Shana Gulati, a lawyer turned jewelry creator, is the heart behind this brand. Inspired by the beauty, lifestyle, and culture of her native India and her hometown of New York City, Shana works to blend aspects of both worlds into her jewelry. Shana’s designs feature an eclectic blend of contemporary and traditional elements. Learn more about Shana and her creative process through a recent interview with GirlTalkHQ.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Nothing in life is black and white as is this story. I was on a path that I thought I wanted to be on in becoming a lawyer but the universe didn't have that in mind for me. A combination of bad timing and economics led me to have an inward moment in asking myself is that what I truly want in this one life I have. It was a painful and confusing decision when I realized it really wasn't but then came the question what was? I had to not just open a door in order to find that path I wanted or needed to be on but I had to essentially build that door from nothing in order to walk through it. What led me here is realizing that sometimes what's in front of you isn't your actual path and you need to take a moment, even if very difficult to ask yourself, what that may be.
Can you share about your upbringing, being born in India, and eventually making your way to the United States?
I was born in Sikkim, India (as that's where my father happened to be stationed for the Indian army) and we lived in a small town called Balco near Raipur where my father was an engineer and mother transitioned from being a teacher to an artist for a while before we were lucky enough to get our visas for the US. I was just shy of my 8th birthday so my memory is a bit spotty to be super honest. My mom's sister was in New York and she basically sponsored all of her siblings and that was that. I don't think my parents deliberated for more than a minute on whether to make the move. They wanted to give their children the chance at an opportunity or many opportunities that they never had or could fathom. Funny enough my brother named his fund the Urdu word for opportunity. So here we are 30 plus years later.
Your career didn’t begin in jewelry design. Tell us more about starting out as a lawyer and how you found your way into the jewelry business:
Even to this day, Medicine, Engineering, and Law are the three choices insinuated as career paths for almost every child of Indian parents. Honestly, I have no regrets. I studied and pursued a career in law out of respect for what my parents had done for me. I wasn’t forced into it and did it of my own volition. But I left because being a lawyer was never my true path. It was one of those moments where you have to choose what's the path for you and if that path doesn't exist, you need to envision and create it. You have to pave that road for yourself. That's what I did and it was a very hard one but one that was all my own. Lots of wrong decisions, lots of tears, self-doubt, wrong twists and turns, and lots of mistakes! But again all my own. But then there were those few right decisions that lead you to laying a foundation and building from it, instilling this inner voice that will always be there, both as a friendly one and one that voices constructive criticism. I'm still doing that. It's a constant journey and I love it.
Finding your true calling has been described as an “Eat, Pray, Love” moment, which also helped you reconnect with your heritage and parents’ journey. Can you tell us more about this moment in your life?
When I decided I was going to start this business or more like when the universe decided for me, the one thing I knew was that it needed to involve India in some way. It was a super conflicting moment as that's not what I had studied or worked towards in terms of a career path. I was essentially starting from scratch. It's both scary but exciting b/c you get to build something, and not something that's been built and you are a participant. I actually started this business at the same age as when my parents decided to uproot their whole lives and move to a country they knew nothing about nor spoke the language. I suppose it's come full circle. I get to go "home" and the whole notion of eat, pray, love for me are all wrapped up in what your home is. I love being able to go back to India a couple of times a year (on hold for the last two years, unfortunately), especially being in Jaipur. The whole experience is magical even on the worst day of all days. Anyone that's been to India surely knows what I'm saying.... I always think of India along the lines of the first sentence of A tale of two cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." That is India to me. It's everything all the time.....
What drew you to storytelling, travel, and adventure?
I don't really have a very good answer for this except I think it's just something that may have been innately in me and perhaps nurtured by having parents that were super open and gave me the freedom to travel and explore. So I think in essence it was planted in me when I came into the world and my parents helped to grow it and allow it to flourish.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I truly believe what makes us stand out besides the unique aesthetic of the work and designs is the fact that a small work family was created because of this little company of mine. You can tell that each piece has a little bit of them in it. When people speak to me about the jewelry, it tends to go beyond just the piece itself, it usually is a feeling that it makes them experience. Like there's a little heartbeat in each piece made. This is the best part to be honest!
Tell us about Shana Gulati Jewelry and some of your favorite pieces. What do they mean to you?
The jewelry is beautifully imperfect yet still perfect in its own way as we all are. It is never identical to another piece as the nature of how it's made can't allow for that. There will always be a slight difference whether or not visible to the naked eye. It's subtle yet it isn't. The sparkle dances around when in motion. It's all handmade and it may sound odd to say this but you can feel that in each piece. Each piece goes beyond just the physical aspect, they lend themselves to having one feel a certain way when wearing them. I truly believe that this is because they come from a place of a wonderful little family that was formed while creating this company and they are all a part of making each piece.
ONE of my favorite pieces is the Riffa Pendant SM. All my collections have a story behind them. This comes from the collection called Quila. Strong and unwavering, quila means fort or fortress, and each piece in this collection is named after one of these enduring structures. Resolute in its simple but imperative purpose, the Quila Collection makes you feel strong, empowered, and courageous. Riffa is a fort in Bahrain.
Your brand is also focused on sustainability, as well as being hand-made. Who are your ideal customers and clients?
That's a million-dollar question and one that we are still figuring out. I think it's someone who not only is okay with having a piece of jewelry that wasn't made on an assembly line and isn't a fleeting trend, it's someone that appreciates the value in being unique and different, even when that isn't complete perfection. It's someone who wants a piece of jewelry that isn't just about how it looks, it's about how it makes them feel. It's someone who knows they don't want to be part of the masses and have an inclination to carve out their own style and aesthetic.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your pieces?
Inspiration comes from all over. One collection was inspired while I was in Greece, so it's called Nissi (Greek word for Island), and all the pieces are named after various Greek Islands. The collection has an archipelago feel to it. There's one collection called Watq (meaning time in Urdu) and all the pieces are named after the word time in different languages. This collection's vibe is an ombre feel, so nothing is clear-cut and one thing flows to the next, like how time did the last year or so with the pandemic. Not knowing how the day began or ended. One of my favorite pieces in this collection is the Nin Hoops. (time in Maltese) All the collections have stories....
We love seeing businesses and brands being founded by women, especially women of color. What does it mean to you to be part of this wave we are seeing?
Honestly, I don't think about it. I just think about the day and what's ahead. I think growing up in a family that pushed and nurtured us (my brother and myself) with equal parts everything has sort of made me not think about gender when it comes to this aspect of my life. Sorry, I don't have a better answer, it's just the truth. Not to say I'm not excited nor grateful for this wave.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
I use quotes all the time on my social media actually. It would probably be have to be: "Be the change you want to see in this world." - Gandhi
What do you want women to feel and know when they wear a piece of Shana Gulati Jewelry?
Whatever it is that they need to.