WOI Feature: Anjana Dhanavanthan – Crocheter

Anjana Dhanavanthan Owner of  “mADe with Love“, her online Crochet store on Instagram. Anjana is a multifaceted person not only because she handles her two kids while Crocheting, Graphic designing, Content creating, supporting her husband’s business & writing as ‘TheLazyParent’ on Instagram. Earlier she was a RJ & Product manager before kids and a Baby wearing consultant after kids. Anjana shares about herself and how she began crocheting with WOI.

Anjana Dhanavanthan
Anjana Dhanvanthan

It is too soon for me to be doling out tips or advice to anyone, but I have realized that it’s never the end of the road. When I quit my highly social full-time job, I thought it was the end of my career. Little did I know that there are so many other options available to explore, especially with time being in control. When I moved to Theni, I thought I would resign to being a homemaker with nothing of my own to pursue. But it only took some encouragement, planning and a lot of will power to embark on a journey of my own.

There’s always something waiting for you to discover and work on. Kids, geographic locations and external factors are no excuse if you set your heart on something!

I am a true blue Madrasi, I was born and raised in Madras, growing up in the busy area of T.Nagar and Nungambakkam. After spending a couple of years in Nagpur, my mother & I shifted base to Madras to live with my maternal grandparents who then went on to raise me, since my mother took up the role of breadwinner of the family. Raised single-handedly by a single mother, most of my childhood was spent with friends from school and college, exploring the city. As is the case with most children raised in an Indian household, I was to choose between commerce and science in high school and I chose science solely based on the fact that I enjoyed drawing. I finished 12th grade with what is called ‘flying colors’ but decided to break the cliché and enrolled myself in M.O.P. Vaishnav College for women, to study Visual Communication. A fairly new course back then, VisComm, as it is popularly called, had a little bit of everything in it: photography, art, graphic design and more. What caught my interest or drew me towards the next phase of my life was the love for theatre. I spent more time on stage, participating in all kinds of improv events only to be picked by one of the most celebrated and revered RJs of Madras, Niladri Bose to attend a workshop on radio.

Anjana with a Crochet doll made by her for WOI
Anjana with a crocheted doll

I went on to choose an extremely new (to my family of engineers and science aficionados) career path – that of a Radio Jockey with India’s biggest radio names, Radio Mirchi. Hosting the evening drive time show and later matinée show, my run as a radio jockey last a grand 6 years of rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the film fraternity, before i decided to take a break from all the talking and focus on another love of mine – music. Working with Sony Music India (South) as their product manager, I dabbled in great music for an entire year. Audio launches, music production and worldwide releases gave me some exposure in terms of management. Riding on this high, I switched gears again and took a break from full-time working around the time my son was born, to freelance as a social media consultant. Working with brands like AVM Productions and Sony Music, I got time to explore my personal interests, raise a family and earn some money at the same time. I call myself a ‘Jack of all trades’ as I have managed to pick up different roles and learn from scratch, on the job!

My son was born in December 2014. I was a freelance social media consultant at that time. The most flexible job to take on whilst managing a newborn was to write from home. I did have a flair for writing blogs, so from managing social media accounts of music labels and production houses, I started to write SEO specific articles. This kept me busy and my pocket filled enough to indulge in cloth diapers, toys and baby carriers for my newborn. When my son was 10 months old, we decided to shift cities when my husband got a job offer in Coimbatore. It felt like a good move primarily for the city’s cultural aspect and climate. When we reached Coimbatore, I had nothing to engage me. Yes, I was still writing but I lacked something that would keep me driven. At that point, I got to know some amazing friends thanks to babywearing and even got to work with Soul as a babywearing consultant conducting meets for them. I thoroughly enjoyed this because I was doing two things that I loved – babywearing and spending time with moms like me. By then, we were expecting our second baby and I thought it would be natural for me to become a certified babywearing educator. But, life works in mysterious ways! It was time for us to shift base again and this time we were moving for good. Saying goodbye to corporate life, we dived nose first into a new vertical of my husband’s family business. The initial stages of setting up a company, the registrations and designing of a brand identity took a good chunk of my time, keeping me occupied. Once the company had taken shape, I realized I was back to square one – in a new city and with nothing to keep me hooked on.

