Legacy of Leadership

“Without faith, progress is limited. Building a brand demands relentless dedication.”
Shailesh Sangani
Founder & Managing Director at Priority Jewels

“Though not every endeavor succeeds, the joy of experiencing success amidst these trials makes it all worthwhile. ”
Aditi Sangani
Head – New Product Development at Priority Jewels

We know Priority Jewels started in 2008. Could you share your journey before starting Priority Jewels and what were the factors that led you to this decision?

Shailesh: I’ve been involved in various ventures, but let’s focus on jewelry. Back in 1990-91, India underwent significant economic changes, moving from a closed to an open economy. The Gold Control Act was abolished, allowing new entrants into the jewelry industry.

Around 1992-93, when establishing a brand in India seemed challenging, I took the chance and started a brand called Gili. After encountering countless rejections from retailers until 1992-93, when Shoppers Stop offered us 50 square feet shop-in-shop space next to the elevator in their Andheri, Mumbai, store. This marked the beginning of our journey, and by 2007, Gili had expanded to 250+ outlets, achieving a turnover of INR 150 crores.

After selling Gili in 2007, I transitioned to jewelry manufacturing, founding Priority Jewels.

Can you share how you got started in the gem and jewelry industry? Also, what inspired you to join the family business?

Aditi: As a child, I used to sketch what I imagined would be my bridal necklace. This ignited my early interest in jewelry. This passion for the craft, inherited from my father’s deep love for his work, became the driving force behind my decision to join the gem and jewelry industry. I believed that if my father could find such joy in his work, perhaps I could too.

I underwent a few design and manufacturing courses before immersing myself in our factory operations, starting with polishing, filing, and setting. An internal mandate within our factory required me to master each stage before progressing. After a year or two in product development, I pursued GIA Comprehensive CAD/CAM and GIA Jewelry Design Certificate and my prior experience allowed me to ask relevant questions, making GIA programs an invaluable step in solidifying my foundational knowledge.

Could you provide us with an overview of the growth you’ve experienced with Priority? Additionally, could you share some insights into the challenges encountered during the expansion both within India and internationally, especially while catering to international brands?

Shaliesh: Navigating challenges in the jewelry manufacturing industry has been a dynamic journey. Initially drawn to the US market, we encountered numerous hurdles. Despite participating in prestigious events such as the JCK Las Vegas show, the initial response was underwhelming. Adapting to the distinct processes and time zone differences of the US market proved to be very challenging. Learning from these setbacks, we decided to explore other international markets before revisiting the USA.

In contrast, my approach within India has been deeply rooted in building relationships. I recall visiting a mint-cultivating village named Badayu when I was armed only with a business card. I spent hours with the local jewelers, emphasizing relationship-building before introducing my products. This relationship-centric methodology, coupled with a focus on genuine product quality, reaffirmed my belief that sustained growth is rooted in understanding diverse markets, building relationships, and fostering trust. This, in essence, remains the ethos of my journey in the jewelry industry.

As the head of product development, could you elaborate on the workings of the process? How does research inspire or influence inspiration? Additionally, could you shed light on the significance of feedback in this process?

Aditi: At this stage in Priority, feedback takes precedence, whether it’s from a show or a direct interaction with our customers. We prioritize incorporating this feedback into our development process, shaping our next steps, including the creation of collections. This feedback provides essential parameters, such as budget and category, guiding our direction. Research and inspiration follow, working hand in hand, as ideas come from various sources. The challenge lies in translating these inspirations into tangible jewelry pieces. Therefore, the process unfolds with feedback as the initial driver, followed by a careful blend of research and inspiration, ultimately leading to a beautiful jewelry piece.

Could you provide us with insights into your usual work schedule and how you operate, particularly during trade shows, considering your role as the convenor of GJEPC in the past?

