Oorbee Roy, 32, is resurrecting a dying art form. One memorable summer day on the Jersey shore 20 years ago, Oorbee watched her mother draw an Alpona design in the sand. The ancient artistic practice comes from India, where women in some parts decorate the floor with geometric and floral patterns to mark religious and festive occasions. Oorbee became hooked on the art form and added her own modern twists to the designs. In 2002, she learned that Alpona was a dying tradition, and that fact motivated her to start her business, OM Home, so she could introduce the art form to a larger, global audience. The company sells colorful pillows and table linens embroidered with Oorbee’s modernized patterns, and she hopes to expand into bed linens and eco-friendly products next year. Her line of home accessories is made by Indian artisans near her familial home in India to ensure authenticity. To learn more about how Oorbee is reinventing Alpona, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
September 2006 (officially)
Textile Designer, President
Scotch Plains, New Jersey
Montreal, QC, Canada
Bachelor of Computer Science
2002-2006 (Product Development)
Freelance Computer Programmer
East Indian (Bengali)
About the company
“Making use of different mediums to highlight an age old technique of India, textile designer Oorbee Roy creates colorful pillows and table linens with a bold, whimsical appeal.”
On an otherwise forgettable summer vacation twenty years ago, I learned the technique by watching my mother idly draw an Alpona in the sand. Over the years, I continued to practice the art form and naturally progressed towards more modern shapes and mediums. Somewhere along the line, I also learned that Alpona was a dying tradition.
I hoped my fresh take was exactly what Alpona needed. In 2002, I began developing a line of home accessories, believing it would appeal to a wider, global audience. Through family in Kolkata, I found Mintu, a door-to-door tailor of exceptional skill to help create the OM home line of products. In the spirit of fair trade, Mintu sets his own prices, thus helping him to grow his operations to two large workshops, where he now trains, employs, houses, and feeds over two dozen artisans. The engaging combination of my modernized patterns and his expert embroidery skills, combined with our shared commitment to quality, has resulted in a fabulous array of vibrant colors and rich fabrics to reincarnate Alpona for future generations.
Eventually, I quit my high pressure programming job in New York City to work on OM home full time. I haven’t looked back! OM home officially launched in the fall of 2006 in my new home of Montreal, Canada and has since been featured in Bon Appetit, Design Sponge, Apartment Therapy, LOU LOU, Canadian Living, Chocolat and various other press outlets. Our products can be found online at www.omhome.com or in various outlets across North America and we’ll be launching a new line of bedding within the next year.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
On any given day, you may find me doing the following: preparing and shipping orders, placing orders to replenish stock, making sales calls, getting sales leads, updating balance sheets, ironing (I do lots of ironing) stock, connecting with the media or trade shows, keeping updated on industry trends, updating the website or blog, creating new designs and continuously evolving OM home’s vision and strategies.
Most notable milestones
Having OM home on the design blog, Design*Sponge by Grace Bonney, is the most notable milestone to date.
Before then, door after door was slammed in my face because I was “too ethnic.” I’m still not sure what that means! But Grace Bonney liked my stuff and took a chance on me, that validation gave me the “street cred” I needed to hit the ground running.
What’s the niche?
OM home designs have a duality inherent in the work of many children of South Asian immigrants, an influence from both our rich heritage and our North American upbringing.
By reinventing a part of my culture that’s important to me, I’m able to introduce a dying art form to a new audience. Our products are then made by artisans near my familial home in India, to both ensure authenticity and promote local craftsmanship.
Customers of all kinds appreciate the story behind the product as much as the product itself.
What’s the biggest challenge?
By far, the biggest challenge is time management. When you’re starting a business, you don’t want to miss an opportunity so you end up working all the time! I have to learn to be realistic about my time and prioritize.
What’s in store for the future?
OM home plans to expand our collection to include bed linens and eco friendly products in the next year and we’re thrilled to start working with a team of extremely talented and equally impoverished women in Kolkata on this line. We’re in the very, very early stages of setting up the partnership and my hope is to empower these women so that they may have a higher quality of life. This will not be an easy challenge but certainly one worth taking, I’m very excited!
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Stay fresh and move forward, if something’s not working, change your direction and don’t dwell. Learn from your competitor’s successes and failures.
Believe in your company and what you do, people see that.
Guiding principle in life
Nothing in life comes easy! If you want something, you have to be persistent and work hard to get it. Saying it should happen doesn’t make it so.
In another vein but still equally as important, make sure to give back at least as much as you receive!
Yardstick of success
Progress. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re moving closer to fulfilling your dreams.