Anjana with her crocheted dolls
Anjana with her crocheted dolls

When I say this, I know most stay at home mothers will agree with me – being home all day long with a tiny being (or two) to look after, makes you want to do something to keep yourself occupied. For me, that was knitting. I learnt how to knit out of sheer enthusiasm of making something for my baby. It does sound rather silly right now, but I didn’t want to invest in knitting needles and yarn back then, because I was 200% sure I didn’t have that ‘knitting mojo’ in me. So, I took two bamboo skewers and borrowed some yarn from my mom (who is a fantastic crocheter) to try my hand out at knitting. It was a decent start. Soon, I picked up my first pair of knitting needles and made a tiny hat and a pair of booties for my son. Thankfully, I had a bunch of friends online who were into knitting and crochet.

I would definitely call them my initial source of inspiration. I started learning basics from YouTube and slowly built up confidence to take on bigger and more advanced projects. I realized I did have it in me to knit stuff without winding my son in a ball of yarn or anyone poking their eyes with the needles. It was in 2016 that I ventured into crochet. What I thought would be more complicated turned out to be my strong point. I was only making hats for my son, when a few friends requested me to make stuff for their toddlers too. Beanie hats and ponchos were the first orders that I took up. Back then, I didn’t have a brand name. That’s when my husband pushed me to create a name for myself. He saw that I was taking up more orders and felt that I should have a formal name to make these under. Thus was born ‘mADe with Love’, where the AD stands for Anjana Dhanavanthan 😉

Hands down, my husband has been a massive pillar of support. From just a box full of yarn, I had overnight occupied an entire cupboard with yarn of different makes and colors. He patiently watched over the kids while I furiously crocheted at nights. It is solely with his encouragement that I took this hobby of mine to another level. He has been instrumental in me being more organized with my shipments too. Designing boxes that fit my dolls, to visiting cards and address labels for shipping, my husband has brought in the organized aspect to MWL. He also regularly brings in the ‘what next’ question, making me raise the bar higher and higher. Right now, we have been working on expanding MWL and I really hope we will have something functionally in place in the next 6 months. Apart from my husband, I would definitely have to mention my children in being super understanding about my work. They see balls of yarn, various crocheted hats and toys at home on a daily basis; but never have they ripped, damaged or caused trouble. For two kids who are always climbing and rolling all around, that’s something!

Anjana Dhanvanthan with her family for WOI
Anjana with her family

Many a times, we see people try to turn their hobbies into business ideas. It clicks for some, but not so much for others. My biggest apprehension was ‘will people buy knit/crocheted stuff in India’. I remember I was in Singapore on a holiday and one of the stores had a great collection of yarn that isn’t usually available in India. I hoarded on them and literally filled an entire suitcase with just yarn. When I came back home, I started making beanies and scarves out of it with no real intention of putting them up for sale. My kids had 3-4 hats each and I knew they wouldn’t appreciate more :D. So, I decided to start a separate Instagram handle for my products. I looked around the internet to learn about more crocheters like me, who made & sold custom-made products. There are many talented people out there and that gave me the confidence that my work would be accepted too.

I was mildly surprised when I started getting two, four, five custom orders within days of me putting up pictures on Instagram. I did a lot of homework to chart out a plan where I could make good quality products within short periods of time. There’s a world of information out there and right from yarn to needles to crochet hooks, I found a large variety in them all. I started experimenting with yarn that worked and patterns that interested people. At this stage, I must admit that 30% of my work is my own pattern. I am still learning and I rely on patterns available online to make products, largely because of the nature of the custom orders I receive. People share photos of the kind of hats they are looking for and I work on that with due credits to the pattern’s designer. I was only making hats when a dear friend asked if I could make a doll for her daughter. I had ZERO idea that was possible for someone with my self-taught skills. But currently, MWL sells more custom-made dolls than other accessories.

