Meet Shilpa Yarlagadda, the 24-year-old Harvard University student and founder of Shiffon Co.
BY PRIYANKA KHANNA
A few weeks ago, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, made it to the cover of the Time100 issue. Of course, the cover was scrutinised, memed and pontificated over. And as is now par the course, fashion followers scrambled to identify Meghan’s wardrobe choices from head, to well, pinky finger.
Spotted on her left hand, was the dainty Duet pinky ring, by Shiffon Co. The jewellery label, started by the then 20-year-old Shilpa Yarlagadda, between her freshman and sophomore year at Harvard University was founded on the idea of jewellery, an important and emotional part of Indian culture, empowering women.
This ring in particular, has also been worn by Michelle Obama and Serena Williams. Set with a tiny diamond beside a larger diamond, this adjustable ring represents one woman supporting another through a “pinky promise, to pay it forward to support other women. 50% of the profits from sale, then through the company’s nonprofit, the StartUp Girl Foundation, seeds grants to female entrepreneurs.
No surprises, that the Meghan effect is in full swing; the ring is currently sold out. We spoke to Yarlagadda on paying it forward, on balancing school and entrepreneurship and what the future holds for her.
What was the impetus in starting your label, especially while in school? Why the pinky ring?
I grew up in Silicon Valley around entrepreneurship which was in itself very inspiring but I was aware from a very young age that there were not enough women in the fields that I hoped to one day get into which were tech, investment, entrepreneurship. Today, less than 2.3% of venture funding goes to women.
On starting school I started to ponder this concept more, and when thinking about rings (I didn’t know my own ring size and couldn’t quite figure it out) I thought about the idea of an adjustable ring that everyone could wear. This idea grew, along with that of creating a community where women could support other women.
Shiffon Co. was a way to create opportunity through the concept of the ‘pinky promise’ – our Duet Ring design features a spiral – representative of the upward and sometimes downward spirals of life, and the smaller and bigger diamond, of the act of paying it forward. Women deserve an equal opportunity in both failure and success, but those opportunities are rarely there to start with, and yet it has been proven that female led businesses have a higher chance of success. Since founding Shiffon, we have been able to garner an incredible board of mentors and create opportunities for a group of mission focused female founders through our not for profit Start Up Girl Foundation — our hope is to continue to support and inspire positive change here!
What are you most proud of at ShiffonCo?
I am so lucky to have an incredible group of mentors – one of whom, Rebecca Selva, Chief Creative Officer of Fred Leighton, taught me that beauty, function and purpose can all be a part of the same thing. Women are so multifaceted — we can be beautiful, powerful and purposeful all at the same time – and everything we put into Shiffon Co. is built on these pillars. Our philosophy is that individual and group success are more or less the same thing — we just want to be there to create the initial opportunity.
Your Instagram bio says, you are on a mission to fund more female founders.
“We are so proud of our current portfolio companies. We were the first female investors for Trisha Goyal’s startup Break The Love which is creating the Bumble of Sports as well as in Pepper, a bra company centred on body positivity. Pepper has since created an annual fund for black female entrepreneurs and we are so happy to support this initiative through Startup Girl Foundation. It’s amazing to see a cycle of paying it forward especially for women of colour who we believe deserve equal opportunities but aren’t always given them especially in the world of business.
Not only do we need more female founders, we especially need to see more women of colour as founders. The journey to entrepreneurship is worthwhile but so much more of an uphill struggle for women, than it is for men. The most rewarding piece for us is seeing our philosophy of paying it forward coming to life with the women and businesses we have supported — through their own success they are in turn supporting others. We are never too small to make a difference and together we can make an even bigger difference — that is really what we embody.
You are still a student at Harvard. How do you divide your time?
When I am at school, I study Economics, but since founding Shiffon Co, my focus has had to shift depending on the priorities at hand. Another mentor, Celine Khavarani once told me that in life you can have everything, just not necessarily all at the same time. I really try to be fully present in the moment, so of course when I have exams I put my focus into my studies and when Shiffon Co has an important campaign or launch, I shift accordingly. I am in my final year and will be wrapping up school soon, but it has been a wonderful learning experience applying my studies in real time to my business. That said, I am really looking forward to being able to put more time and attention into Shiffon Co and hopefully make an even bigger impact for the women we support.
What do you see yourself doing next?
Making a difference in gender equality — there is so much more work to do!
