Women Who Win: Rosh Mahtani on celebrating imperfections and accepting mistakes

We talk to founder and designer of jewellery label Alighieri

women who win alighieri
(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

Rosh Mahtani launched her jewellery label, Alighieri in 2014, when men notoriously dominated the industry. Her designs, which at their core celebrate imperfections, also went against the grain. But fast forward a decade, and her heartfelt designs have a cult following, something that isn't easily achieved—or more importantly, maintained. Rarer still, each piece is truly unique and tells its own story. As part of our Women Who Win series, I spoke to Rosh about her biggest successes, regrets, and what it takes to build a successful business.

Take me back to the beginning of your business...

I was always fascinated by jewellery as objects: and how they were a means of passing down stories, forging bonds, and protecting oneself, across all cultures, since the beginning of time.

After studying Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia at university, I made one piece of jewellery for each of his one hundred poems. Dante’s story was one of feeling lost in the dark wood, of not knowing the right path in life and I wanted to create a universe that celebrated the beauty of imperfection and vulnerability. This became the centre of the brand: to forge timeless Modern Heirlooms (handcrafted locally in London's Hatton Garden) where each piece has a story and invites the wearer to unlock their own.

I worked for two years as an au pair, whilst crafting the brand late into the night. It started to grow organically, and as time went on, we found an incredible community, who shared their stories with us and became our friends—all through this universal language of jewellery.

Women Who Win: Rosh Mahtani

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

How has your business changed in the last few years?

Over the last few years, our key pillars have come to the forefront. Production and sustainability are key: as we work with family-run casters, we're able to make products safely if demands soar.

I've always wanted to use the business to support local communities and to bring people together. Over the last few years, we partnered with The Trussell Trust (the UK's largest food bank network) during a tough time for them. We also started working with Refuge who is key in supporting women trapped in abusive relationships. With the support of our incredible clients, we managed to raise over £150,000 for both charities.

I wanted to create a universe that celebrated the beauty of imperfection and vulnerability.

What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The bravest thing I’ve ever done is share the story about my very difficult and painful abortion in 2022/3. Writing about such a delicate topic—the juxtaposition of being prochoice, yet being incredibly regretful of my decision—was really terrifying. But, the number of women who shred their stories with me after the piece was published was inspiring and helped me through many difficult nights.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Running a business as a sole founder: I manage the logistics and finance components of the brand, alongside designing every piece and leading the creative vision. It’s a daily challenge between the two parts of my brain!

I’ve learnt to lean on my incredible team; to be gentle on myself when I make mistakes; to accept that I can’t do everything perfectly all at the same time; and to embrace the journey and go with the challenges instead of resisting them.

It’s been a whirlwind ten years of life-lessons.

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female founder?

Jewellery has traditionally always been male-dominated so it took some time for the men to take me seriously, especially as my designs were all about imperfections—something that wasn't the norm in 2014.

But the casters we work with have become like family to me, so I was lucky for their kindness. I also had a few guys I went to university with, reaching out to me asking if I needed help with the “numbers” - insinuating that as a female creative, I wouldn’t be able to manage the PnL (profits and loss).

Being a woman in business is a constant fight to be taken seriously. There were many times I had strong gut feelings about strategy: keeping our production local despite impacting the bottom line; and continuing to write a hand-written note with every order even though it’s faster and cheaper not to… many male advisors laughed in my face.

I had no data to prove that these strategies made sense, but they are the cornerstones of Alighieri and have been fundamental to our growth and success.

I've learned to accept that I can't do everything perfectly, and to be gently on myself when I make mistakes.

Do you have a favourite piece in your new collection?

I love the Bones of Rebirth Necklace—it’s a statement icy silver piece on a brown leather cord (shop it below). It was inspired by my journey to let go of the past, to tide in new hope as Alighieri enters its tenth year, and I enter my thirty-fifth!

Women Who Win: Rosh Mahtani

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

What is the most precious piece you own?

I have a pair of baby anklets that were given to me by my grandmother when I was born. They’re so incredibly special to me, that I now wear them as bracelets. They have tiny little bells in them and make the best sound.

How can you achieve the right work/life balance?

This is a work in progress. Ultimately, I love my job and I’m so lucky to have this brand. I feed off creativity, so even when I’m not working I’m constantly aware of new ideas and inspiration. I try hard to give myself at least one day at the weekend to let my brain rest, to see friends and not have to think. I’m aware now, after ten years, that burnout is a real thing.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

Don’t force it, let it come. (From my dad, on many occasions, regarding many things.)

