The Bombay Lettering Company: Bringing Your Words To Life

Boban John
Jul 22 · 13 min read

Sanjana Chatlani is a Calligrapher and Lettering artist based in Mumbai, India. She specializes in traditional and modern handwritten calligraphy and lettering for social occasions such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and for business applications like logos, products, large scale script murals, gifting and personal commissions.

The Bombay Lettering Company was officially launched in October 2017 — boutique calligraphy and lettering based design studio providing a range of products, services, and workshops.

Tell us something about yourself?

At the risk of sounding cliched, you know how they say you don’t find your passion, it finds you. Well, in my case Calligraphy found me.

Over the past 2 years, I discovered a love for Calligraphy & Lettering, in a hobby-oriented manner. I was inclined towards visual arts as a student and always hoped that I would be able to bring some form of art back into my life. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the beauty of letters! What started out as a weekend release and merely a creative outlet, ended with me finding a full-time job in lettering and that’s how I founded The Bombay Lettering Company.

In today’s digital world that we live in, calligraphy adds warmth and a personal touch and that is irreplaceable. There’s a sense of perfection among the imperfections of this wonderful art form that attracts me to it so much more!

My clientele is a varied mix ranging from corporates, brands, event and wedding planners to individuals with personal commissioned orders. My projects include handwritten ink on paper, logo designs, monograms, packaging elements, lettering on merchandise as well as on surfaces like wood, glass, mirror, acrylic, etc. Recently, I have begun to undertake painting large script murals which is soon becoming a favorite.

I’ve had the pleasure of working for clients like Michael Kors, Bottega Veneta, Vogue India, Moet Hennessy, Taj Group of hotels, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ wedding, The Wedding Filmer and more and my collaborations include some well-known brands such as Fabriano, Lonchamp Paris.

I teach Pointed Pen Calligraphy across India having taught over 600 students, and have recently launched an online store for Calligraphy tools, supplies and accessories making me one of the few distributors in India for some of the best-curated supplies from all over the world.

What is your entrepreneur story? How did you come about building your business?

There is a quote by Rumi that resonates with me and my journey which says “Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do”. I consider myself lucky to have found my passion. My journey with Calligraphy from passion to the profession was a very organic one. It wasn’t planned, and I never imagined that I would be a full-time Calligrapher and Lettering Artist! What started as a stress buster and a creative outlet slowly began to become my form of meditative therapy. I started Pointed Pen calligraphy in 2017, a world within the calligraphy universe that was an untapped art form in our country. I began to follow some incredible artists on Instagram whom I then went to learn from in California. But of course, after a couple of weeks of learning, I came back to reality, to my full-time job in Luxury Brand Management at Moet Hennessy India.

Whilst my corporate job was very engaging and dynamic, my interest in Calligraphy kept growing eventually leading me to find a market opportunity worth pursuing. It was then that I decided to start an Instagram handle by the name of The Bombay Lettering Company, excited to see where it would take me.

Over time, I realized that my weekend passion project had garnered considerable attention and I discovered a demand for my hand-crafted work. I started with Copperplate Calligraphy, Modern brush lettering and slowly moved into working on different surfaces such as wood, mirror, and glass. I began to experiment with more modern pointed pen techniques to which eventually lead me to develop my individual style, which is actually still developing. By taking on small projects for friends and family gratis, I began to get more inquiries from people I didn’t know and then realized the potential there was. Meanwhile, as I approached my three-year benchmark with Moet Hennessy, I began to question myself on where I saw The Bombay Lettering Company going. It could either remain as a ‘passion project’ or become something bigger, which I believed it could. The work increased, I was getting more orders for weddings, corporates, personal commissions and more than anything else, I was absolutely loving every minute of it!

Curiosity for Calligraphy led me to a retreat in Italy where I learned from Master Penman Barbara Calzolari who really opened up my soul, and showed me the beauty and potential of this art form. Soon after, workshops with the famous Penman Paul Antonio, followed by Penwoman Nina Tran ended up enhancing and polishing my skill.

Calligraphy is all about discipline, patience, and attention to detail and I wanted to dive deeper, learn more, and hopefully someday be able to offer the best my country has.

It was July 2018 that I quit my job to go full time with The Bombay Lettering Company and there has been no looking back!

What is your business model — how were you able to grow so fast?

