ROSH MAHTANI, FOUNDER OF ALIGHIERI
My conversation with London-based jewellery designer Rosh Mahtani hits a stumbling block pretty much straight away. We can’t decide on what her title should be, which wouldn’t really matter except for the fact that – to be quite honest – I need something to put in her caption. Designer? Creative Director? Photographer? Writer? Rosh is one of those awe-inspiring creatives who's intuitively able to apply her eye for visuals to lots of different mediums, from photography to illustration – and the nature of running a business means there are very few jobs she doesn't do.
Still, it’s her talent for creating show-stoppingly beautiful jewellery that’s seen Alighieri, the luxe jewellery brand she launched in 2014, so readily adopted by the fashion set, garnering features in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar (where she once interned) and adorning the ears and hands of the chicest bloggers. We caught up in her studio to discuss how starting her own business gave her a sense of purpose, as well as the challenges of being an entrepreneur. These are the bits you don’t see on Instagram.
THE LITERARY INSPIRATION BEHIND ALIGHIERI
I fell in love with Dante Alighieri's work whilst reading French and Italian at Oxford University, and after I graduated I found that I wasn't able to let it go. I spent some time in Australia, and I had the Divine Comedy with me and wanted to explore it further. It's fair to say I've always been really into jewellery - I love jewellery, and I very randomly took a one-day course in wax casting. I started making things and thought, “how great would it be to create one piece for every one of Dante Alighieri's canti?”. It's such a visual text, and so much art has been based on Dante's texts, so I wanted to tell the story somehow - and it happened to manifest itself in jewellery. It's funny – I actually bought the domain name for Alighieri a couple of days after I did that course. I always had it in my mind that I wanted to create something from Dante’s work.
HOW STARTING HER OWN BUSINESS GAVE HER A CREATIVE OUTLET
After I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do – I always knew I wanted to do something creative, and I think I always knew I wanted to start my own business but I never had a 'thing'. Lots of my friends had acting or writing as a 'thing' and I quite liked everything, but I'd never excelled at any one thing. I interned in the fashion industry, at Harper's Bazaar, and worked at Avenue 32 as a Visual Merchandiser during its early stages. I liked fashion but I never wanted to only do that.
"Starting Alighieri really gave me direction and allowed me to do all the things that I wanted to do."
I knew I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to take photographs, but I felt like I was neither a writer nor a photographer. I didn't really feel like I had the 'right' to be writing or taking photographs and putting them out there. Starting Alighieri really gave me direction and allowed me to do all the things that I wanted to do. It felt like all of a sudden I had a reason to write and a reason to take photographs – creating this brand and telling the story allowed me to do all the things that I loved.
(IM)PERFECTING HER CRAFT
The wax-carving course I took was very technical and precise and I thought, "I don't want something that's precise" – I liked the imperfections. I never felt like I was learning a trade, I felt like I was creating things and seeing what I liked and what I didn't. I'm always really hesitant to describe myself as a ‘designer’ because I'm not technically a designer – I didn't study design. But also that's not what I love most about Alighieri – I like designing, but for me it was always about telling a story.
ON HER DAY-TO-DAY ROUTINE
It's very varied. A lot of my time is spent at my caster's in Hatton Garden. It's a male-dominated, family-run business and it was quite intimidating at first - they're quite straight-talking, and you have to be quite assertive. A lot of my time is also spent packaging up orders - I spend a lot of time at the Post Office, sending out press samples etc. I have two other jobs as well, so I'm constantly flitting between everything. I save emails and admin for the evening because that's when other people aren't at work.
ON BEING A ONE-WOMAN ARMY
Part of the game of creating a successful brand is the social media aspect, and how you market it. It needs to look effortless - but that's an illusion. I often have people email me saying “Please will you pass this on to your accounts division?” or “Please pass this on to your marketing person”, and very few people realise that it's just me! I love it though - I wouldn't be doing anything else.
HER FAVOURITE PART OF THE JOB
Making a sale! It never gets old - every time you get an email saying so-and-so has bought an item, it still is such a kick. Actually I lied - that's a really great part, but the absolute best part is working with my friends, and meeting so many amazing women. I've made a lot of amazing friends through Alighieri. There's this creative buzz and energy where everyone's helping each other, and I've built up a circle of friends, and I love that.
THE CHALLENGES OF RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS
The money aspect is 100% the most challenging part - the constant barrage of bills can be pretty stressful! Other challenges are… wanting to do a lot of things, and not necessarily having the manpower to be able to do them. I have all these ideas, and I want to do everything to the best of my ability – so sometimes you just have to reign yourself in. I find that hard because there's so much I want to do. I have to think one step at a time, and set myself manageable goals.
TAKING A BREAK
My time to switch off is with my camera. Taking stills, or travelling alone with my camera - that's my therapy. I find I can completely switch off and zone out, so that brings me a lot of calm.
ADVICE FOR OTHER BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS
If you're making something, make something that you'd like, or that you'd want to wear - and then just go for it. Personally I go on instinct with most things and sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. It's all part of the process, so don't beat yourself up too much about the mistakes that you make.
Also - just hustle.