Shailesh: When you shoulder a responsibility, fulfilling it becomes the top priority. During my tenure as the convener, Priority Jewels took a backseat. But my team at Priority understood the shift and supported me by taking on additional responsibilities within the company. I made myself available for the council whenever needed, regardless of the time—morning, day, or night.

Reflecting on my six-year term as the convener, there’s no secret ingredient. Taking up a challenge means committing to its execution. I haven’t done anything extraordinary; it’s about dedicating yourself when given such a responsibility. This approach, learned from my predecessors, fueled my commitment.

Aditi: My father has an inherent ability to solve problems, whether it’s within the factory or any other context. This relentless dedication means he won’t rest until the task at hand is successfully completed.

Today, IIJS stands as the most significant show in the gem and jewelry industry? Shailesh -bhai, could you take us through this journey?

Shailesh: In its early years, IIJS started at a five-star hotel. The inaugural show hosted around 30 to 40 exhibitors, including myself. Subsequently, the venue transitioned to South Bombay, where IIJS adopted a dual-format structure, featuring a B2B show in the morning and B2C in the evening. Initially participating as an exhibitor, my involvement grew when I joined the committee. Together with Sanjay Bhai Kothari, Dilip Shah, and Harish Bhai, we championed the transformation of the show into a B2B platform.  Since then, the trajectory has been unwavering, with IIJS playing a pivotal role in catalyzing the growth of numerous companies, mine being a testament to its transformative impact.

As a member of the Women’s Jewellery Association, could you share your insights and experiences in navigating and leading in this unique gem and jewelry landscape? Additionally, what advice would you offer to young women aspiring to enter the industry and to our many young alumni in the audience?

Aditi: In my decade-long journey in the industry, I’ve witnessed significant changes in the role of women. Initially concentrated in design and merchandising, now I observe a notable presence on the retail and buying fronts. Notably, several factories in the MIDC area boast substantial female representation, with women leading in sales and marketing. It’s crucial to acknowledge that women’s impact in the jewelry industry extends beyond design. The landscape has evolved, thanks to trailblazers like Nirupa Ma’am and others who have paved the way. Their contributions have not only influenced my generation but are poised to positively shape future generations in the industry.

Reflecting on your journey together, could you share a memorable moment that holds a special place in your heart?

Shailesh: We experience such moments almost every day. Our collaboration involves ongoing teamwork, where she often seeks my input on various aspects, from conceptualization to execution. We discuss ideas, strategize, and address challenges together consistently. These daily interactions are integral to our teamwork. While there may not be a specific standout moment, our shared routine of working side by side, discussing projects, and enjoying meals together contributes to a continuous and meaningful collaboration. For us, it’s not about a single memorable instance, but the collective experience of navigating the intricacies of our work together each day.

Aditi: I’m grateful to be blessed with senior leadership that values experimentation. During our discussions about upcoming collections for the next show, me and my team has often proposed ideas that the marketing team and my dad initially doubted. Despite this, my dad has trusted my instincts and given me the freedom to experiment. When these ideas work and are well received, it reaffirms my belief that following my instincts has guided us in the right direction. Though not every endeavor succeeds, the joy of experiencing success amidst these trials makes it all worthwhile.

How do you approach collaboration in product development as a manufacturing house, particularly in building successful partnerships with emerging jewelry designers?

Aditi: Our doors are always open for collaboration with designers, with the primary objective being the creation of pieces that resonate well with the end consumer and can be successfully sold. Our focus is on what benefits the final customer rather than individual interests. We encourage designers to reach out, especially for collaborative projects or new collections. We are constantly on the lookout for fresh and innovative ideas, as everyone in the industry seeks uniqueness.

Shailesh: Budding designers should initially have confidence in the manufacturing house and trust in people. Understanding that they are still in the budding stage is crucial; akin to buds that have not fully blossomed. Unfortunately, in our country, although there is a significant market for jewelry, very few designers are well-known. I have been vocal about this issue, emphasizing that designers need to take steps and start trusting others, even if they encounter some wrong choices along the way. It is essential to acknowledge that not everything can be right from the start, but without trying, there is no progress. It is disheartening to see prominent names in other fields taking over the jewelry design space, while many talented designers often struggle to break into mainstream retail.