Today, I’m building The Bombay Lettering Company to be a one-stop-shop for all things hand-lettered. It’s exciting because I’m always working on interesting projects, with amazing clients who give me the freedom and liberty to use my creativity the way I want to.

My work is divided into a few verticals:

a) Commissioned work — This is completely the service of calligraphy and lettering that I offer. It is hand done, customized and by order. It can range from envelope addressing for 500 wedding invites to painting a large mural in an office or designing a hand-scripted logo for a brand, or even designing a tattoo for someone!

b) Education — I conduct in-person workshops on Pointed Pen calligraphy across the country and have taught over 600 students across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Kolkata. To connect and engage with my global audience, I’m now in the process of creating an online class.

c) E-commerce platform — My online stores consists of hand-picked and thoughtfully curated calligraphy supplies and accessories from brands across the world. This makes Bombay Lettering one of the few distributors in the country for curated calligraphy supplies. I am also working on a signature line of products that are made in-house.

d) Collaborations — It’s always exciting when two heads come together to create magic. My most recent collaboration is with a 3D printing company where we’ve combined my art of calligraphy and the technology of 3D printing to create jewelry in the form of pendants. I’m now working with a fashion label on their newest collection with my calligraphy incorporated in their prints.

e) Calligraphy as Therapy — I’m working with autistic children to explore how we can use Calligraphy as a form of therapy. It’s been wonderful so far and can’t wait to see where it goes!

People would always tell me that what I do is very niche, but honestly, words are all around us! It’s just how creatively we use them to communicate what we have at hand. Through this, I guess I’m trying to really bring back the appreciation of handmade art, and bring people’s words to life!

About growing fast — Whilst I may have had a bit of a first mover’s advantage in the Indian Calligraphy and Lettering space, I believe my network built through my years in the Corporate world have helped spread the word. While there are several typographers and maybe even letterers, I was one of the first to start with Calligraphy and create a business model around it.

Can you give me an overview of who you are, what is your educational or overall background? What are some of your achievements?

I was born and brought up in Mumbai, India. I’ve studied and worked here all my life too. After completing the Indian ICSE board of exams I went on to do the IB diploma program at BD Somani International School, followed by my undergraduate degree from Mumbai University In Media and Communication. My first job (and only) out of college was with Moet Hennessy, the wines and spirits division of LVMH where I was doing marketing and brand management.

I’ve always been a traveler, a foodie, an extrovert, an absolute dog lover, extremely family-oriented and now, a creativepreneur J I play tennis, love to volunteer, I hope to add a CSR project into my business model soon.

I’ve done a few incredible volunteer programs across the world that have truly grown me as a person. I lived with a local Tibetan family in Dharamsala and taught little monks in a Monastery for 2 months. The summer after that I lived with a local Hungarian family in Budapest and taught middle school children English. I can and most definitely see myself volunteering and giving back to the community all my life.

Achievements –

1. While working at Moet Hennessy India, I received an award for the most ‘Creative and Innovative’ employee of the year.

2. Been featured as a ‘Woman of Faith’ in a campaign by famous Indian Jewellery Brand AS Motiwala

3. Featured in People Magazine USA covering my work for Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ wedding

4. Featured in Australian Magazine Penultimate

5. Featured in and chosen to be on the cover of Longchamp Paris’ magazine in India — The Zine

6. Featured in various local magazines and newspapers on creating a profession out of a passion.

What have you learned through your experiences as an entrepreneur that can be used by aspiring business individuals?

As an entrepreneur, every day is an adventure full of new challenges. While I find it extremely exciting, it can also get quite overwhelming at times. I’ve learned a lot in the past 2 years that will only help me get better.

Master your skill: If we were to look at calligraphy in particular — it’s a 100% skill-based business and for this, there are no shortcuts! Like any art form. So obviously, getting the skill right is key. Everything else is secondary.

Be a student for life (continuously traveling to learn): If I were to attribute this growth to something — it would definitely be the that I invest back into learning. Learning from some of the best masters in the world has added to my credibility, my skill, and expertise. And as time goes by I have to continuously innovate, which means I must keep learning and seeking inspiration from other lettering styles from all around the world, to stay innovative, fresh and unique.

Work really hard: There have been times where I have questioned myself as to what drives me, but over time I realized that hard work really does pay off. I have received the recognition and achievement because I was determined and worked very very hard towards It.

