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Short Business Story with Abdur Dinah & Diksha Ujoodha, Founders of Maison Vernissage

Maison Vernissage is not only an online publication that discusses fashion trends, icons, random facts and music, but it's also a brand specialising in Hand-painted Denim Jackets. It is only a few pages long, yet it conveys the vital. A single piece from Maison V is enough for an individual to stand out in a crowd. To learn more about Vernissage, read their online issues and check out their exclusive collections here:

1.So, tell us a bit about yourselves and your business.

What inspired you to start Vernissage?

Abdur: Maison Vernissage was created to address the lack of interest in art and fashion in Mauritius. Everything seems pretty much the same, and it is tough to find originality when it comes to local brands. We wanted to create a fusion of art and fashion. We work closely with artists who can express their uniqueness through the quality of our creations. Maison Vernissage is not only a brand; it is a Proclamation, a statement. Wearing a Maison Vernissage piece shows one's interest in quality, fashion, the arts in general.

Diksha: I'm Diksha, and I'm originally from South Africa; and I moved to Mauritius about 2 years ago. I have a solid background in Media as i have previously worked in Radio and Television. I have always had an interest in fashion; my mother made sure I kept up with the trends. Fashion, or rather a Personal Style, is how they expressed themselves during the apartheid era. Fashion played a massive role in my upbringing, and I always knew I would gravitate towards it in one way or another. Our business had a ridiculous start (laughs) as I'm a big fan of all things ART-related; I had this splendid idea to incorporate Art and Fashion. "Why buy a painting and only hang it in your home when you can show it off to the world" and this is how Maison Vernissage started!

Coming from a highly expressive country, it was sad to see that people here didn't express themselves. I mean, they would complain about everything behind closed doors, but that's where it stayed. I then realized some of the most significant statements can be through ART, so why not create fashion statements.

2. What were your understandings of starting a small business before you launched it?

Abdur: I've grown up among entrepreneurs. I was aware of various aspects of the industry from a young age. I already knew the know-how of entrepreneurship. I dropped my University studies to invest myself fully in my projects, one of which was Maison Vernissage.

Diksha: As Mandela would say, "It always seems impossible until it's done.'' Fortunately, I have a background in business and was aware of the many hurdles that would come my way, but I was ready to overcome them. I have a wild imagination and a mouth that could sell ice to an Eskimo, so I was halfway there. I knew it would be challenging as it would be something completely new in Mauritius. I was not even sure if it was going to work, but what is entrepreneurship without risks?

Some might call me crazy, but I went with my gut. I knew the right type of clients would eventually gravitate towards the brand. I also had a fantastic business partner who believed in me from the very start. My friends and family were supporting me, and that's all I needed. A can-do attitude and a great support system.

3.It's a bold initiative to start a magazine and a fashion brand together! Did you consider it to be risky, or was it part of the bigger picture?

Abdur: We launched the Magazine almost a year after the setting up of Maison Vernissage.

Everything was planned from the beginning; however, we waited for a positive response towards Maison Vernissage before going any further. Diksha possessed the required knowledge as a journalist who has worked in South Africa. In contrast, I possessed graphic design skills, notably for creating editorials. It seemed apparent that it would work. The aim is to produce our own media content to acquire a platform along with our brand. We wanted to somehow influence the fashion/art industry.

Diksha: It was part of a bigger picture from the start. I wanted to educate people. Working in media, I realized that the press always depicts Africa as a 'poverty-stricken" country. Numerous stereotypes are associated with Africa. Meanwhile, back here in Africa, we doing the most! I saw the breach and thought I have the knowledge and ability to remind us as Africans that before we were branded as slaves, we were POETS, MUSICIANS, SCIENTISTs, DOCTORS, QUEENS and KINGS, and we have a rich history. The perception of Africans is usually limited to slavery, and my aim was to remind people of our roots. I didn't want us to forget that. Since my brand is proudly African, I knew it would tie nicely with the Magazine's philosophy - to educate and remind.

4.Was revenue an essential factor when you started off or did you have relatively low, or should I say realistic expectations initially?

Abdur: Money has undoubtedly been a significant factor. Nothing is done for free. However, given our pieces and the Mauritian market, we were aware that we would not be a hit at the beginning. The goal was to distinguish our brand from what was already being done and be unique.

Diksha: I honestly think that money was not an issue as I was focused on making statements. However, we started with minimal capital just to test the waters. I was very realistic as I knew people aren't precisely "fashion-forward" in Mauritius, but I had a gut feeling that the right type of client would gravitate towards us.

5. What were some challenges you encountered when starting you didn't anticipate?

Abdur: There are so many of them. But what touched me the most at the very beginning was the disinterest of some institutions, which I won't be naming, that prefer investing their time in brands that lacked originality and give up on smaller brands that have so much more potential. Unfortunately, in Mauritius, everything is related to notoriety or reputation. You can create something crappy yet supported if you are known; they will throw themselves at your feet. The absence of media coverage of brands like ours was also a reason to create the Magazine to empower young entrepreneurs.

