Asha Chaudhary is a very fortunate woman. She has an incredible role model in her father, N.K. Chaudhary. N.K. is the founder of Jaipur Living, India’s largest manufacturer of hand-knotted rugs, who, Asha says, “founded the business on the principles of dignity, respect, compassion and love, working hand in hand with India’s so-called ‘untouchables’ during a time when it was virtually unheard of.”
When Asha decided to cofound Enkay, a home decor and handmade rug company, she wanted to model the work her father started, “fostering his personal and business values, supporting women and artisans, and continuing to use business as a force for good by leading with empathy, compassion and respect,” she says. By employing over 85 percent women—40,000 artisans in rural villages in addition to 1,000 employees at a facility in northern India—the mission is clear: to support and empower women.
“With our business model, we have converted thousands of women into entrepreneurs in India,” she says. “These are women who may not have had the chance to attend school or be educated, yet they have become breadwinners for their families, are global award-winning artists and have earned a position of respect in their communities.”
Each Enkay rug is extremely labor-intensive, the product of over 90 skilled artisans who work together on a handcrafted piece intended to last a lifetime. The designs are inspired by the beauty of the Himalayas. Beyond the creation of a work of art, the company is helping to preserve an age-old tradition. “Many of these weavers learned the craft from their own mothers, sisters, mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law,” says Asha. “It’s a powerful community of learning.”
In addition, Enkay donates a portion of sales to the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, which supports artisans in rural India through job creation, business development, education opportunities and accessible health care. “Through the foundation’s Bunkar Sakhi program, women can enroll in a leadership training course through which they become qualified weaver supervisors,” she says.
Asha tells the story of Prem Devi, an artisan who began with her own weaving, then worked with a network of 10 women and eventually oversaw more than 100 women across other villages. “She is now a proud businesswoman who has not only uplifted her family, but also the whole village, and has inspired women in surrounding areas to become entrepreneurs themselves. All it took was believing in themselves and giving them the resources and opportunities to succeed. These women did it on their own. It was simply the belief and the mindset,” she continues.
When it comes to making an impact, Asha is quick to share credit for her success: “It starts with surrounding yourself with like-minded people. You have to believe that you have the power to impart positive change. People are looking to invest in products that speak to their values—like supporting artisans and creators, sustainable production and conscious consumerism.
“I hope I can influence other business leaders to think differently and not fall into what they think the traditional business model should be. We have the power to think differently, even when it feels outside the norm.” enkay.com