What has been your proudest moment?

The collection we released in March, and the apartment we created in Paris to launch it. It was a dream of mine to curate an entire space, with art, furniture, books and objects.

It was an emotional collection for me, and bringing it to life in this way was truly magical, as we celebrated our tenth birthday.

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

How can we all ask for more?

It's not always easy to do, but we should all be able to ask for what we want. On a very practical level, when it comes to asking for a promotion, for example, I would say it comes down to three things:

1. Do the groundwork. Make yourself indispensable, go above and beyond for your team, show that you care, be curious about your company and learn about how the company is doing.
2. Pick your moment, be mindful of how and when you ask.
3. Be prepared to negotiate, openly and honestly, listen to the feedback, and know that it takes time to get to your dream role, but every step can gets you closer.

How do you celebrate success?

I always celebrate a significant moment by buying a special book. I open it and date it, and it always reminds me of that particular feeling and moment in time.

What will you never compromise on in business?

It’s impossible to run a business without compromise. Nothing goes exactly to plan, you’re constantly bargaining between the creative vision and the financial and operational realities.

However, the key pillars of your brand are something you should never compromise on. If something doesn’t feel right or exciting as a project, I won’t do it, no matter how much revenue it could bring.

This is because I know our brand is built on being truthful and honest in our design. I’ll also never compromise on visuals—I love photography and in terms of content generation, I’ll never put out an image that I don’t love.

I’d love to see a world where women feel able to express their ideas and emotions without trepidation.

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

What would you want to change for women?

I think women still have to worry disproportionately about how they are perceived; especially when it comes to ambition and emotion. In my experience, I’ve had to play down my ambition for fear of appearing a certain way or hide my vulnerabilities for the same fear. I’d love to see a world where women express their ideas and emotions without trepidation.

You have an amazing team of young women working with you—how did this come about?

I’m so incredibly lucky and grateful to work with this group of talented, hilarious and generous women. It’s truly the best part of my job. The women on the Alighieri team look out for each other: we’re very tight-knit, and this is a big part (I think) of why these women enjoy being part of the brand.

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

What’s your top tip for jewellery upkeep?

Avoid perfumes, lotions and water and keep your jewellery protected in a pouch, to avoid oxidation. However, at Alighieri, we offer a repairs and replating service, so you can continue to extend the life of your Modern Heirloom.

What is your superpower?

I think I’m good at finding and isolating the best pieces in a vintage store within 60 seconds!

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?

I’ve made many mistakes that ultimately taught me valuable lessons. I used to be hard on myself when this happened, but I've realised making a mistake is not the problem. It only becomes problematic if you let that mistake drag you down.

What could we all achieve if we supported each other?

I don’t think you can ever get anywhere you’re trying to go alone. I was fortunate to have many mentors and women who supported me and took a chance on me early in my career. The joy of any business is watching people grow, achieving a goal and going through the ups and downs, together.

Women Who Win: Rosh Mahtani

(Image credit: Silvia Olsen)

What is your mantra?

“It needs to feel right.”

What are your favourite places in London?

I love ending the day at Quality Wines, in Farringdon—they have a great changing menu and beautiful wine lists. I've become friends with the team—it’s a special place for me.

Perfumer H on Chiltern Street is a magical place, founded by an amazing woman. I love exploring the scents and hearing the inspiration behind them.

Cecil Court is one of my favourite streets in London, I love looking for rare books at Tender Books, and finding antiques in the little shops that have been there for decades.

Make-up by Martina Lattanzi using Maiwe Skincare

Shop Alighieri

Penny Goldstone

Penny Goldstone is the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, covering everything from catwalk trends to royal fashion and the latest high street and Instagram must-haves.

Penny grew up in France and studied languages and law at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris before moving to the UK for her MA in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. She moved to the UK permanently and has never looked back (though she does go back regularly to stock up on cheese and wine).

Although she's always loved fashion - she used to create scrapbooks of her favourite trends and looks, including Sienna Miller and Kate Moss' boho phase - her first job was at MoneySavingExpert.com, sourcing the best deals for everything from restaurants to designer sales.

However she quit after two years to follow her true passion, fashion journalism, and after many years of internships and freelance stints at magazines including Red, Cosmopolitan, Stylist and Good Housekeeping, landed her dream job as the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK.

Her favourite part of the job is discovering new brands and meeting designers, and travelling the world to attend events and fashion shows. Seeing her first Chanel runway IRL at Paris Fashion Week was a true pinch-me moment.