-by Zaiceka Ahmed
(Alicia with Charlie)
I swear I was so excited to see her response in my inbox, especially since every source I have had informed me that she is always super busy, what with her new business (flourishing at a rapid pace), the plethora of responsibilities of which she balances with her second job as a very popular freelance illustrator (one of her latest work was frilling the header of the Times of India newspaper with cute drawings of all things Lewis Carroll on the famous writer’s birthday – 27th January). Alicia Souza is probably best known as the refreshingly creative mind behind the adorable “Alie and Charlie” comics, then as the co-founder of Chumbak (a lifestyle brand with immense market presence) and now, as the founder of her eponymous company which has made a name for itself for manufacturing merchandise that makes you happy!
And like her creations, this young artist cum chilled out entrepreneur is just as positive, full of life, and energetic (she was literally walking her dog while speaking to me) – also, yes, there is a real life Charlie!
Your illustrations are so adorable, and I am no expert on art forms! Just for my knowledge, how would you describe your style of cartoons?
“Whimsical, and I would say taken from life!”
Did you experiment with other styles of illustration before deciding to stick with this?
“Absolutely. I never really had a style per se before I was a full fledged illustrator. This form of illustrating is not something I discovered, but I chose to continue to implement it when I ventured into illustrating commercially – the work pressure increased and I realised this was the style I could work quickest with.”
Which were the products you put your creations on first?
“It was during my college days…I think it was iron-ons. I remember putting those on t-shirts, and also on bags.”
You have created 4 series of cartoons till now (Old Wives Tale; Pet Peeves; Learn Something New Everyday; and, one Valentine’s day centering on pick-up lines)…. what are you going to work on next?
“I wish I knew! One of the reasons I didn’t start another series is because I am currently so busy with company work – deciding on new product lines. My work hours used to be more flexible earlier,I used to put up an illustration daily. Right now I also work as a freelance illustrator so I have many other projects to focus on as well. But I do plan to start another series soon!”
How many hours do you spend on the drawing board?
“I work for 8 hours normally (sometimes I work in and out) but I don’t spend all my time drawing – there are other things to do too, like writing emails and boring things like that which everyone has to do! I guess I spend 40% of the time drawing… rest of the time it is marketing, talking to clients, running invoices.. stuff like that.”
Establishing one’s very own brand is usually expensive! Was it difficult to gather enough funds?
“I never really wanted to start my own company. I actually had a problem opposite to what people generally face – people wanted me to make more products than I wanted to sell! That was a good problem. I started really small, and I was very critical of taking funding – again that a good problem that I had, a lot of people were willing to put in funds but I didn’t want any. We started small, it was just me and my partner, so we required minimal investment.”
Since you don’t have a background in management it must be difficult for you to run a business…
“In my freelance job there isn’t any business aspect that I have to look into – it’s just diligence, and everything needs to be in order. Things are different in the work for my company though – there are accounts, and you need to handle people who are hiring. But those things are looked into by my partner. Marketing is taken care of by me, which is via my social media posts whichIdo anyway.”
So now that you do have a full fledged company aren’t you looking for investors?
“I’m not at all looking for investors. We are very new, just a year old. Initially when I started I wanted to operate for only a 3-6 months – only for the season which was October, November, December, and January, but it did so well that my partner convinced me to continue beyond this period. That was a good decision. We operated for about a year and it’s a lot of fun but consumes a lot of time as well. Right now we have enough funds to rotate. Funding is required when you want to become big really fast, otherwise you can survive with the funds you get, basically on rotation – you invest from the money that comes in.”
“When I started I wanted to operate for only a 3-6 months – only for the season, but it did so well that my partner convinced me to continue beyond this period. That was a good decision.”
You worked in a bank before this, which is considered as a stable source of money. were you nervous about going out on your own?
“I worked at a bank for a short while right after my college. I was not a financial planner or anything, because obviously I’m not well versed in that. I was a service consultant, and I did it just to earn some money. It was basically a job I left to take up design. I never wished to own my own company but here I am and things are going so beautifully. The change in career has challenged a lot of notions that I had. Even the responses we got for a notice we had put out (we were looking to hire) were so beautiful and heartfelt.”
Where is your prime market?
“We do have a retailer in Dubai, but mainly our products are designed for the Indian market – a lot of Hindi words are used; even the colours incorporated are those that appeal to the Indian palette – bright and lively! If we plan to go full blown into exporting, the colour palette and the designs have to be changed.”
When did you realise that India had a market for your merchandise?
“When people started to ask for them,I guess! We never did a market survey really. I was part of Soul Sante (a kind of flea market) where we were nearly sold-out. That’s when I realised that people really like the things we make. I had a lot of enquiries coming in after that because I didn’t manufacture anything for a long time since then.”
Where do you want to take your company from here?
“We grew organically and so fast that I didn’t get the time to make plans. My partner actually has more plans for the company than me at the moment! But yes, we are hoping to infiltrate the retail sector more, and make our merchandise accessible to as many people as possible.”
Your entire body of work is centred around happiness – is this a reflection of your life? I mean, you have so much on your plate, do’t you get stressed?
“I do worry , but its a good kind of a worry. Like, when you are on a vacation you are anxious to see all the new places, but it’s still a vacation so you are kind of enjoying it also. There are so many nice things going on right now,I genuinely am very happy!”
“I do worry , but its a good kind of a worry. Like, when you are on a vacation you are anxious to see all the new places, but it’s still a vacation”
Apart from illustrating what do you enjoy doing?
“I like to do a lot of things really -I love to cook, I love baking; I am house-proud so I do a lot of household chores. I love writing letters (most of my family and friends stay abroad or not in this city, but sometimes I also write locally), and of course there is Charlie who takes up a lot of my time!”