Woman Entrepreneurs From India To Watch Out For In 2017—Part I

This feature started with the idea of celebrating women, and since we will be touching various genres through similar anthologies (in and around art, music, food, fashion and more), we thought it would be interesting to see the entrepreneurial side of women in India. And the stories we uncovered were fabulous! Here’s what we found out in part one.

Devarshi Gohil, Studio Seaweed

The idea of Studio Seaweed (a design studio based in Bombay) was born when Gohil got done with her thesis in architecture and had no plans of working in a firm. She was doing a lot of freelance work here and there. Through that, she also got an opportunity to create an art installation for a music festival happening in Lavasa, but with no prior experience in installations, she asked a school friend of hers, Vipin Joe (her partner at Studio Seaweed) to collaborate with her on the project. As he was a product designer and had worked on a few of them while he was in in college, she thought he would be the right fit. “We worked our asses off to reach the deadline and a day before we had to leave for the festival it struck us that we need a name for the collaboration. At 4 am we came up with the name Studio Seaweed. That’s how it all began—a random phone call, and a 4 am decision,” she states laughing.

She also feels that there are no gender roles while running a business. ‘It’s more to do with one’s skill set. What ones good at, that’s what you bring to the table. Because everyone’s trying to hustle, do their bit and make things happen.’ And a good work ethic is key to running a company, she adds. “You need to believe 100 per cent in what you’re doing—period. Show up every day no matter what and put in that 100 per cent. That is what will become a driving force in times of adversity,” clarifies Gohil.

It’s 2017 and the percentage of women entrepreneurs is less compared to men (the world over) according to you, why do you think that is? “I feel a major part of it is because of the stereotypical gender roles that have been passed onto us for generations. Every woman has an expiry date because of these stereotypical genders roles. She needs to be married by a certain age and needs to have a child at a certain age. She needs to take care of the family and know how to cook. So it’s a lot of societal and peer pressure surrounding how a woman takes professional decisions. Independent smart women who have complete control of their lives aren’t often portrayed greatly in society. They are often seen as intimidating figures and not someone approachable. Most men steer clear of them as they see them as a threat—which is just sad! We need to encourage women to chase their ambitions and not curb them at the aspect of being more acceptable. Also with the inflation and cut throat global markets, it is a challenge to start your own venture irrespective of what sex you are. Most women prefer the route of getting married and having a family with a stable income and that’s fine too…to each their own.”

Do these give birth to challenge too? To be honest it’s all about credibility. People often look at a woman and doubt her capabilities, by the mere fact that she’s a woman. I tend to be a bit colder in business conversations at first as I am naturally a chirpy and bubbly kind of a person. You want to be taken seriously irrespective of what you’re wearing and how you look. You would be surprised how quick people are to judge you, especially in a professional environment. At the studio, we do all kinds of multidisciplinary projects which include spaces as well and I have noticed that my contractors, carpenters and labours would rather have a man give them instructions than a woman. They find it easier I feel coming from a man. Men trust men more than they trust a woman and that’s just how I’ve felt at times.”

And as far as a word of advice for women is concerned, she believes that you have to ‘just do it’. “Do what makes you happy even if it scares the living daylights out of you. There is never going to be a better time to do it than ‘now’. Believe in your idea and believe in yourself to make that idea come to life. It’s not going to be the easiest thing to do, but I can assure you it will be the most rewarding thing you can do. I think that’s the same advice I’d give a man too.”

Follow Studio Seaweed here.

Harleen Kaur and Vasudha Khurana, Pluie

Pluie started as a part of the Myntra Fashion Incubator (MFI) in 2015. It was one of the seven brands handpicked from the country to work with the MFI resources for a year. With the amazing launch pad that Myntra was, Kaur believed the brand had a lot to offer, and hence she worked on it even after the duration of the program.

“I started Pluie because from a design perspective I thought there was a void when it came to kids wear in India. There were hardly any brands that had a voice or were investing in a strong identity in this space,” she enthuses.

For the last year or so, she and her partner Vasudha Khurana have bootstrapped this venture. The duo is excited to be experimenting with all that they have to offer under the umbrella of Pluie.

