We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Bittan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I spent the first half of my work life, mostly working as a lawyer — and doing things I thought I was supposed to do–because they were practical, and made my parents happy. I decided I wanted to try to start a business, working with something I have loved since I was a young child: fabric and handmade craft.
What should our readers know about your business?
Since I was a young girl, I was obsessed with handcrafted fabric (handprinted, hand embroidered etc). I love it because of its unique, unmanufactured, ‘human’ beauty. While growing up, I thought it was some odd idiosyncrasy of mine, but I realized, as I got older, that it was a very common ‘girls’ obsession. I also realized that there was a very underserved market for it. I was always looking for it at flea markets, fabric fairs, etc., but prior to worldwide penetration of the internet, it was very hard to find. I created my company, “Ya Living” in 2007, after a vacation to India , which turned out to be the worldwide headquarters of ‘handmade’. Ya Living enabled me to learn more about, and eventually create handmade textiles, and bring them to the attention and reach of the world. My business also allowed me to fuel my obsession for traveling because at the time I started my company, there was very little organized hand crafted textile production in USA. Today, Ya Living works with some of the world’s most gifted artisans and designers across the globe-–principally in India, but in Japan and other countries, where artisans have perfected their crafts over many centuries of devoted practice, and use techniques and tools that have been handed down over generations. Together, we create small collections of contemporary clothing, homeware, and lifestyle pieces that employ traditional techniques of hand-printing, dying and embroidery.
It was very easy for me to start my business–pretty much sheer luck…right place, right time. I was about to turn 50; I had worked as a lawyer for many years, and after that, I was a stay at home mother. I knew, from my own first hand experience, there was a market for it, and I knew that was hard to obtain. Since I started Ya Living in 2007, it has always been a small, niche business. I have intentionally and unintentionally resisted the temptation to try to grow my business past a certain level because of the choices I have made about what to work on, quantities, etc. Remaining small and independent enables me to work on what I love–in the way I want to; there is no need to make the compromises and/or practical decisions that are required when one is responsible to a large number of workers, investors, or anyone else.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If you have a healthy and strong stomach, the street food in India, which is everywhere, is superb.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many, but most importantly, the country of India. Such amazingly smart, creative, talented and hard-working people, who made things easy for me.