Strong Network: I have tried to maintain my network of people over the years through my corporate job, my travels, and my family/friends. People tend to underestimate the power of good networking but I have learned that maintaining relationships and networking are very important, and especially so for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. I give myself at 2 (at least :p) work-related trips in a year — one is to go learn, to enhance my skills and really garner the knowledge I need to grow. The other has nothing to do with Calligraphy — It has to be a conference, a start-up summit, an entrepreneurs meet, someplace excellent to network with like-minded people from across the world. I feel that second trip is so crucial in growing as a person and expanding your base.

Be realistic: I think it’s really great to have a passion. But it’s very important to be realistic about converting that passion into a profession. Apart from being very good at it (!!), you have to be able to see yourself doing it every single day. This will not be just a hobby anymore, which means you have deadlines, tough clients, projects you may not always love but you got to do it anyway. I quit my full-time job 9 months into juggling it with my Calligraphy Business. It was only then that I was confident of the fact that I was making as much or more of an income through The Bombay Lettering Company than my corporate job. So if there’s one piece of advice, I’d say, be realistic, set a business plan and make sure it’s feasible and sustainable before taking the plunge.

Money, money, money! : This can be a make or break for any start-up, and managing your finances well from day 1 is crucial! You have to be closely accountable for your expenses. To start off with — keep overheads low, invest everything back in the business and spend wisely.

Be honest and true to yourself and your business: I strongly believe honest work speaks for itself and that hard work never goes to waste. Trust and Respect are by-products of good work.

What makes your business so unique and successful?

I’d like to believe that what makes what I do unique is the fact that it was a passion project much before the intention of becoming a business. Hence, the growth and culmination into what it is today have been so pure and organic for me. Every decision has been made from the heart over the mind.

My project of ‘Calligraphy as Therapy’ which entails using this beautiful art form as therapy for children and adults with autism adds more meaning and purpose to my work.

I strongly feel that Calligraphy has made me a more calm and patient person over the years and this has had a direct impact on the way I handle day to day business situations and decisions as well. The calmness, patience, and genuineness with which I work have definitely added to the micro-successes which eventually leads to a more macro sense of success.

Lastly, I do feel that unlike most calligraphers in India, I have tried to explore working on a lot more surfaces, like wood, acrylic, mirror, glass and so on and have collaborated with experts from completely different spaces to make beautiful products and have incorporated lettering in them like never before.

What have you learned through your journey as an entrepreneur?

I feel like I’m discovering myself a little bit more though this wonderful journey of entrepreneurship! I’m learning a lot about myself, my potential and my capabilities. What I have also learned is the importance of my support system, my cheerleaders and people who believe in me, they are the ones who are constantly encouraging me to do better. And of course, I’ve learned that I will be a student for life.

What skills and attributes make you as successful as you are?

If we look at calligraphy in particular — it’s a 100% skill-based business and for this, there are no shortcuts! Like any art form — so obviously, getting the skill right is key. Calligraphy requires patience, lots of practice, attention to detail and a great sense of aesthetics, amongst others! My goal every day is to become a better calligrapher, a better artist — but also to improve as a businesswoman. Yes, I am an artist, but I’m also trying to build a company that requires me to have a lot of skills that any entrepreneur needs!

I think my personality too has definitely made the journey a lot more fun, exciting and smooth! I’m a very positive person, always eager to explore and push myself. It’s important to be open-minded, nimble and open to learn, unlearn and relearn. And that is what I live by — being adaptable to change and embracing change. Also, I’ve realized the importance of pushing myself to a level of discomfort, because it’s only when we are really really uncomfortable, and way out of our comfort zones, that we achieve something great!

Why is online business, marketing, etc important?

Funny Story — I was sitting at the Micheal Angelo Peak last summer and happened to begin conversing with a family from New York. A few minutes into our conversation, the daughter discovers that I am a face behind The Bombay Lettering Company and she squealed “OMG you’re Bombay Lettering”. Apart from being touched that she follows me, it made me realize how powerful the digital space is.

With the way the world is moving today, having an online presence is crucial for the recognition and success of any business. With my online presence and online store, I have been able to reach a global audience. E-commerce is a great channel for a young company like mine to reach such a large base as overheads are also lower.

What I love about the online business space is that I can use data analytics to tweak and play around with my offerings to give my audience and consumers what they want. It’s all real-time.

Apart from maintaining a strong social media presence, I believe it is even more important to maintain your own database, lists, and contacts. Email Marketing has worked to be a very powerful tool for me.

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Boban John

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