Vaishali Shah shares all with Pearl & Pear

Ananya is an award-winning stationery design business established in 2006 by Vaishali Shah. The word Ananya comes from the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, and means ‘without equal’ or ‘unparalleled’. That was the inspiration behind Vaishali’s vision to create stationery that was distinct, unique, and where appropriate, a fusion of Asian and British styles that appeal to the modern British taste. The Ananya brand is synonymous with luxurious quality.

In Ananya’s 12-year history, they have been designing a complete range of elegant greeting cards as well as bespoke wedding and event stationery in styles to suit all tastes.

WOW! In twelve years, you have come so far…how does it feel?

I can hardly believe it’s 12 years since I launched Ananya, how quickly the time has flown! When I look back it gives me a wonderful sense of accomplishment at all that has been achieved. I’m thrilled that 12 years of experience in the business has built Ananya into a multi award-winning company. I’ve gone from being nervous and naïve into someone who is considered an expert in the industry. How cool is that!

I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with leading professionals in the industry and at some breath-taking venues! From Michelin star restaurants to palaces in India. It doesn’t get any better than that! Ananya’s 10th Anniversary was a very important milestone and I’m now looking forward to the next.

It must have been quite the journey, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt?

Yes, it’s been a very interesting journey with a lot of lessons along the way. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to never be complacent and sit on your laurels. You have to be mindful of the competition and strive to differentiate your business from your competitors. This is good because it keeps you on your toes and challenges you to keep innovating, experimenting with new techniques and ways to adapt your stationery to the constantly changing styles, trends and preferences.

There are many aspects to stationery that I have to manage, including working with artisans from India to printing over in the UK. Co-ordinating and managing it all can be challenging. There’s a lot of hard work involved, so passion for your business is vital to keep you going and innovating.

Why stationery? What sparked the need for your business?

I’ve been really lucky – I travelled the world from a young age and was influenced by many different cultures. What fascinated me were the unique qualities, themes, symbolism, patterns and textures that represented each culture. I wanted to find a way to bring together those aspects of the various cultures in a way that was fresh, fashionable, contemporary and exotic.

Then came my light-bulb moment! I noticed a lack of high-end stationery available for Asian and multicultural events on the market. Research confirmed that there wasn’t really anyone in the UK offering exclusive, bespoke, contemporary stationery influenced by the East. Being a British Asian myself, I understood the market. I was excited and had found my niche. Having spotted the gap in the market, I launched Ananya in 2006.

What do you think are the perfect ingredients for gorgeous stationery?

I would say that it starts with using the finest materials and then progresses to the occasion the stationery is being designed for. The right cardstock, or material, the appropriate design or pattern as well as the type of print will all be important factors in creating beautiful stationery. Stationery that has creative use of fonts, colours and textures can create a WOW factor. There is so much choice that you can really personalise the stationery according to the client’s preference. That is the key – to make it as individual as the people you are designing it for. Where glamour is the preferred choice, cards encrusted with embellishments make them come alive and add that all important touch of luxury and sparkle.

You’ve been so busy! What has been your favourite event to date?

I’ve had lots of memorable events. Each event inspires me and motivates me to make it special by adding an exciting twist or an unexpected element. Of course whilst keeping the client’s brief in mind. However, if I were to single out an event, it would be the Ananya 10-year (diamond) anniversary event. As it was a celebration of my own company, it gave me complete freedom to go to town and let my imagination run wild! It definitely got my creative juices flowing – it was so exciting.

We had a sit-down lunch event held at the Michelin star restaurant Benares. We had created a whole series of promotional ideas based on the number 10. Since it was our diamond anniversary, we had designed all our stationery on the diamond theme. Even the amazing food had the number 10 piped on the plates as well as the champagne glasses.

To start off the lunch, we had an icebreaker with a difference. We gave everyone at the table some origami paper and taught them how to make a heart. It was an original and fun way to get everyone talking as they made their own origami heart to take home. Our goody bags and all items in the bag were all themed for our diamond anniversary. It was a hugely successful event and I couldn’t have been happier!

What has been your most challenging event?

For me, even the challenging events end up being rewarding because it requires me to get really creative and to think outside the box. One event in particular comes to mind. Ananya was commissioned to design wedding invitations for an Indian Scottish wedding. We wanted to represent both heritages in the stationery. So we had a wish tree with colourful tags to represent the vibrancy of the Indian culture. They were tied to the wish tree with a tartan ribbon to represent the Scottish culture. Guests wrote their wishes or words of advice on the colourful tags and tied them on the wish tree. It looked so beautiful!

Have you conquered the work life balance?

Sadly, no. It’s something I’m still working on. Every January I make a New Year’s resolution to make more time for myself and devote more of my energy to things outside the work arena. And just like so many other people who make New Year’s resolutions and let them fall by the wayside, mine does too. Work does take over – as an entrepreneur, it’s difficult to switch off or say no to a client who has a particular request. Shall we say, it’s a work in progress. Besides, I love and thrive on what I do. But I’m always looking for tips on how to achieve a work life balance, so if you have some tips or secrets to share, I’m definitely interested!

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self now?

I would tell her that being an entrepreneur and running her own business requires dedication and commitment to that business. That means being prepared to work hard and long days. So be sure to choose a line of work that she is really passionate about and believes in, because when challenges arise, it will be this that will keep her going. To be authentic in her dealings and approach – this is so important, and is something people really value and which will build her reputation and the loyalty of her clients. Build a network of people where she can offer help and support to others, and where she can feel supported and ask for help when she needs it. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and gain experience.

“And finally, to have confidence and faith in herself and her abilities to achieve the success she wants.”

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