Story featured in Voyage Austin magazine about starting small business and hard work
[Voyage Magazine] Hi Nisha, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
[Nisha] There isn’t a time that I don’t remember watching my mom do henna for my cousins’ weddings and Diwali. Little did I know at the time that my entire career would revolve around such a small, commonplace ritual.
Fast forward a few years; my husband and I were the first in our families to move to the USA from India with our baby daughter in 2001. Despite the huge change, I knew I wanted to do something from day one. While navigating a wildly different lifestyle and trying to make America our home, I quickly understood the value of adapting my existing values and habits to a new place. From New York to Utah to Idaho, my husband’s work kept me floating from one place to another in the first few years of our move.
In Boise, Idaho, the seed that would grow into my flourishing business was sown when I made friends who appreciated and celebrated my native culture; they loved the beauty and significance of Mehendi. Soon, I was in high demand, doing celebratory henna for small birthday parties and events and gaining the skills that I would need to start my business.
Nearly three years later, we relocated to Los Angeles. At this point, I was pregnant with my second child. Despite the drastic change that came with living in angels’ busy city, my drive to create was not diminished. With my daughter starting school, I frequently spent time at the public library and realized that I had an opportunity! I arranged to teach a complimentary henna class and share with others the pieces of Indian culture embedded in me. In return, I learned about American customs and traditions while gaining confidence in my abilities to not only survive but thrive in this new country.
When my son was just four months old, we moved to Austin, Texas. At the time, Austin was a cozy city that we spent time exploring. The true idea for my business came about at the inauguration of Highway 183 when I spotted some face painters’ and vendors’ booths at the event. One of the face painters offered to let me work out of her booth so I could understand how the process worked – that was the catalyst to Henna Arts. Every week, I would look up what fairs and events were happening on MySpace, Craigslist, and the local events catalog, pack up my family, snacks, business supplies and spend countless weekends talking, laughing, and enjoying with Austinites while spreading the joy of henna. Unfortunately, there was a hiccup – I couldn’t drive! My wonderfully supportive husband spent numerous weekends whisking me about the city. The weekends we sacrificed at pop-up market setups paid off as word spread, and I started getting calls from wedding venues, event planners, and, surprisingly, from companies looking for entertainers at SXSW and ACL. We could no longer operate as a small, obscure home business; we became Henna Arts LLC.
[Voyage Magazine] We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I moved to the United States with just my husband and baby daughter, and no other family or friends for support. We did not know anyone here other than some colleagues from my husband’s job. The first obstacles I faced were the language barrier, culture shock, and homesickness. I could very well understand but couldn’t speak English, perhaps due to hesitation and low self-confidence. My husband was doing his best working to maximize our modest income, so I was mostly alone with my daughter with few to no opportunities to interact with others or learn how to speak, act, or make my way in a completely new country halfway across the world. Slowly, by making friends, teaching at the library, and my daughter’s schooling, I began to develop my English vocabulary and establish a community.
My next challenge was a lack of a work permit that meant I couldn’t start making an income for my work until I moved to Austin. I have no regrets, however; the formative years I spent teaching and doing henna for friends was when I learned how to make America my home and when I gained the business skills I use to this day. Even once I obtained my work permit. However, the path wasn’t clear! Downtown Austin has plenty of character, from clubs on Red River Street to bars on the iconic 6th Street.
Spending late weekend nights working in some of the most party-prone areas of Austin caused my family and I some stress about my safety. Finally, and most significantly, the most harrowing obstacle was my own fear. I was always afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted or that I would fail. Unfortunately, in my case, the stakes were quite high and failing wouldn’t just affect me — I would also be letting my husband and children down. It sounds cliche, but with perseverance, hard work, and a willingness to be open to whatever the future had in store, I overcame my fear and thrived.
[Voyage Magazine] Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Although, I started with a small henna business, I’ve since expanded to include Indian merchandise, clothing, and artwork through my secondary business, Taj Fashion. I now paint, teach both art and henna, and am versed in event-decorating with an emphasis on weddings. We take care of wedding events from end to end, managing every detail from the decoration, to the sari draping of the bride and her guests, to providing all the supplies needed for the numerous wedding rituals, to Rangoli, of course, the henna, and much more.
My business’ crowning achievement is an annual citywide Diwali festival called Round Rock Diwali Festival, where my husband, a group of organizers, and I work with the city of Round Rock to encourage our community to celebrate the Festival of Lights. We’ve been holding this festival for nearly four years, with a break during 2020 due to COVID. Last year, we had a record turnout with nearly 5,000 people in attendance. Round Rock Diwali Festival consists of all sorts of activities, including plenty of music, dancing, Indian food, a rangoli competition, vendors offering merchandise, and much more. However, our main attraction is the fashion show, sponsored by Taj Fashion.
We pull out all the stops, offering a platform for up-and-coming models, DJ’s, makeup artists, choreographers, and photographers and videographers to showcase their skills. I personally ensure that every model is dressed in a line of Taj Fashion clothing, matching jewelry, and popping accessories that suits his or her features. This is a huge undertaking that we could not do without the help of our family, friends, sponsors, fellow organizers, and the city of Round Rock! I also work with non-profit organizations such as the Miracle Foundation, Rooms to reading Foundation, and the Tender Heart Foundation, doing henna to raise funds for various causes. Additionally, I’ve worked with the Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department, and others at community enrichment and cultural diversity events.
[Voyage Magazine] What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
The best part of my job is meeting people. I love getting to know different cultures, viewpoints, and fun stories from individuals worldwide. Additionally, I enjoy being creative, coming up with unique ideas, and looking for new opportunities for advancement in my work.
Through my businesses, not only have I met individuals who have become close friends, but I’ve had the unique opportunity to serve as a family for my customers. A few years ago, a girl getting married came to my home studio to purchase an outfit for a happy occasion. Unfortunately, her parents could not attend the wedding, so she asked my husband and me to stand in as her parents for the ceremony as she didn’t know very many people in Austin. I was honored to have been part of such a special occasion and fulfill a sacred role. That memory is one I cherish and treasure when things become difficult since there can be downsides to running two businesses simultaneously. It can be hard to deal with scheduling as I am a working mother, but I view this as a chance to grow and learn. All in all, I would not have imagined running this business 14 years ago – it often feels like a dream.