challenge, as there have been many. I don’t look at the challenges as challenges now.
How did you come across what goes into making botanical jewellery? Where did you get that learning?
Research and starting from zero. We don’t need to get overwhelmed by looking at 100 steps all at once. I took one step at a time. I thought, let’s do the first 10 samples first. Soon enough, we had 10 pieces ready. After that, I figured out the name of the brand, the way of collecting payments and marketing the products. I did not think of everything at once but took one step at a time.
How is the jewellery market growing, and what is new in the market?
Leafy Affair is more than just a jewellery brand, I associate it with a D2C brand. The market has huge potential. Jewellery is not a necessity or an essential need like groceries, but it’s a need at the emotional level. I see the market growing with so many brands like Giva, Arora, and many others, doing series B, and C rounds of investments as the demand is on the rise. People are loving to experiment with the designs. They want to have fun things to wear. No matter how many brands and competitors are there, it is still not enough to keep up with the demand.
Manufacturing Leafy Affair products must take a lot of time, precision, and skill. How do you manage that and how is the response in the market?
Leafy Affair revolves around the captivating world of botanicals, offering more than just jewellery. The brand's future holds the potential for expanding into various avenues, including buttons or clothing items. Embracing the core essence of botanicals, Leafy Affair remains committed to delivering products that exude beauty and aesthetics. The brand's website imagery evokes a whimsical, fairy tale-like atmosphere, further enhancing the enchantment surrounding its offerings. In this niche market, there is ample room for growth despite the presence of both large and small competitors. Leafy Affair maintains a competitive advantage, continuously exploring new design concepts, categories, and products. For nature enthusiasts, the brand envisions a world where everything, from table covers to laptop cases, is intricately connected to botanical elements.
You are targeting someone who loves and appreciates nature. Does this mean you are not going for the masses?
No, you will be surprised to know that the masses also love Leafy Affair products because they are so beautiful and aesthetically pleasing.
What is the process of getting the products distributed?
We have sourcing vendors, and people all over the world who collect the botanicals. We outsource the manufacturing but the designs are entirely in-house. Any new release goes through an ‘n’ number of rounds back and forth. Once it is finalized, it is mass-produced and then we have a team who looks into the photography and the content because we also believe in selling stories with the products. People learn about the flowers, its name, their theme, and what it means. It makes the piece even more special.
How are you using social media to tell your story?
Social media is our main platform to tell stories since the beginning. The first thing I did after figuring out my company’s name and product was to make an Instagram page. Back then, the algorithm was entirely different, but even now, we take utmost importance to our content. We make people aware of the things they don't know about, show them how to wear things, and what they mean. Communication happens with customers through social media. We do all kinds of content, from funny memes to educational reels to guidance videos to styling videos to WhatsApp videos. We get interactive with our customers on stories through polling, Q&A, happy hour, etc.
5-Year Plan for Leafy Affair?
It is going to be a brand known for its aesthetics & it is going be reaching so many people. Leafy Affair would be known as a brand to do anything and everything with botanicals. Even if we make 100 pieces of the same design, each piece is different because each flower is different. Hopefully, we go global and open offline stores.
We are already working on our first store that is going to be near our studio. We will learn from it, and understand the nuances of running an offline store and if all works well, there would be hope for more. But I really think people would love to visit the store. Even now, we do have a few walk-ins every day at our studio to have a look at our work and buy.
How was your experience at the Shark Tank S2?
It was a very good experience starting from the day I decided to apply. The adrenaline rush that accompanies the application and audition process is incredibly exhilarating. Within a month of the episode airing, we were overwhelmed by the tremendous response we received. Our orders tripled in comparison to a typical month, and this had a ripple effect on our business. We received so much love and appreciation from people as well. People know us now; they know the brand, and there is trust in our work. The journey was intense and demanding, with a hectic schedule that kept our team at the studio working tirelessly day and night. I have learned so much while preparing the pitch, the growth of the business is much better now, and it's a great marketing experience for sure.
What advice would you like to give to someone who is just starting a new business or getting into entrepreneurship?
There is a fine line between losing hope and being blindly hopeful.
Any memory/anecdote/achievement you would like to share with us?
One year into the journey of Leafy Affair, someone ordered some products for their daughter – a 7-year-old kid. The parent sent a voice note about how much she loved the gift. That was really beautiful and a moment to cherish.
One place you go to in Bangalore to feel close to nature?
I go for morning walks in parks and on my terrace at night.
One home-grown brand that you love?
One habit that has helped you in your entrepreneurial journey?
The need to learn and keep hustling.
Best Investment that you did for learning?
25,000 Rs. that I spent initially to learn about botanicals.
One thing you are really badass at?
I am badass at work.
What have you learned now that you think you should’ve known before starting?
Marketing proactively is something that I wished I knew before.
One piece of advice you received that you still follow?
Nothing is impossible.
3 things one should remember when they are getting into such a niche industry?
*Customer education is important.
*Niche is where the beauty is because it has got a lot of scope. Niche is going to be beautiful, but it will also be going to take a lot of effort.
*You'll have a lot of fun building a niche business.
What is your favourite flower?
Which flower is your favourite among the ones that you import?
Your best-selling products?
Selene-Crescent Moon Necklace and Little Miss Sunshine Neckpiece are our best sellers.