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Jodie Fried’s Eastern InspirationAs a relation to Australia’s first female entrepreneur Mary Reibey, it could be said Jodie Fried’s entrepreneurial spirit was inborn. However, it took a natural disaster to kickstart Bholu, her high quality homewares business in India.

Working in Bollywood as a costume designer, Jodie Fried stopped what she was doing to help rebuild villages struck by a devastating earthquake in Gujarat, a western state of India that borders Pakistan. “The women, children and men had lost everything,” Fried explains. “I was there for four-to-six months which led me to meet these women with amazing textiles skills that I felt were going to waste. They had never produced actual products, keeping their embroidery for their own families and needs.”

Being a costume designer, Fried decided the skills of the women could be translated into products while helping to create a sustainable income for them. “I went back a couple of times to take samples of ideas from different communities in the area, all of which had different embroidery skills, eventually deciding to work with this one particular community in Gujarat with a particular kind of stitch. We started developing some products and Bholu was born.”

As a term of endearment for a child, Fried decided on Bholu as the name for her business while being called ‘Bholu Diddy’ (sister) by the Gujarat people.

“They were laughing at the designs I was putting on cushions as they felt they resembled kids’ drawings. I’m sure they thought I was completely mad coming all the way from Australia to embroider these childlike scribbles, but they just had these really beautiful, detailed, symmetrical designs that were quite Indian and contemporary.”

Fried started with 20 women embroidering her cushion covers and bed throws before looking to children for design development. “I began working with these kids in communities that didn’t provide the opportunity or time to just be kids, so I developed craft workshops, and began using their drawings for the products.

This has made the development of Bholu Pty Ltd a very organic process, she explains. “The whole idea of turning this into a business was so far removed from the initial purpose of my involvement with these people, but, you land in a situation and when you feel you’ve got the power to do something, that provides the inspiration. Now that we’ve started to see it work, the whole process of fine tuning the business and really understanding how a business works has come into play.”

Winners of the Sensis Social Responsibility Award (for demonstrated leadership and contribution by a business to the environment, people, education or community) at this year’s Telstra NSW Business Awards, Bholu Pty Ltd is set to continue its work in promoting fair trade as its main business philosophy. Dedicated to creating beautiful products through the offering of sustainable employment, independence and opportunity to underprivileged Indian women, Bholu also donates part of its proceeds to education facilities and other programs for underprivileged children in India.

DB: What advice did you seek in getting started?

JF: I believe you’re only as good as the people around you, so I turned to friends who were either accountants or were business savvy and they became my business mentors. They really helped me with the set-up and foundation development for the company, but by the second year, I needed much more serious advice. I did a mentorship program with women in business and had a business mentor from that who really started to question and push me. She forced me to look at the company once it began to grow and explained how to manage risks with production, financers and all of those things. Once your business starts growing, it’s easy to become so excited that you become oblivious to the potential danger of growing too quickly. As this became evident to me in our second year, I sought the advice of professionals in risk management, finance and freighting. I definitely pulled on every single resource I had at that time to get advice on a very small budget.

DB: Who are your competitors and how do you go about differentiating yourself?

JF: I really think we’re running our own race because of our work philosophy, how the business was formed and the kind of clients we have. The consumers that relate to our product are a very specific kind of people. They have a real understanding that this is a high priced, high quality product that’s fair trade and they are really aware of ethical consumerism.

DB: What do you enjoy most about what you do? What are the drawbacks?
JF: It’s such a rewarding process because the whole company has been built on passion. Passion for working with people, making change, working with craft and working with colour and design. So, the high for me is really in the collaborative nature of how we develop our products and work with these communities.
We’ve opened three schools now from the profits of the company and you can’t put a price on going into these schools and seeing these kids benefiting from the provisions. Working with the women and being invited into their homes is also incredible.

The drawback would have to be working in India. While it hosts such an amazing culture where the people give you so much despite having nothing, it’s still a very frustrating and long way to go about running a business. Language barriers are also quite frustrating, and with things not quite as up to scratch as they are here, it’s definitely not as simple as manufacturing in other countries. But, the reward really outweighs these problems.

DB: What’s your biggest ongoing challenge?

JF: Keeping an eye on production and making sure everyone’s happy. There’s always a lot of geographical, political and celebratory things going on in India which is quite tricky for our production and communication as language proves quite a consistent challenge.

DB: Do think you’ve made it as a business owner?
JF: No I don’t think you ever make it. I feel we’re at the point where we’ve ironed out all the creases in the business and things are running well, but the question of ‘what’s next?’ still remains. Having started in 2005, we’re still here, still operating and making changes while effecting people either through our products or their manufacture. I feel we’ve still got a way to go in terms our product reach and don’t think you ever stop learning or growing.

Jodie’s Tips To Following Your Dream:

  • Start with your dream and follow your passion. The most successful businesses are the ones with leaders that are passionate and believe they’re going to make a change somehow. That is the number one rule, stay true to that.
  • Run your own race. Identify why you’re starting a business and what your purpose is.
  • Always come back to the same philosophy of how you set out to run your business.
  • Surround yourself with people that are better than you, and have the skills, advice and inspiration to draw from and help grow your business. Don’t hold onto it, let them be part of your team.
  • Have mentors in your life that can influence you in your business planning, day to day operations and bounce ideas of.

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Melissa Yen

Melissa Yen

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