Top 5 Retail Trends & Priorities 2024
Building agility and resilience in a recovering market – 2024 is the year to create new opportunities, stronger systems, and the ability to react fast to a market liable to change
Ed Betts, Retail Lead Europe, Retail Express
Recent headlines point to market improvement as the rate of inflation declines, but for most retailers the difficult times are not yet over. In many cases, retailers continue to suffer volume decline, with only discounters seeing any appreciable level of volume growth. The supermarket model is built on volume, so any amount of negative growth means a dip in turnover.
The challenge for 2024, as a sluggish market struggles to regain its footing, is to act to drive growth in volume, increase footfall, and expand market share, all while improving the agility and resilience of one’s business. The past few years have proven beyond doubt that anything can happen, and that retailers must ensure they carry the tools to react quickly when it does.
Top 5 retail trends and priorities for 2024:
1: Focus on automation
Retail margins are traditionally tight, and the pressing issue of recovery means 2023 has seen them getting tighter still. There is little wiggle room left to optimise margins under existing operational structures. It is time for change: streamlining processes through restructuring and automation will be a major shift in 2024, both on the shop floor and within head office.
The shift has already begun, and many more retailers will follow suit. 2024 will see new efficiencies found in the realignment of core functions, and a proliferation of automated systems which can adjust pricing, manage promotions, assist in media management, ensure stock assortment and create brand new innovations to improve efficiency and speed.
2: Exploiting AI opportunities
The rapid advancement of AI offers retailers new opportunities to strengthen, support and enhance inefficient processes – allowing staff the head space and breathing room to focus on driving business forward. While there’s pressure on retailers to simplify, they must be equally cognisant of the critical nature of innovation. Adopting the latest technology is the best way to be ahead of the curve and differentiate one’s offerings in a crowded market.
Used responsibly and transparently in line with the guidelines set out in the 2023 UK AI Summit, AI forms the basis for new ways of retailing. AI driven analytics tools offer the security of planning activity far in advance, the agility to work with suppliers quickly to meet sudden market demand, and the ability to respond confidently to rival activity.
AI’s labour-saving benefits support every core function: it frees buyers’ time to develop key relationships by negotiating automatically with regular suppliers; it can be a vital aid in marketing and merchandising, highlighting products which are eligible or suitable for promotion; its predictive models help on the shelf, pinpointing when a product should be launched or promoted.
3: Increased focus on loyalty schemes
Over the course of 2023 loyalty card promotions have become a crucial and successful driver of customer retention. Those retailers with the most established loyalty schemes have seen their customer base stay relatively steady, even against competition from discounters. A key focus of 2024, therefore, will be to build stronger loyalty schemes and foster a customer base which will not stray.
The powerful value of customer data, coupled with the proven retention benefits of such schemes, will make loyalty programmes a strategic essential in 2024. Driven by AI insights, these will spread their net further – retailers will implement deeper offers, linked cross-promotional sales, and a data-driven expansion of bespoke voucher programs targeted directly to individuals based on their buying habits.
4: Improved data mining
Data is king: it has become the most valuable resource any business has at its disposal. Retailers collect a huge amount of data, but to date this tends to have been improperly and inadequately mined. Less than half of retailers benefit from a complete picture of their data inventory. The battle to gain market share cannot be fought for free. Investing in data, however, pays for itself.
In a changing market, strong data management will become even more essential. Deep data knowledge will reveal new ways for mainstream retailers to differentiate themselves from discounters.
Accessing the insights offered and unifying siloed sources into a single body of data intelligence are therefore a vital part of any 2024 improvement plan. The more data is processed, the more insights are discovered, and the more effective a retailer’s offers can be.
5: Targeted media spend
Retailers are not the only ones rebuilding. Cost pressures are showing signs of easing on suppliers, and they are now eager to boost sales by applying the funding to make it happen. Retailers must ensure that every penny of that potential promotional budget works hard, because an ineffective promotion is a waste.
Exploiting these opportunities in the most efficient and valuable way demands the creative application of data. Greater command of their data will see retailers finding new ways to maximise traditional media spend in 2024, providing brands with the ability to advertise in the moment, reaching customers at the point that they are willing and able to make a purchase.
The 5 Safest Garden and Home Plants for Pets
House and garden plants are a wonderful way to introduce colour and bring natural elements into your space, not to mention their host of health benefits, including improved air quality and stress reduction.
If you’re a pet owner, it’s important to do your research before adding new houseplants to your home décor’s repertoire. Many houseplants contain calcium oxalate crystals, a compound that can cause swelling, vomiting and severe throat pain if ingested by your pet.