Goal yet to be achieved
I’ve set many goals for OM home that includes, but is not limited to creating a full line of home accessories and continuing to build a brand worthy of a flagship store!
Best practical advice
See what people in your business have done to become successful. Read the blogs, magazines, bios, talk to people, whatever you have at your disposal. While it’s true there are no hard and fast rules, there is a strategy most people follow in your industry, however loosely, figure that out and follow it, adjusting it to your specific vision.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
From my husband Sanjeev, “I knew that Oorbee was a superstar the day I met her. She was a computer programmer then, and would drag me to all the fancy New York boutique and home shops to ‘check out the market’. Now that we are married, I am really starting to understand how her special blend of creativity, perseverance and vision is really going to make this dream of hers a reality. To the unsuspecting world, I’d just like to say, watch out!”
Without a doubt, my parents are my mentors. My father, for his wisdom and logical approach, my mother for her tenacity and business advice and both of them for their work ethic, successes and confidence – not to mention their optimism, and sometimes skepticism, about OM home.
Another mentor worth noting is my dear friend Paul. With his innate understanding of colors, textiles and trends, he helped get me started in the unknown world of design and gave me the tools to persevere.
What motivated you to get started?
In 2002, three events in my life sparked a chain reaction that lead to OM home. The first was my own artistic desire to branch out into more functional mediums. The second was a trip to India when I learned Alpona was a dying art form. The third was my Wall Street job encroaching too far into my creative and personal life. I tossed them all together and founded OM home!
Like best about what you do?
This one’s easy, creating new designs!
Like least about what you do?
Cold calling. Just the thought of it gives me chills – pun intended!
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A star. I still hope to be that when I grow up!
What was your first job?
I was a cashier at a grocery chain store during high school. The customers often treated the cashiers poorly, like lower class citizens, it was very humbling.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Trying new things! I just learned how to snowboard and in June I’ll be learning how to surf.
Person most interested in meeting?
I wish I had the opportunity to meet my mother’s father, Biren Bhowmick, an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word. He first came to the big city in the 1920’s as a teenager from the villages of what is now Bangladesh. With very little money but a lot of heart, my grandfather went from selling soap door-to-door to owning and operating one of the largest plants in Kolkata, B.E. Pumps. Even though he died several years before I was born, his ability to build so much from so little still amazes me and I wish I could find out how he did it!
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
For her love of India, her amazing grasp of colors, her staying power and her entrepreneurship, Tricia Guild is the leader in business I’m most interested in meeting.
According to the biography on her website, Tricia Guild launched her business Designer’s Guild, in 1970, which is surprising because she looks so young, and has since become a leading expert in the design industry. With 200 employees and products in over 40 countries worldwide, she still supervises the entire creative processes. She has written 11 design and color books and won numerous industry awards.
Ms. Guild has successfully made a business out of her creativity and even after almost 40 years, her work is fresh and trendsetting. Her creativity remains a driving force behind Designer’s Guild and the design industry as a whole. Truly incredible!
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I’m a ham (Goofy dances, silly faces, you name it).
- I’m really good with power tools.
- I’m both really really logical and really really emotional.
Three characteristics that describe you
- Hard working
Three greatest passions
- My family
- OM home
- Guitar Hero video game
My favorite book of all time is Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” because Kerouac was the first author who inspired me to be a free thinker.
Favorite recent read is “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini for the sheer emotion of the story. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read much anymore!
As OM home has grown, helping the impoverished and talented artisans in Kolkata has become increasingly important to me. The untapped, raw, amazing talent in Kolkata must be carefully nurtured and given an outlet to shine!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I am continuously impressed with how second generation South Asians are making a significant impact in mainstream society. More and more, I hear about my peers succeeding in a broad range of fields and it always makes me proud. You are my inspiration.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my husband Sanjeev for his unending support. He is my biggest cheerleader, talking me through the rough times and celebrating with me during the good times. Without his optimism and advice, I wouldn’t have even gotten this far. I have so much further to go and knowing he’s along for the ride makes it all seem attainable!
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Retailers, consumers, fellow entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to drop a note to say hello.
|July 5th, 2007, 16:32:44
|July 14th, 2007, 13:35:18
Hi Naina and everyone else who has written me with well wishes, thanks so much for the awesome feedback!
A lot of people have asked me for marketing tips so I thought I’d comprise some information based on my own experiences. You can find it on my blog, http://omhome.blogspot.com/, I hope it helps, keep me posted!
|July 14th, 2007, 13:37:27
Here’s the direct link to the blog entry: http://omhome.blogspot.com/2007/07/marketing-tips.html