What specific advice, tips, tricks, and suggestions would you offer? Additionally, are there particular pitfalls they should be mindful of as they venture into this niche?

Shailesh: I will emphasize the importance of defining a clear goal from the outset. Jumping into the jewelry industry is not difficult, but specificity is key. Understand the niche or occasion you want to cater to. When we started Gili, we focused on day-to-day jewelry, carving our specialization.

Building a factory involves more than machines and money; it requires knowledge of production and legalities. If you lack experience, working in a factory first is beneficial. Learn the intricacies of running a factory before venturing out on your own. Quality is paramount, so ensure you know precisely what you want to create. Taking these steps prepares you for success in the vast landscape of gem and jewelry.

With the creative process directly connected to customer preferences, there is also the pragmatic business side, where adhering to budgetary criteria becomes essential. How do you achieve the delicate equilibrium between unleashing creativity and addressing the commercial imperatives of the industry?

Aditi: Some collections are crafted as captivating talking points, but they may not become bestsellers. On the other hand, seemingly everyday collections often emerge as the top sellers. Striking a delicate balance between the two, we categorize our creations into established classics and innovative new collections. The new offerings always bring something novel to the table—be it a fresh technique, design language, or a completely new category for our manufacturing capabilities. This strategy ensures that we continuously engage customers with the allure of the new, while retaining the timeless appeal of our core products. Learning from customer interactions, we recognize the value of pieces that spark conversations, even if they don’t conform to the traditional bestseller model.

In your experience, what distinctions have you observed when interacting with international brands compared to dealing with domestic clients? Specifically, how do their expectations for the products differ, and is there a noticeable contrast in their buying patterns?

Shailesh: Buying behaviors don’t exhibit significant differences between international and domestic clients; a client is a client, regardless of their origin. However, there are variations in buying patterns. For instance, in Europe, the preference for white gold is declining, making room for yellow gold. Design language also plays a crucial role, with international buyers often seeking similar looks at different price points, requesting adjustments in weight while maintaining the aesthetic. In contrast, domestic clients tend to focus more on the immediate appeal and may not delve deeply into the development of a product unless it immediately resonates with their preferences.

What were the key factors that enabled you to persist in your journey despite facing multiple challenges and setbacks?

Shailesh: Conviction, to me, is a personal belief one must hold. Without self-belief, progress is unlikely. During the Gili brand-building phase, my life orbited around it. Day in and day out, whether with friends, on vacation, or even during a movie, my thoughts were consumed by the brand. I approached Amar Sons, a renowned departmental store, to showcase my brand. Persistently, I waited for the owner to grant me a chance. Despite the initial rejection, I stood outside the store for a few days, determined to seize an opportunity. Eventually, my persistence paid off, the owner called me in and we were able to secure a deal. This experience emphasizes the importance of unwavering conviction.

If a book were to chronicle your life, what title would it be?

Aditi: I’d say “Priority” captures it best. Back when we named our company Priority, every catalog or initiative echoed the sentiment that our customer is our priority. This philosophy originated from the founder and permeates to our entire organization. Complaints about service are minimal because, for Priority, the customer comes first. Whether it’s preparing a ring for a last-minute proposal or handling urgent requests, we go the extra mile to meet our customers’ needs, even if it means keeping the factory open and running around to ensure everything falls into place within 24 hours.

Is there a particular piece of jewellery that you treasure?

Aditi: The first pair of earrings my parents gifted me upon graduation, or perhaps my engagement ring, holds significant sentimental value.

Excerpts taken from GIA India’s Legacy of Leadership Knowledge Series interview conducted live on Zoom. Attendance by invitation only. Register on collective.GIA.edu as GIA alumni to get notified about upcoming events.

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