Finding appropriate plants that are kind to your pets can be a minefield. Here, the garden experts behind Hayter discusses some great plants that can feel happily at home both in the garden and the house – perfect for temperamental weather conditions and safe for your furry friends.
The moth orchid (also known as the Phalaenopsis orchid) is currently trending in the houseplant market thanks to its colour variety, hardiness and availability at most flower shops and supermarkets. It’s beginner-friendly for all you plant novices out there, with good survivability in drought and medium-light needs (place it in a bright space that’s indirect to the sun).
Its high survivability mixed with a preference for medium-light, low nutrient levels and warm conditions makes it an ideal houseplant that can be originally grown in the garden. Moth orchids prefer shade and a minimum temperature of 20°C to grow happily.
Tip: Orchids can also be watered using ice cubes, which is handy if you have a habit of over-watering.
Goldtraube, or Vaccinium corymbosum, is known to most as a blueberry bush. This pretty little shrub loves being in both the garden and on a windowsill in equal measure.
A Goldtraube makes a nice addition to garden shrubbery or a kitchen windowsill for easy access to its fruit. This plant can tolerate shade, but it definitely prefers sunlight and moist soil. Be sure to keep it out of direct winds to preserve its strength.
Blueberries are also pet-safe, so there’s no need to chase your furry friends around the house if they pinch one. Blueberries are a source of healthy minerals and antioxidants for both humans and pets!
Tip: Expect more blueberries if the plant gets more sunlight.
Air plants are a fascinating alternative to your more traditional garden or houseplant. The most low-maintenance plant on this list, air plants don’t require soil to grow. They can grow in rooms, on garden furniture, trees and rocks, and in areas with high humidity where other plants may struggle (like the bathroom). Rather than traditional watering, they require misting to keep them healthy.
What makes air plants the ultimate garden and home-friendly houseplant alternative is the ability to present them in many creative ways that keep them out of reach.
A clever way of displaying air plants is using glass terrariums that can be placed in areas away from roaming pets – this is helpful if your four-legged friends have a habit of knocking over your décor. You can keep air plants on areas such as desks and cabinets or use them as decoration for garden furniture.
Tip: Some great air plants for beginners are the Tillandsia caput-medusae and Tillandsia aeranthos.
An imposing plant that’s best suited to large rooms and garden backlines, the Kentia palm is a tall plant with sweeping foliage and vibrant green colour.
It’s nicknamed the ‘paradise palm plant’ for good reason – it’s reminiscent of tall tropical palm trees and has excellent capability for air purification.
These plants grow quickly and are easy to care for, adapting to a range of soil mixes and requiring weekly watering. While this plant is appropriate for indoor use, we’d recommend placing it in rooms with lots of space due to its large size. The Kentia palm can be left outside in all non-extreme conditions.
Tip: A matching set of Kentia palms beside the front door or garden steps makes for a beautiful entrance to a home or garden.
The zebra cactus, also known as the haworthia, deserves a unique spot on this list as it’s one of the few non-toxic succulents that fit well with the indoor aesthetics of most modern homes as well as the garden.
This succulent isn’t a true member of the cactus family. Instead of spikes, it has a striking collection of small aloe plants with white chevroned leaves.
Perfect for potting, this plant is extremely low-maintenance – water when the topsoil is part-dry and allow for partial sunlight and warm temperatures.
Tip: if you find your zebra cactus’ leaves turning yellow, move it to a shadier spot. The zebra cactus must be moved indoors on especially cold nights or non-summer months.
There we have it! Now you and your pets can enjoy your plants both inside the house and in your garden without the need for concern. Play around with your greenery and find a location that best suits your living space, making sure to position your plants where both you and your pet can benefit from some mood-boosting nature.
As always, if you’re unsure as to whether a houseplant is dangerous to pets, be careful to check before purchase.
Is Your Home Office Making You Sick?
Sick building syndrome is an elusive health condition – we have a limited understanding of it, other than its core symptoms and that it’s most commonly developed by poor office environments. Workspaces that are dirty, unorganised, lacking in natural light and using outdated equipment can cause employees to feel intense symptoms of sickness, including nausea, headaches, eye strain, dry skin and others that have now been officially recognised by the NHS as a result of a poor working environment.
But with hybrid working becoming more common, what does sick building syndrome mean for home workers? How can we craft our own home office spaces to combat sick building syndrome? Can hybrid working cause our homes to make us sick?
