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In Conversation With Rashida Baker Asrani, The Founder Of ABACA

  • 12 Mar '24
  • 1:48 pm by Tanvee Abhyankar

Meet Rashida Baker Asrani, a visionary entrepreneur who has seamlessly blended her passion for design with a successful career in forming the outdoor furniture brand ABACA. She began her journey in 1999, selling modular kitchens. Given that traditional custom building of kitchens was more popular then– this concept of modular was ahead of its time. In 2003 she started exploring new products and multiple visits to furniture fairs in the FAR EAST led her to establish ABACA.

In this interview, Asrani shares insights into her leadership philosophy, the challenges she has overcome, and how her diverse interests–including travel and a keen eye for craftsmanship– contribute to her success in the furniture industry.

Design Pataki: Can you tell us about your formative years with design that led to the inception of ABACA as a venture of interest and entrepreneurship?

Rashida Baker Asrani: For as long as I can remember, I have always loved design and crafts and textiles, and looking back, I feel fortunate to have transformed my passion into a fulfilling profession. I started my work life in a law firm in corporate law, after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Law, where I gained valuable experience in drafting contracts, agreements, etc. After a couple of years of working in Law, I took a bold step and founded Indo Italian Furniture Co. Pvt. Ltd., specialising in exquisite Italian modular kitchens. While navigating challenges in the Indian market, I recognized the opportunity to diversify and in 2004, I ventured into the import of handcrafted rattan furniture from the Far East, thus establishing the brand ABACA. The brand’s journey began with showcasing our distinctive products through exhibitions, and a small store in central Mumbai, eventually culminating in the establishment of our current flagship store in Mahalaxmi.

DP: What challenges have you faced as a female leader in this field, and how have you overcome them?

RBA: I must say, I have been blessed to have a very supportive family and a team that goes all out to make things happen. A major part of managing the business in the early years was in the interactions that took place with international vendors, and this had its complexities. Over the years, I think I have been able to build lasting and trusting relationships with all my suppliers, most of whom I have been working with for over 10 years. I manage relationships with people of varied nationalities across six different countries and ABACA now carries products, both in outdoor furniture and accessories from 20+ suppliers. As far as the gender perspective is concerned, as ABACA is my brand and business, I never felt any specific challenges being a woman. Of course, when my children were growing up I consciously decided to keep the pace of work at a manageable level, and this I could do because I was my boss.

DP: What does the name ABACA stand for and what does it mean to you?

RBA: ABACA is a derivative of the banana plant, it is a strong fibre commonly used in the making of woven furniture.  The name also reminds me of my father Abdullah Baker and so, I decided on ABACA to be the brand name of my range of hand-crafted furniture.

DP: How would you describe your leadership philosophy, and have any personal experiences significantly shaped your approach to leadership?

RBA: I believe in providing my team with the necessary resources and tools to excel in their roles. Equally important is to empower them with a degree of autonomy and freedom to make decisions. While I recognize the importance of systems and processes, I find that allowing my team to make certain decisions on the spot, especially when it comes to serving our customer to their satisfaction, fosters a more agile and efficient work environment and results in a very high sense of ownership in my team. The other focus for our team has always been on service both during and after a sale.

In-Conversation-With-Rashida-Baker-Asrani-The-Founder Of-ABACA-01
ABACA’s design ethos is simple and nature-inspired. They offer a specialised range of outdoor furniture, lighting, and accessories with meticulous attention to detail. (Image credit: ABACA)

DP: Outside of your role as a businesswoman, what are your passions or hobbies that contribute to your creativity?

RBA: I’m inspired by travel—it fuels my creativity. I feel it also allows me to broaden my perspectives, experience diverse cultures, and continuously learn from the world around me. Also, quiet moments let me be myself and bring out more ideas. Thanks to the travelling I do for sourcing and the resulting exposure to different aesthetics and found things, I would describe myself as a versatile individual who appreciates the finer things in life. I have a genuine passion for handcrafted items, finding joy in the unique stories and craftsmanship behind each piece. Cooking is another avenue through which I express my creativity, I am a foodie, and I often find solace and inspiration in the kitchen. Additionally, I enjoy presenting myself with a sense of style, paying attention to how I dress as a form of self-expression. Overall, I believe these interests reflect my curiosity, creativity, and appreciation for the beauty in both the small details and the broader experiences life has to offer.

DP: How does the international sourcing of designs and contracts work in ABACA? Do your travels work in your favour?

RBA: I have been very fortunate to have travelled extensively, and have had the opportunity to amass a wealth of experience from attending various design shows and fairs across the world. I have developed a discerning eye for selecting furniture designs. Cultivating relationships with over 20 suppliers spanning six different countries, I feel confident in navigating the diverse import rules and regulations inherent to each location. Additionally, our suppliers range from small ateliers crafting contemporary handcrafted furniture to others running large-scale operations for mass production. We proudly serve as representatives of international brands such as Yothaka, Maiori, Skyline, and Vincent Shephard apart from stocking extensive collections in our home brand ABACA.

DP: As a successful woman entrepreneur, do you actively seek to inspire and empower other women within your industry or aspiring entrepreneurs?

RBA: Firstly, women need to understand that anything is possible only if you want it

enough. Also, women usually tend to overthink and hesitate to take action as they naturally believe in being perfect. I would say the deed of action is super important. It is

okay to fail. In the 10 decisions you make you may go wrong in a couple, but until you act, you won’t know, taking action is important. Secondly, don’t hesitate to ask for help if needed, you will be surprised to see how many come and support you. Don’t be afraid to share information and collaborate with your peers in the industry. It often results in a win-win for all. With my experience in creating and running ABACA, I’d sum up my advice in these few words: follow your gut, act decisively, and reach for your dreams.

DP: What’s next for ABACA?

RBA: ABACA has thrived, marking its 20th year, expanding into new cities & new divisions. Our contracts division is fully equipped to handle large-scale projects.  Partnering with MAGARI in Hyderabad, and with Sarita Handa in Delhi gives our clients ease of experiencing ABACA. We are looking to expand our presence to other cities as well like Bangalore, Cochin, Goa, and a few more. As a preferred supplier in the industry, ABACA is now recognized for delivering premium quality outdoor furniture with innovative designs, with a keen focus on service and value.

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