Vihari Poddar has come a long way since establishing her eponymous jewellery brand 15 years ago. Zhuan Lee finds out how the last two years have inspired the multi-hyphenate mumpreneur to learn and adapt her business to the new normal.
Born into a family of diamond experts, Vihari has spent her childhood surrounded by gemstones. She subsequently spent summer breaks at her father Rajesh Sheth’s office learning the ropes, and eventually started her own high jewellery business, Vihari Jewels, in 2006. She was just 20 years old then.
Fifteen years, a marriage and three beautiful children later, Poddar is still thriving as an entrepreneur. A mum to seven-year-old Kiara, four-year-old Dhrissh and four-month-old Veera, she is fully hands-on and very much involved in their day-to-day lives.
Having a strong mind and good support system is what the jeweller attributes her ability to juggle work and family: “There’ve been so many times when things felt impossible and the burden of it all seemed insurmountable. But life moves on and the only way through is to get a hold of your emotions.” She thanks her parents, husband Abishek (founder of online fashion retailer Mr Square) and younger brother Kunal (who works at their father’s company) for always being there for her and also constantly motivating her to push on. “Without them, all this would’ve been impossible.”
Evolving with the business
Since early 2020, the pandemic has changed the way we live, in ways we’ve never imagined. Not one to rest on her laurels, Poddar spent the past two years working on her “firstborn” – Vihari Jewels: “I’ve been rebranding my business and planning how to take the next step.” Her goal? To move from being a quiet, in-the-know business to one that will be accessible to everyone.
While her role has not changed much since the launch of her business, Poddar says that she and her company have matured and evolved over the last 15 years. Personifying her company as an “intelligent and capable young lady” at its current stage, she says: “I’ve always been fully hands-on – whether it’s product, presentation, marketing, sales, finances or manufacturing – and still remain so. As far as my clients are concerned, I’ve never settled for anything less than the best.”
While she still operates the business single-handedly, she adds that Vihari Jewels “has progressed from having loud and fun events, to more sophisticated and classy, intimate gatherings”, which is a reflection of her personal road to maturity as well. “To be fair, I did start my business in my late teens and being brash was my nature.” Over the years, Poddar’s learnt several lessons and will continue to learn and evolve. For her, this picking up and moving on from the past is how one progresses and there is nothing from before that she would ever change.
Amid the learning and evolving, what has remained steadfast through the years is Poddar’s relationship with her father Rajesh Sheth – founder of diamond company House of Gems. From nurturing her as a little girl to being her mentor and inspiration since her foray into the jewellery trade, their father-daughter bond has only grown stronger with time.
“My father has always been very tough on me. His approach has been a hands-off one to let me make mistakes. He’ll then push me to learn from them, not lose hope and keep the fighting spirit even when things seem to fall apart,” she continues. “I must say, his philosophy does seem correct because whenever a good idea is backed by consistent and honest effort, things have always worked out for the better.”
When it comes to working with immediate family, many relationships thrive and achieve great success. The same can be said for Poddar’s business, which has benefited greatly from having a family deeply rooted in the gem trade. Backed by decades of industry experience, extensive product knowledge and expertise when it comes to sourcing for raw gems, Sheth is the first person Poddar seeks out whenever she needs advice. Having a brother, who is highly skilled at sourcing for and cutting diamonds, also gives her an edge over other jewellers. “It always helps having my father and brother’s opinions on which stones to invest in while designing my collection as this always results in the maximum value for my clients,” Poddar points out.
Although her relationship with her father has flourished over the years, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses: “I’ll admit it’s not easy working with my father. While he’s a very friendly person, he’s a very tough mentor as well. He shares the same attitude towards perfection as me and will not compromise on quality of work. Over the years, I’ve gained the confidence to challenge his approach on several issues and these exchanges can sometimes get very heated.” That being said, Poddar says everything they do is out of their love for family, and both of them have gained a great amount of respect and appreciation for each other over the years.
Although “Vihari” means “traveller” in Sanskrit, the fact that global travel has been next-to-impossible since the start of the pandemic has made Poddar rethink her business model. From previously relying mostly on word-of-mouth for her marketing strategy, she now channels more of her time establishing Vihari Jewels’ presence on social media.
A new chapter awaits
“Almost every company has had to adapt to doing business in new ways. With any seismic change, there are always opportunities along with the threats. I’ve always believed in looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and being open and receptive to change. I’ve noticed a distinct shift in buying patterns and decided the time was right for me to expand the business.”
Poddar happily shares that the brand’s Instagram account (@viharijewels) has generated a healthy number of enquiries over the last couple of years. “We’ve pivoted from being a retailer of exclusive collectors’ pieces to having a range of more accessible pieces that offer serious bang for your buck,” she says.
The necessitated transition from large gatherings and formal balls to smaller, more intimate gatherings also came at the right time. “I’d just launched my Vivid Bee collection early last year, followed by the Lucky Bug and Iridescent Dragonfly collections. These are perfect for less formal occasions or intimate gatherings and dinners,” Poddar points out.
The ability to adapt to changing times has undoubtedly put her in good stead. She’s not forgotten her roots that have enabled her to stay close to what she set out for Vihari Jewels to achieve: “I was given the name Vihari based on my stars and my design philosophy has always revolved around the concept of travel.” Every piece of jewellery she creates is set with stones that have travelled the world and are refined along the way before being made available to customers. “Vihari Jewels is synonymous with the fiercely independent and driven woman – someone who aims for the moon and isn’t afraid to own a piece of it by working hard with integrity to fulfil her aspirations,” she adds.
What’s next for the “rebranded” Vihari Jewels? She’s looking forward to the launch of her new boutique, which is scheduled to open by the end of the year. Having chanced upon a good location some time ago, Poddar’s father grabbed it and assigned his daughter the job of running the soon-to-be retail space. “I’ve just had my third child, so it’s definitely very challenging managing my time between three kids and the newest baby, which is the store,” she admits.
Pivoting from a by-appointment-only jeweller, Poddar not only wants to reach a wider audience through her first retail space, but also intends to let people in on what goes on behind her creations. “We plan to have a first-of-its-kind concept store, where we’ll take our customers on a journey and let them experience how we source our stones.” She aims to educate clients on how to select jewellery and, at the same time, provide consultations for those who would like to know which pieces are a good fit for their private collections. “We’ll also create a space where buyers can lounge in luxury and take their time exploring the right pieces for them,” she reveals.
Poddar will also unveil her latest collection to coincide with the new boutique opening. Named The Eternal Orchid, the creations are inspired by our national flower: “I wanted this line to commemorate the launch of my first-ever shopfront retail space in Singapore, and it also serves as a Thank You to the city that’s given me so much.”
When asked if her new boutique signifies the start of something bigger, Poddar lets on that she prefers to take things one step at a time: “I’d like to first establish my presence in Singapore as a household name that’s synonymous with quality. After that, we’ll be able to see what comes next. I prefer to be a realist in my approach for business, and building my foundations slow and strong.”
Art Direction & Styling: Adriel Chiun | Photography: Darren Gabriel Leow | Hair & Make-up: Grego, using Keune & Dior
This story first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.