How Shwetali Sawant is creating little India in Melbourne

By Indira Laisram
Shwetali Sawant

After completing her Bachelors in Electronics and Communication from Nirma University in Ahmedabad and Master’s in Biomedical Engineering from Cornell University in New York, Shwetali Sawant did not end up taking up a lucrative career based on her educational smarts. The reason being, she had a baby soon after. And then the family relocated from the United States to Australia in 2008. It was here that her business instincts kicked in, and a desire that would serve her well. Her initial gambit was an online business, getting stuff from the US and selling it here as ‘you get things at an unbelievable price there”. She also imported groceries from India, and by her own telling, was “always doing something or the other”.

Sawant says entrepreneurship is imbedded in her brain, and it is a passion. “I always wanted to run my own business and be my own boss. Being a mum also made me realise that spending quality time with my young family was more important than being somewhere I didn’t want to be.”

Sawant believes the education she left behind actually never goes away. “It’s like having done the groundwork all your life, my engineering background has made me a problem solver.”

Living in Australia made her look at so many Indian women who are working from home but lacking the platform to showcase their talents. When she did her own research, she also realised there were many markets out there, say, kids, lifestyle, fashion etc., but none for the Indian diaspora. That’s when she conceived, conceptualised and set up The Indian Bazaar in 2017. It is a social enterprise, certified by Social Traders Australia, that supports and promotes home-based businesses run by Indian women entrepreneurs through events, exhibitions and pop up markets.

“The main reason I started The Indian Bazaar was to give platform to women entrepreneurs who run their business from home. I wanted the platform to be the one where they could not only advertise their goods and services by having a shopfront for a day but also after the event, where I could continue to showcase them through social media,” says Sawant.

She is also the marketing manager for the Indian Business Women Network Inc (IBWN), a non-profit organisation established in 2016 with a purpose to support and celebrate the business success and ongoing growth of women in business from the Indian subcontinent.

Sawant believes that women should be able to do anything they want to and she is a living exemplar of that. In conversation with Shwetali Sawant.

Shwetali Sawant
What are the three important lessons you learnt when you started The Indian Bazaar in 2017?

Coming from a non-events and non-marketing background, it was a big challenge to create something like that. But I taught myself how to organise events, the ins and outs of permits and regulations, advertising on social media, promoting businesses online and building a brand identity, etc.

So, the three lessons I learnt are one, you can do anything you put your mind to. Second, reach out for help if you don’t know how to do it. And lastly, always have patience and smile, after all there’s a Chinese proverb that says, “A man without a smiling face must not open a shop”.

Can you please explain what the business module is and what it does?

Absolutely. I create little India for a day in different parts to Melbourne. India is known for its bazaars, a central place where you can find anything and everything under the sun—all in one place. It’s the place where you take your family for shopping, connect with your friends, eat some amazing street food, spend some quality time with your loved ones and just make beautiful memories. This is why the motto of The Indian Bazaar is: heritage—community—connections.

I want the Indian heritage to be celebrated through our traditional clothing, jewellery, home décor, food, music, art, etc. And I want people to come and connect with their friends and family and bring little ones to experience and relive their beautiful memories of visiting bazaars in India, right here in Australia. I want these little traditions to live on.

My module is such that I rent out a big venue like shopping centre, community centre, Fed Square Atrium, sports clubs etc all around Melbourne and we invite women entrepreneurs that run business from home to come and exhibit their products and services for a small fee. We give them a stall space, advertise and promote their business on our social media platforms before the event and also on the day. Their products are also listed on The Indian Bazaar website for sale 24/7. Our tribe of stall holders started out at 50 and are now at 800+.

What’s your greatest fear as an entrepreneur especially in the online space?

Currently, majority of products that you find at our bazaars are available online from Indian websites at the click of a button and from the customer point of view, it is easier to just buy things online. However, there isn’t much accountability when things go wrong. If the product is coming from India, it’s an entirely different ball game to send it back and get a refund if you’re lucky enough to get it.

When they buy from our women entrepreneurs, they can get a peace of mind because there’s accountability here. A lot of our stallholders design their own products and get them made from India. Everyone does a lot of research before ordering, they make sure they deliver what is ordered, you also get to try their products before you buy, etc..These little things matter the most and I think from an online perspective, the human interaction is what we humans are missing out on the most.

Shwetali Sawant
What are the biggest opportunities you see in e-commerce with Indian products?

There are a lot of local companies that are manufacturing Indian products, but I haven’t seen any Indian social enterprises in that area. There are a lot of creative people around who can use their talents to create a social enterprise and sell their products online such that it benefits the community. There is a lot of help available from the government to get started, but I haven’t seen anyone take an initiative as yet.

Tell us more about Indian Business Women Network Inc.

Our mission is to empower Indian businesswomen to achieve success in their own terms. We strive to provide opportunities for women to connect with and support each other. We deliver networking exercises that contribute to the personal and professional development of our members.

Our main aim of the non-profit organisation is to mentor, share experiences, challenges and wisdom. Collaborating within the network and ultimately the greater business community. I’m the marketing manager for IBWN and although we are a team with dedicated titles, we try to do as much as we can to help each other out. I do social media, a bit of PR by talking to as many women business owners as I can about our organisation, a bit of event management for our networking events etc. It’s an amazing organisation to be a part of.

Is this a great time to be a woman entrepreneur?

It’s never been a better time to be a women entrepreneur. Through The Indian Bazaar I’m connected to more than 800 of them and they range from 19 to 65 years old. There’s a support system available to help you get started, stay connected and flourish. If you are an Indian woman and thinking of starting a business, reach out to me or any of our Indian Business Women Network Inc. team and we’ll help out in any way we can.

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