FOUNDER'S STORY WITH GEETIKA AGRAWAL: CEO OF VAWAA, IMMERSIVE ART APPRENTICESHIPS AROUND THE WORLD





It was awesome to chat with Geetika Agrawal, the Founder and CEO of VAWAA, which hosts immersive experiences around the world for art-hungry travelers. Connecting guests with artists, designers and creatives for a week long mini apprenticeship. Her idea to provide this service was sparked 20 years ago as an architecture student in India. Here's her story:


To start, tell me a bit about your background both career wise and personally:
My entire background, both career wise and personally has been unconventional. I studied Architecture in India, as a student of Bauhaus, and Industrial Design in the United States, with a multi-disciplinary focus in art and technology. I moved to New York to work as a Creative Director, and then spent a year traveling, where I founded VAWAA, a company designed around immersive travel and art experiences.

What is VAWAA? How did the idea come to fruition? ​

VAWAA is a travel company, allowing guests to book a vacation with an artist. Guests can choose to book a week long apprenticeship with any master artist across a variety of art forms in 23 countries.

The idea started 20 years ago when I was in architecture school. I traveled all over India working with local craftspeople, immersed in a place to learn different building techniques. I thought to myself, how could others do the same? When I was working at a fast paced digital agency in New York, I started craving time to disconnect and immerse in hands-on making.

I loved this idea of taking time to get away from your cubicle to enjoy a different routine in a new place. Stress free travel with no to-do list. There was nothing out there that was similar to this so I decided to build it.

I understand that joining Remote Year’s inaugural program led to the launch of VAWAA. Speak to the program, what was your experience traveling and living abroad for a year?

Remote Year is a one year program that helps people travel while working remotely. The idea of VAWAA had been on my mind for a few years so I took a one year sabbatical from my job at R/GA to travel with Remote Year and dedicate that time to building VAWAA. The program allowed me to focus on VAWAA while they took care of the logistical planning of travel. It was wonderful to be with 75 like-minded people, all of whom were part of my journey of building VAWAA. It was an absolutely amazing experience.

During that time, I was able to find and meet artists. I launched 4 years ago while on Remote Year, but officially started working on it in June 2017.





A VAWAA apprenticeship, learning to make paper maché clay.



How have guests described traveling with VAWAA?
We often hear the word “life changing” and I’m not exaggerating.

It’s amazing what people can do in a 5 day trip. There’s no pressure or goals to have any work finished by the end of the week. And, there are no distractions, it’s very calming. Most people don’t treat their life with that type of mindset. Many people come out feeling rejuvenated and inspired, ready to collaborate or start a new project. Everyone has dreams and VAWAA helps activate them.

Speak to the experience of running a business. What has been the most rewarding aspect to it, as well as the most challenging?
The most rewarding aspect is obviously the mini-transformations we've been able to facilitate in people's lives - whether it's helping them get out of a rut, or find new inspiration or build skills to work on their dream project. We are deeply grateful to all master artists for the generous work they are doing in supporting every VAWAA guest's needs and journey.

We've taken a slow and thoughtful growth approach focussing on a niche market so it can be challenging sometimes to share our success story with an industry that rewards hyper growth over sustainable growth.

For any individual interested in starting their own venture, what would your advice be to them?
When you’re hiring, look for people who have side projects. It’s important to see what they do in their free time. That shows what they’re passionate about, as well as having the “make shit happen” mentality.

From the past two years looking towards the next two years, what are your goals going forward?
Our biggest goal is to stay focused on the needs of artists and guests and continue to serve them. That means adding more artists, art forms and destinations as well as experimenting with different formats. For example, we’re experimenting with retreats for larger groups of 6-8. There are two coming up: one in Italy learning about the history of winter solstice feasts in different cultures from an archaeologist and chef, and the other in Spain going on photography expeditions with an award winning photographer native to Canary Islands. We've also launched Weekend Edition for artists in the US. Some Americans only get 10 days of vacation a year, so these trips are Friday-Sunday, allowing for the same immersion over a shorter period of time.

Art aside, you’re interested in food as well, and co-founded Food For Thought, a dinner event for travelers and locals around the world. Tell me about that:
It all stems from the same idea of how do you connect with people in a more meaningful way and immerse yourself? The idea of Food For Thought is to offer authentic food to your hosts (or vice versa). While I traveled during Remote Year, I wanted to give back to my hosts by cooking them Indian food. That’s a shared sentiment, and so Food For Thought began.





A photography trip in Mexico.



There are many people who find excuses to not travel, to not utilize their time off, be it because of funds or unsure of what to do. What would you say to encourage a first-time traveler to get out there?
For more inexperienced travelers who say they don’t have funds or time, they’re often coming from a place of fear. Travel is overwhelming, it sounds daunting. How will you get around? What will you do if you don’t speak the language? How safe will it be? I tell new travelers to pick a friend who lives outside of your city, wherever, and tell them you want to visit. Then it will feel easy and safe.

Guests who go on VAWAA are usually more experienced travelers who are excited to be in one place for an extended period of time, without a to-do list.

Having traveled to many places, growing up in India, and focusing on travel as a career, what are some of your favorite places to visit and why?
Japan, Slovenia, and Iceland are my favorites. Japan is so different than any other country I’ve been to. Before going there I knew it would be surprising but it really delivered. I had visited Slovenia briefly in 2013 and loved it, and then went back for a month during Remote Year. I fell in love with it even more. It’s a place where you can do great work surrounded with great people, calm and stunning nature. I went to Iceland in 2012 and was blown away by the landscapes. It changes every 5 minutes and emits the presence of an awesome mystical energy.

Where are you hoping (or planning) to go next?
Mongolia is on the top of my list. The Philippines, Mali, Senegal, my favorite music is from West Africa.

Are there any companies or brands that inspire you, or that you think are doing important work in the realm or travel, art or food?
Ace Camps and Baraka Destinations, which partners with local communities and clients to build sustainable projects together. Companies that are leading travel sustainably, both for locals and environment are doing very important work.


Learn more about the trips offered with VAWAA. Check out reviews and photos on Facebook and Instagram @vawaa_.







Learning natural dyeing and weaving.