At this stage, my biggest barrier is time management. I have two children, aged 4 and 2. To juggle between a businessman husband, two young children and MWL(mADe with Love) is quite a challenge. Despite working almost every day for the past 10 months, I find it pretty neck-to-neck when it comes to time management. Over the past few months, I have understood what kind of products take up more time and keep those to a minimum. The other barrier that I face is pricing. A factory made doll can be bought for approximately 400 INR but something that’s handmade costs twice as much. The effort and the customization warrant that, but sometimes people find it expensive. I have been lucky to have had people who don’t bargain or complain about my pricing so far. I try to price all my products nominally even while offering good finish, good quality yarn and 100% customization within a short time. I am learning as I go and there’s a lot more to explore.

I must add that despite the fact that I live in a small city, I have enough access to purchase yarn and accessories online and also easy logistics. It was quite surprising, considering that ‘how will I source basic resources’ was one of my first questions.

I must say that the Instagram community that I am a part of is a great support system. Most of my early customers were from Instagram, moms whom I knew via the social media. They helped in picking up pace and in also encouraging me. So far, MWL has been able to organically grow & find customers. This gives me faith in the fact that I am heading the right way. The other side of this being that since everything is handmade, there is always a chance for things to go wrong. At times I couldn’t convert a pattern into a product and at other times, sizing was a point of concern. Over time, I did more homework on understand how sizing work and watched a lot of YouTube tutorials to increase my skill level.

I deal with custom-made products and that is always a slightly sticky situation. When people order custom made stuff, they expect a lot of specifics in place. Sometimes things fall under the assumption category and the end product is not 100% to their liking. The problem with handmade stuff is that it is hard to pull it out apart and redo the pieces. Especially with crocheted toys, it is all sewn together making it hard to make changes. I learnt that it is better to ask a dozen questions, send pictures of the finished products before sending it out, so there is no unpleasant surprise for either of us.

As for praises, my brand and work are at a nascent stage to be receiving a lot of praise, but I enjoy every single picture I receive from parents who get dolls custom-made for their little ones. A particular one is a doll I made for my friend’s daughter. The specific detail was to give the doll the same hairdo as the little girl. I had this doll ready for the girl’s birthday and the look of surprise and excitement on her face on seeing that doll was the biggest feather in my cap so far!

I am yet to soak in the fact that I am an entrepreneur of any scale. One of my biggest inspirations is Chinmayie of Soul. She is working (hard-working)mother of two kids and it is beautiful to see how she’s developed a business out something that was extremely important to her. Right now, I am at a stage where I am planning the road ahead. Does my brand grow? Does it diversify? How do I increase output? These are the questions I am trying to answer at the moment. What it makes me realize is that it is nice to have a hobby, but when you take it to the next level you must be ready to evolve constantly. I am excited to see where I take MWL or vice versa, rather. I am currently working on planning an inventory and setting up a selling space for MWL. Being a one woman force at the moment, it takes time and patience to scale small mountains. Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it? 🙂

Anjana with Crocheted dolls and Bennies for WOI
Anjana with her crocheted dolls & beanies

Maybe it is the nature of my sun sign (I am a gemini), or the fact that I enjoy multitasking because I am also a graphic designer primarily working on my husband’s spice brand and also on small projects for friends and family. Apart from this, I develop social media content on a freelance basis.

I would end by saying, “Crocheting and knitting are in general therapeutic activities. They are good to keep your brain active with all the counting and also to keep you calm. I am lucky to have found a long-term goal in what could just be a hobby. So much so that I carry my work wherever I go. Call it a quirk, but I cannot leave the house without a project in hand. I guess when you love what do you & do what you love, it transcends time and place :)”

-says Anjana.

WOI’s Note:

Thankyou Anjana. You are a skilful & versatile mompreneur setting example among moms who paused their dreams.  We are delighted to feature you on WOI. We wish you all the best for your future endeavours. Keep Inspiring 🙂

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