Jodie Fried’s Eastern Inspiration

As 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.