Sirohi’s founder Gauri Malik on building an artisan-led brand for globally conscious consumers

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In a country brimming with diverse cultures and vibrant traditions, there lies an unspoken truth that often goes unnoticed: gender inequality within Indian households. Despite being skilled, women are forced to depend on their husbands financially, robbing them of their independence.  

The beginning of change

But investment banking analyst turned social entrepreneur Gauri Malik has made it her mission to change the lives of rural women artisans through her social enterprise, Sirohi. A sustainable luxury brand that advocates slow and simple living through its handcrafted lifestyle products, Sirohi has impacted the lives of over 500 women so far. 

The idea of creating opportunities for women first sprouted when Gauri, at the young age of 6, was sent to boarding school to avoid the high level of crime in her hometown Muzaffarnagar. In spite of her conservative background, Gauri excelled in sports and represented the school nationally. Upon returning home during the holidays, she would witness an imbalance in power dynamics between her parents. “My mother was dependent on my father financially. It really frustrated me,” she recalls. 

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Gauri Malik | Sirohi

 

After school, Gauri followed the sequential path of getting a good education from prestigious institutes like St. Xavier’s in Mumbai and Warwick Business School in the UK. As a postgraduate, she volunteered for three months for a micro-credit organisation in Peru. The organisation enabled single mothers to start their businesses by offering loans. 

“At the time, something like this was still considered charity and philanthropy in India. But in the West, there were real, sustainable business models that operated as social enterprises. It really widened my understanding of finance and businesses!”

Gauri then spent a few years working as an analyst at Deutsche Bank. Soon, coupled with the feelings of boredom and her desire to create a meaningful impact, she realised that a career in banking wasn’t true to her nature and transitioned to social impact and development. 

Choosing the unconventional

In 2012, she founded Skilled Samaritan (SSF) which focused on rural electrification in north India using solar power. “It came about naturally on its own. I had a vision and put it up on a website, and students and young professionals reached out to me. They wanted to volunteer for the cause,” explains Gauri. 

Also read: Sustainable Practices and Conscious Consumption

As part of her work, she identified villages around Delhi to work on. The first of which was called Sirohi. During hours spent interacting with villagers, Gauri discovered that women were dependent on their husbands. Her childhood frustration of seeing her mother depend on her father resurfaced. 

Gauri Malik | Sirohi

“I met women who were creating beautiful crafts and decor items, & food in their homes. But they didn’t know how to monetise it.”  

After a few years in the development sector, Gauri took a step back and worked in the tech industry which was booming at the time and gained significant exposure. Though the will to create a positive change persisted. 

Building Sirohi

It was later, in 2019 that she revived SSF with a new purpose and new name. She named it Sirohi. “Our first SSF project was in the village of Sirohi, so it’s really close to my heart,” she says. 

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Today Sirohi leverages the craft of rural female artisans and enables them to create beautiful and sustainable lifestyle products that cater to an audience of globally conscious consumers. “The focus on sustainability was added much later in the brand-building process. We identified that there was a market that wanted products that were created consciously,” she adds. The organisation uses/ utilizes natural fibres, textile waste & upcycled plastic that would typically go in the bin as raw materials to the artisans. 

Inspiration and influences

Splitting her time between Singapore and India, Gauri attributes her non-conformist nature to her time spent in the boarding school. 

“I spent a lot of time on my own without the protective shelter of my parents and was able to recognise my emotions a lot better. It really carved my personality. I became more self-aware.” 

This self-awareness, she says, has helped her remain grounded and be more strategic in her approach. “When you’re running a business, it is very easy to become delusional about certain things. You have to be able to take a step back and recognise what you’re doing wrong or that you don’t believe in something. I’m very fortunate to have a relationship with my parents where there’s a constant dialogue about work. They often advise me,” she explains. 

Gauri Malik | Sirohi

 

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Having grown up in a business family, Gauri is well familiar with the volatility of the entrepreneurial life. Her father played a pivotal role in shaping her fierce and bold personality. In an age where young girls often faced discrimination under the guise of protectiveness, Gauri and her younger sister were encouraged to be fearless and take risks. “I never felt like I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. Be it jumping from a cliff or running in the wild, my father pushed us to do anything and everything!”

Personal life and leisure

A go-getter and hustler at heart, mornings remain sacred to Gauri. She rises at 6:30 AM, gives her body a gentle stretch to zone in and catches up with her 2-year-old daughter Ida over a fruit or two before she heads off to her playschool. Then begins her work day where she works on the business strategy, setting goals and warming up with the team. 

“On weekends, I enjoy spending time with my family and bonding over an activity. Usually, it’s going for a picnic, a walk in the park or even going for a meal together!”

Among Gauri’s many stellar achievements, she is proud to empower hundreds of women to create livelihoods for themselves. “Through Sirohi, we’re creating economic opportunities for women who have never worked a day in their lives. These are real people we’re talking about. I am not sure how many human beings can say this for themselves,” she says. 

With a deep-rooted value system, Gauri is also especially proud of having a loving and supportive family. “I’m a difficult person to be with, so I am really happy with my ability to find a husband, get married and have a beautiful daughter with a great personality!” she quips. 

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2023 and the way forward

While all entrepreneurs experience performance pressure, it becomes more pronounced when running a social enterprise. It carries the massive responsibility to ensure that artisans receive consistent incomes in volatile market conditions which can often get overwhelming to deal with. 

Gauri Malik | Sirohi

“The pressure is on every day. And because so many people depend on Sirohi for their incomes, I cannot decide to shut up and move on in an instant. You’ve got to deal with ten different things at once. Over time, you learn to prioritise the problems. But no matter the setbacks, the gratification that comes from changing someone’s life outweighs everything else!”

This year, Gauri is looking forward to optimizing the strategy at work. “I operated as a hustler that exhausted me. I want to prioritise smart work,” she adds. She also dreams of building a strong team that is passionate and ambitious to grow the brand as she envisages it. As a young mother, she also hopes to take out time to quality time with her daughter and learn to be easier on herself. 

Her ability to be persistent and show up daily is what she describes as her superpower as a woman. “We’re a small team and we juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities. So say, if someone who manages an integral part of the business decides to quit, I usually don’t feel stressed because I’m confident in my potential to take up after their work.”

Also read: Five Ways to Unlock Brain Power

Gauri is also keen on building a community at Sirohi, which she says, Amrutam inspired her to do. “I’m really impressed by the community and constant engagement with the members. It’s something we’re still trying to work on,” she adds. The values of sustainability with a focus on giving back to society is what brings the two brands together, and Gauri sincerely believes that combining these forces will enable people to lead more conscious lifestyles. 

Her parting message to the readers is: 

“If you want to bring change and impact people’s lives, start by doing something that makes a difference to your life first. Whether in the form of a smile, a small gesture or even starting a business. Always start with yourself. It will eventually have a ripple effect and create change in the lives of hundreds and thousands of people!”

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