Barjis Chohan: Barjis Chohan

How one rug designer has got success covered

Barjis Chohan has made her name through designing stylish hand made rug. She tells Startup.co.uk she has her plans for success all laid out.

Why shouldn’t a rug be a work of art – or a work of art make a functional floor covering? Barjis Chohan sought to answer these questions just over two years ago and the result was her successful rug design company, also called Barjis Chohan.

“My mission statement was to bridge the gap between art and design,” she says, “for my rugs to look more like paintings.” And her ideas have proved popular winning customers in Germany and America as well as all over the UK.

Her rugs are hand-made in India, Thailand and China. And although she has an off the peg collection, the larger part of her work is specially commissioned designs for individuals and trade customers.

Beginnings

Starting up a business and having a baby are both pretty stressful activities. Most people would consider one or other sufficient – except Barjis Chohan, who started up her company when she was eight months pregnant.

After spending two years designing evening wear, she finally grew tired of constantly working with black material. Starting life from the kitchen table Barjis Chohan, the company, came into existence in January 2000. Chohan advertised in trade magazines, attended trade shows and approached galleries to gauge market reaction to her product.

Chohan stresses the importance of meeting with and talking to people: “Word of mouth was really important. There’s a real network of architects and interior designers who work for private clients, getting them to see my designs was important.”

She also had to find factories to make the rugs. Chohan went for the simple approach by looking on the internet

“I found places in Thailand, China and India. I had friends in each of these countries who I asked to go and make surprise visits on the factories. It is very important you visit the factories and ensure they do not use child labour, and check that it is abiding with safety regulations.”

Growing business

Chohan had a home office which doubled as a meeting room for clients initially. “I managed,” she said, “But I quickly realised the importance of getting a showroom elsewhere. In order to grow, the business needed to be more professional than it could be while I was inviting people into my home.” She opened her showroom in Tooting, south London, after about 14 months of trading.

Going to trade shows give Chohan a chance to test her designs both against those in the trade and actual customers. “I was getting a great reaction at the New York show. But one comment people kept making was how cheap my rugs were. They weren’t in line with New York prices so I was able to increase the cost by 20% and still sell very well. This was a great way to test the market.”

Turning points

Starting up and working largely on your own can make the start of a business a lonely process. Chohan knew she was getting good feedback to her face when she visited the trade shows but was word getting out about Barjis Chohan generally in the interior design world?

“My sister was studying on a design course and one day the teacher said ‘I’ve got an example of a designer that I really like.’ And she showed the class my website. She didn’t know about my sister’s connection, but had come across it independently. This was a real turning point for me, I felt me work was really being appreciated.”

Chohan had her own website – www.barijschohan.com – and this really helped to reach a wider audience. Not only does it tell you all about Barjis Chohan and the objectives behind it as a company but there are also colour photograph files of all her designs.

And she says being a finalist and highly commended winner of the UK Shell Livewire awards 2001 was a big confidence boost as well as good publicity.

Future plans

And what does the future hold for Barjis Chohan?

Her immediate plans are to set up a central London gallery to showcase her work to passing customers as well as trade appointments. Her target is for March so at the moment she’s occupied with location, security and finance as well as employing three more people to staff the gallery and having rugs made up. “I’d like the gallery to have a coffee shop and eventually to sell other artists’ work as well. People will be able to see the rugs and designs in a relaxed environment.”

Barjis’s top tips

  • Use reliable suppliers: A personal visit to your suppliers is vital so you can check them out. This is especially important if you are using suppliers from the Far East. Also check with their current customers and enquire about the quality of their service/produce. Unreliable suppliers/manufacturers will be detrimental your whole business
  • Make it worth their while: Subcontracted manufacturers prefer bulk orders to individual ones so to ensure they take you seriously, offer to pay double the price for small orders and don’t just make one order a year
  • Colour consistency: Colours appear different in the East as opposed to the UK due to differing amounts of light. So if you are importing materials or using eastern manufacturers use a ‘chromatone palette’ to ensure the same shades are agreed upon
  • Delivery: Delivery from the Far East can often be delayed always add two weeks onto customer delivery dates to cover this
  • Keep up with trends: Watch the market and visit trade shows to ensure your rugs are fresh and modern. Note colours, designs, and materials to be used for the next season.

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