“Pluie means rain in French and the brand capture everything that’s fresh and fun in childhood. The jackets have big pockets for storing treasures, dresses and skirts have volume for twirling and the fabrics are soft for rolling on the grass. That’s not all, the duo look at and love kids as their own tiny selves and not as mini adults, and that’s what appeals to the Pluie shopper the most, they say. Even their basic tees have a whiff of wonder and joy. The backbone of the brand is natural fibres like cotton, to create quality clothing that stays longer and hence is unperturbed by trends. They make clothing that people love to possess and then pass on to generations with a lot of love. And that’s the brands USP.

Further, they have done all their work perceiving themselves as people, more than as women. This has helped the two work and move in any situation with ease without any conventional thoughts and norms holding them back. “What I can say is that this has been well received, and sometimes with confusion and awe,” highlights Kaur will a chuckle. Adding, “Our struggles have more to do with being entrepreneurs, than women. And that has been received with respect and love from so many people we end up sharing our stories with. There’s this huge wave of women entrepreneurs in the country today, with each one doing a phenomenal job. And we are excited to be a part of this wave.”

The duo also feels that women do wonders at the work place. They bring a good balance of emotion, creativity, and grit at work. And this is why they think women should start things on their own, to fully unleash their potential that the world around them could definitely use and grow.

According to you, what are the things that are necessary for a company to grow? “I think the most important ingredient to make anything, including a company, work is the will to make it work. As clichéd and simplistic as it sounds, this has been my “Ahhha!” take away. Bringing joy and conviction to your everyday workplace which is filled with all kinds of uncertainties, big and small, can help one navigate through the tough times. And that, on some days, makes all the difference. The one thing that I feel strongly about running a company is having a product that is truly needed and appreciated by the consumer. We always ask this question when doing anything new—is this something that a parent or a child really needs and wants, or are we just doing this for the sake of it? The most amazing, and inspiring people we look up to have had a unique offering that the world needed, in terms of a product, or even their views.”

And the plans for the future? “We started with an offering catering only to girls (2-5 years), which has now expanded into a wider age group (2-8 years) and even boys. We plan to do a lot more with apparel and move into a lot of other lifestyle categories as well. The next move on our minds is getting into ceramics and furniture, working with Pluie as a way of life which is fun, light and super kid friendly! This is something the team and so many friends of Pluie believe in and relate to. That is the plan for the future!” ends Khurana.

Follow Pluie here.

Medhavini and Vidushi Yadav, Resha

Resha was started purely out of love and passion for good design and rich textile culture of our country. Studying design, introduced the two to traditional textile crafts of India and the meticulous design process. Each and every handcrafted piece has a story to tell, this is their inspiration. Further, People inspire them the most, their struggle and everyday stories have so much to tell. Whenever they look at a person, they see a story behind whatever he/she is today. These unsaid stories amaze the duo. Resha is derived from many such untold stories.

“Resha (means fiber)—the smallest unit of the textile process, which passes through the hands of one craftsperson to the other, touching lives and passing on its essence. The painstaking process of handcrafting a textile entwines so many stories within the strands of fibers into a piece of cloth.  Resha is a passion we live every day,” Medhavini reflects.

Resha is trying to transform the way handlooms are perceived in India. The team uses age-old techniques to create something which is young, free flowing and thoughtful. It’s a tangible amalgamation of craft, design and art. In the world of fast fashion, the duo is a holding on to slow and sustainable clothing. The label speaks about a way of living which is ethical and thoughtful towards the environment too. Each piece of Resha is put together with elements derived from nature, from natural dyes to the fabric.

The sister-duo has a happy journey to share as well. “In most cases, we met good people in the journey. We are grateful to the people who shared their stories, passion and love with us. The everyday stories of the men, women and children we met during our travels gave us the encouragement to keep moving.  We have had humbling experiences often,” says Vidushi. “However, we also had our moments. Sometimes we met people who do not take us seriously because of the inhibition society carrier about women professionals. They think that as women we would not be serious and dedicated to our work. Gender has nothing to do with seriousness or dedication. Also, we are rock stars, if we have put ourselves in a situation we know how to deal with it,” illustrates Medhavini butting in.