Causes of sick building syndrome
Research into sick building syndrome has found that there are multiple inadequacies in office environments which can bring about symptoms.
Poor air quality is one of the most common causes of sick building syndrome, triggering allergies, headaches, poor concentration and fatigue. A study in 2021 by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a link between poor office air quality and cognitive ability – meaning poor ventilation can harm both your health and productivity.
Natural light in an office is the most sought-after feature by employees. It’s not just an aesthetic benefit, however – 84% of workers exposed to natural light have reported a reduction in eyestrain and headaches.
The National Institute of Health indicates that sick building syndrome symptoms increase with the temperature when there is no humidity. A rising temperature can aggravate some specific symptoms, such as sensations of skin, eye and throat dryness.
The NHS notes the link between poor organisation and cleanliness as another contributing factor. Messy desks and workspaces can allow for a material build-up of dust, triggering allergies, and a mental build-up of stress, triggering anxiety.
Preventing sick building syndrome in your home office
According to ONS Data, 44% of UK workers are now hybrid working – with Microsoft reporting that 56% of workers feel happier since making the transition away from office-based working.
The largely positive response to hybrid working suggests a large percentage of the workforce want to continue home working for the foreseeable future. This makes sick building prevention increasingly important – the last thing anyone wants is for their home to become a place of illness. Here are some suggestions from the experts.
Update your home office
A home office should look different to everyone, and should be tailored to your specific needs. If you suffer from various aches and strains, there are lots of tools available to reduce tension:
- Neck pain – consider an elevated platform for your monitor. This will improve posture and reduce strain on the neck.
- Back pain – ergonomic office chairs reduce strain on the back for long periods of sitting.
- Wrist pain – wrist rests for keyboards reduce tension whilst typing.
- Eye strain – update your monitor to one with a higher refresh rate (commonly listed as ‘Hz’). The higher the refresh rate, the more smoothly images will transition on your screen, helping to reduce headaches.
Top tip: turn on the ‘night light’ in your computer’s display settings to enable a blue light filter. This will lower eye strain and can improve your sleep pattern.
Invest in natural lighting
Fitting high-quality windows into your home office can boost your quality of life at work. A higher intake of natural light reduces headaches and eye strain, as well as making us more productive.
Kevin Brown, Managing Director and aluminium windows expert at The Heritage Window Company, states: “Thinner window frames and more natural light brings us closer to nature – allowing us to bring the outside into our workspace. Feeling closer to nature dramatically increases our mood, which in turn affects our well-being and productivity.”
Greater access to natural light can also treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which causes fatigue, depression and social withdrawal. SAD affects around two million people in the UK, making larger windows a key player in boosting serotonin levels throughout the darker months.
Choose an appropriate workspace
85% of those currently working from home want to continue hybrid working for the rest of their careers – so choosing an appropriate room for your home office is a must.
Whether you have lots of space or very little, it’s vital that you do not design an office in your bedroom. Your bedroom should only be associated with rest and sleep. The visual stimulant of a workspace in your bedroom can trigger stress and anxiety, harming your quality of sleep and blurring the lines between work and relaxation.
Instead, you should consider choosing a spare room with south-facing windows to design your office. Kevin explains, “South-facing windows are great for solar control. They let in light all day long, as well as being less heat and glare-prone than east and west-facing windows.”
“This is great for the immune system and for access to the energy-boosting properties of natural light – as well as keeping your home office at a regulated temperature in the winter.”
It’s also wise to invest in an air purifier for your chosen space. These vary in price and size depending on the size of your chosen room, but most decent purifiers start at around £50 for a small-medium sized room. Air purifiers help eliminate allergens from the air, as well as reducing dust build-up. This should help keep your air quality and workspace clean.
Finally, avoid placing your desk and monitor against a wall that doesn’t have windows directly behind it. Instead, leave space behind your monitor for natural light to fill. Dark space behind monitors can cause eye strain due to sharp contrast, in turn causing headaches with prolonged use.
Many push desks against walls because they are close to plug sockets, shortening the distance between devices and cables and therefore making your electrical equipment neater. Proper cable management should remedy this concern, with clever management tools like cable trays, covers, boxes, rackets and ties organising your cables into tucked-away bundles.
Top tip: stick an extension cable to the underside of your desk, alongside an under-desk management tray. This should stop your cables from hanging and keep wires in an easy-to-manage space – reducing the build-up of dust and removing a messy eyesore.