Good Earth: The business of design
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Journalists are often given company memorabilia, but Lal is the first CEO in this series to give me a piece of her brand that I have examined and replayed: a custom-designed playlist. The half-hour-long “Enchanted India” playlist by Good Earth, on the music-sharing app SoundCloud, blends nostalgia, heritage and modernity, capturing brand essence with gentle soul and lilting charm.
Lal says it was put together by her mother Anita, creative director of the company, at the opening of a Good Earth sponsored textile exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London in October 2015. “We all gave her ideas for songs, but finally she chose, because it has to be one voice…. I think she’s got this amazing ability to be very open and democratic when it comes to people giving her ideas or suggestions. But then she turns into a total autocrat when it comes to taking the final call. You have to do that to keep the integrity of the design signature. I do that in Nicobar too,” Lal says, adding that as Nicobar’s creative director, she aspires to create a brand with a “cleaner, simpler, relaxed vibe to it, a totally different aesthetic from Good Earth”.
For Lal, Anita’s “clear vision and deep passion” has enabled Good Earth to remain consistent. “For example, she is very particular about every shade of colour. So it’s not pink, there are hundreds of shades of pink that she will choose from,” she says. The anecdote illustrates one of the first dictums of running a design-led creative enterprise: being anchored in an individual’s personality to build a recognizable brand identity over time. Yet too much consistency can result in repetition. “The Good Earth annual collections are beginning to look similar. Mum and I both think that we are bored. After 20 years, you need to reinvent a little bit. We are working on creating a different look which is not too far removed because then people reject it, so it will overlap (with the past) but it will not be expected.”
Being personality-led can also result in limited bandwidth and perceived lack of scalability, both classic entrepreneurial challenges, as Lal acknowledges.
After a particularly hectic period, Lal is trying to maintain perspective. Despite external pressure to expand the Good Earth brand in India and abroad, she prefers to avoid retail ubiquity and consequent brand dilution. She is also more judicious about her own allocation of time. With “a very good head of operations and a settled, solid team at Good Earth, I am able to become a lot more strategic,” she says, accepting that “you are not going to be able to have every ball up in the air every time. It’s just not going to happen, so things do have to drop.”