Diksha: People not understanding the significance of the product. I have a great product at a great price, but I was not getting through. I knew there was a broken link somewhere and quickly realized people aren't educated enough on art. Here you have a product made LOCALLY and painted on by a LOCAL artist; you literally own a piece of ART. Art is an asset, and you are still not interested - that's when we took it upon ourselves to educate people about art and its value.

6.What are the insights that you acquired or learned when you started your business?

Abdur: I already was familiar with Fashion and Art. I had previously worked with a few brands before founding Maison Vernissage. I was also in art resale, so I was in my element. However, what I discovered through Maison Vernissage is media's power, mainly thanks to our Magazine. It's extraordinary to see the impact of a medium and the value it can bring to young entrepreneurs.

Diksha: To be patient and make rational decisions. The plan is not to create a commercial brand but rather a union of fearless go-getters. When someone wears my brand, I want them to feel powerful. To bring that message across, I had to take my time and do thorough research. After-all a house necessitates time to become a home, which perfectly illustrates the brand name "Maison Vernissage."

7. Do you consider the help or suggestions of others when it comes to how you run Vernissage?

Abdur: To teach us how to run Maison Vernissage, mmm.. not exactly. But I'm very open to constructive criticism on my creations and magazines. It enables us to better ourselves and to offer higher quality at all times.

Diksha: Definitely! To grow, you need to learn and observe. I have always been open to learning and can avoid mistakes if I listen and learn from people. And it's always good to have a fresh pair of eyes in the business.

8.To what extent is the marketing strategy of your brand different from other brands?

Abdur: As I said earlier, we always try to be innovative and distinctive, and it shows in our posts on social platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. However, I believe that it is the media aspect that really makes us stand out when it comes to marketing. We approach our clients and fans through our Magazine, and always interacting with them is crucial. Magazines, interviews and our articles allow us to continually be in touch with potential buyers. By marketing continuously ( even if we're short on stock, which was the case during the pandemic), people will perpetually hear about us. As soon as we don't talk about something anymore, we forget about it, and being forgotten is the worst thing that can happen to a brand.

9. Being an entrepreneur can be scary and lonely as a career since nothing is guaranteed. How do you overcome such feelings?

Abdur: An entrepreneur has to do all that is in his power to succeed and provide himself with all the means to do so. We have one edge; it's that there are two of us. But even if you are alone, the goal is to succeed. Being afraid or feeling alone is an obstacle to success. I have personally never experienced any of these feelings.

Diksha: Lonely for whom? I have a great support system that genuinely believes in me, and that makes a massive difference. Nothing will ever be handed to you on the real, so just do it YOURSELF with what you HAVE. The rest will figure itself out.

10. What is the biggest challenge of setting up a magazine?

Abdur: The biggest challenge is to regularly find exciting topics. We try always to nurture and bring to light young talents or uncommon issues. Again, originality is our motto.

Diksha: Personally, we didn't have many challenges as we have the combined skills to pull it off. However, finding quality content can be a nightmare.

You need to keep your readers engaged, and with this fast-paced life, we hardly have time on our hands. If you have a brand like ours, where the main focus is an upcoming or underground artist, you have to know people who know people - you feel me?

11. What are the unexpected benefits of being entrepreneurs?

Abdur: I would say notoriety; we're so concerned about our company that we don't quite recognize the notoriety we're gaining. We tend to notice it when people come up to us and talk to us about our brand directly or when they recognize us in connection with Maison Vernissage. As was the case with the invitation to Las Vegas for the Agenda Show in August, there are also the most unexpected projects.

There are also the encounters; through our Magazine and our interviews, I had the opportunity to meet extraordinary people and one of many legends: Menwar.

Diksha: Just how rewarding it feels. I mean, ANYTHING can lift your mood from 1 new follower, buyer or a simple retweet. It just reminds you, its a slow process, but it's still a process worth doing.

12. What are the current projects of Vernissage?

Abdur: This year will be the busiest for Maison Vernissage. Our two collections, Denim and Nippon, sold out very quickly at the start of the year. We plan to release 3 new collections this year, including an exceptional one. You will find out more in a few weeks. Several of our projects have been affected by the pandemic, in particular our fashion shows. For instance, one in Paris has been cancelled, and the one in Las Vegas, which is scheduled for August but is on hold for the moment. As for the Magazine, we are delighted with the feedback. We will continue to offer the very best subjects, articles and artists to our readers. The objective this year is to acquire a stature in the industry.

13. Anything you would like to say to our readers?

Diksha: Sanitize your hands and Wear your mask! Also, try to surround yourself with people that genuinely want to see you flourish; I mean like really, really want to see you make it in life. And if you don't find them, be your own biggest supporter!

Thank you for sharing your business insight with us!

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