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Nikita Veejay picked me up for our meeting, en-route to a coffee shop, where we got ourselves cold drinks to save us from the (still young, but blazing) Chennai summer.

Dressed in a printed cotton linen shirt and capris, sunglasses in place, Nikita, 26, Founder of ‘Urumi’ exemplified a ‘Chennai ponnu’ as she would call herself. We settled into the cafe as I fished out my pocket notebook from my bag, which she immediately caught as her competitor’s, and whipped out one of her own brand’s, showing it off to me as smaller but better, and more endearing.

“I was at an event last week in the Loyola Institute of Business Administration, where I studied my MBA”, she said. “As a part of their Women’s Day celebrations, they invited female entrepreneurs to share their stories. I knew even as a student that I’d be invited back. I just knew it.”

“I was married into a family in Madurai when I was 22. My parents told me that I could either figure out life and then get married, or do it the other way around. I moved into Madurai after being a boarding school and city brat. My parents, in-laws and husband have all been most supportive, but suddenly, I was helping run a house, trying to figure out my career, and falling in love with the down-south again” 

A trip to New Zealand for her honeymoon made Nikita start thinking about souvenirs. “There were so many kitschy and cool things I could bring back for friends from my trip, each of them portraying something different and appealing about the New Zealand culture. That’s what led to me want to build something that celebrated South Indian culture, with all the flavours that go into a quintessentially Tamilnadu experience. My father helped me out with a small start up fund, which I then used to build our first products: the ‘Iyer USB’ and a few T-shirts. I always wanted to start something of my own, and when I realized what it was, I didn’t stop.”

Today, Urumi thrives in its third year in a rapidly expanding market, with 25 stores across the country, countless flea and open markets, striving to ‘Make being South Indian a cool brand’.

 Nikita’s eyes light up when I ask her about working with her husband—“It’s not always easy, but it’s the best. I think I lucked out by finding a man who lets me be.  I love that we are known in the open-market circles as the ‘Urumi couple’. We get to travel and do research for our products together, and discover amazing little things in the deepest parts of South India. And more than anything, I love that we are so different and complementary to one another. My husband is a full-time agriculturist, and helps me out with Urumi whenever he can. He is not as chatty as I am with everyone, but everything he says, he means. And he means well. ‘We are not running the same race. You can run yours the way you want to. You can walk it if you want’, he says.” 

“It’s all about packaging today”, she says, speaking of the boom in the market for souvenirs and keepsakes. “It’s about making the artsy gifts that our culture is peppered with, to become accessible and appealing to a larger audience, and the packaging in itself creates an awareness about our products. I get to make wooden bangles painted by cottage industry artisans in Karnataka find their way to households in Europe, and that’s really what I am grateful about: I get to share the pride and joy of the art we have in South India with people transcending geographies, people who would not naturally be exposed to our cultures.”

Nikita shares a glimpse of her plans for Urumi this year with me. “We are going to get better and more niched”, she says. “Watch out for Urumi 2.0 by the end of the year! I want to find ways to share every trinket we have to offer in the South to the enormous number of people who would enjoy them.”

“So what would you say is Nikita’s mantra?” I ask her, as we get ready to leave. “A byline of sorts?” Nikita swirls the straw on her cold coffee glass for a quick second before she looks up and says, “ ‘Get it done’. That’s always been my motto. In college, I went out and got an internship in Britannia, and worked on the ground level with vendors and suppliers. Today, I manage stocks and inventory, run my household, haggle with people for operations, marketing, and set up the content for all of Urumi’s game nights and quiz cards, which I love doing.”

“Find what you love doing, and keep doing it”, she says.  “There are going to be sleepless nights. There are going to be days when you don’t want to get out of bed. But there are also going to be exceptional moments that make up for all of those times. I was driving around Mylapore with my Mom when I saw a girl running on the street, wearing an Urumi T-shirt and earphones. That is really what Urumi stands for. Embracing our culture in our modern lifestyles. I carry memories like that one around like happiness-mascots for the rainy days. So if you are a young person looking to start something, let it be something you love, something that won’t make you look at a clock while doing.” 

Nikita is 26 years old, Founder and Chief Officer at Urumi. Check out Urumi and its products here: http://www.urumi.in/


Image Credits: 

gayatri sekar

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