With an increase in the number of women coming out and having a successful professional life, this inhibition of women not being serious professionals is diluting. However, there is a long way to go the duo states. “People still look for a mother, wife, daughter and all that in us before seeing a serious working professional. The society burdens us with a load of being caring and sacrificing. They expect us and subconsciously force us to take a back seat at work. And many women succumb to that. The world got to understand that we are also as human as the other gender. And all other family responsibilities are collective,” states Vidushi.

But bad things give rise to good things too. For one their life has changed for the better They are much more confident, upfront and ready to take on to any situation. They understand design better—this journey gave them the opportunity to meet amazing people and see amazing work. They understand people better than before, and that has increased their love towards the world and its people. It has been an overwhelming journey till now and they are looking forward to more. “There is no situation that cannot be dealt with. Sit back, relax, gather yourself and fight. Every other day is the brighter one,” the duo signs off!

Follow Resha here.

Cynthia Cletus, CynthUp

CynthUp is the best of Bangalore-based DIY artist Cynthia Cletus. Through her artistic endeavours, she tries to be good at crafting, designing and decorating. The brand is into custom make crafts, wedding décor and creative designing. Further, personalising all deliverables to the client’s requirement is the company’s USP. Everything is created in house and she loves recycling.

“CynthUp was a result of the sheer blockage of my creativity.  I was in the hotel and event industry for nine years but the dream to achieving something different was getting immense every day and after a long thoughtful process CynthUp came into existence,” she fondly recalls.

CynthUp has been a 40:60 challenge for her, people hire her easily when it comes to creating décor and craft products because they think it is best understood by a woman but taking her seriously as a freelance editor and creative designer has been a challenge, she thinks. “Questions do arise if I am capable enough of handling the stress and getting the work done.”

Interestingly, her husband (Manan Upadhyaya) provided her extra support to pursue her dreams. “For me, my husband was my backbone,” she states. “There would have never been a CynthUp if not for Manan.  Being supportive is an understatement, from going to whole sale markets, to getting my initial work contracts he has been there as a core team member an investor, and even a chauffeur when required (laughs), even though he has his own work challenges as a photographer.  CynthUp was actually a result of him telling me to follow my dream.”

But Cletus understands that starting a firm is a learning curve and a challenge too. For starters, it’s nice to be your own boss and call the shots. Dedicating the best of you for what you love, it’s a good feeling being committed to your own work. It does astonish her sometimes how she pushes herself to get things done, but it’s not easy, she is aware that it’s not a 9-to-6 job anymore with a fixed monthly cheque, but again she would not give this up for anything because once you experience that freedom of creativity it’s difficult to tuck it away, “I did try that in between but did not go well,” she remembers laughing. Currently, she is working hard to flourish this as a full on editing and creative designing company.

Follow CynthUp here.

Richy Dave, Surge Digital

Here’s something not many know about this Mumbai-based digital marketing professional. For starters, Richy Dave has been working/interning since she was 15. Dave got her first internship right after her 10th-grade board exams and she has worked all through her college years as well. Those were her “self-exploration” years, as she tells us. She wanted to do everything where she could to get herself to figure what she loved the most. To give you an idea of what all she perused, here is a bit—she worked at a magazine, a television channel, a travel agency, an NGO, managed an artist and she did a whole bunch of freelance work even before she graduated!

By the time Dave finished her studies, she was confident enough to start something of her own. With Surge Digital, the idea was simple; she wanted people to experience a brand through their digital mediums, that is, mainly through their social media pages. It started as a boutique social media agency and now she deals with clients in India, USA, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

So, what is Surge Digital all about? It’s a business with a soul. “Every client/brand isn’t just buying a service or an idea from us, we are not just churning out mindless copy and creatives, there’s a humane process involved. Most of my clients call it ‘Richy’s Touch’ and it’s really nothing more the personal attention that every brand deserves when they work with an agency,” Dave elaborates.

And the challenges you faced (and still face) as a woman entrepreneur? “I get asked this question often by friends, associates and family. Honestly, the best thing that’s ever happened to me was being born as a woman. It’s definitely challenging and it’s difficult, and it often sucks the life of out you, but I feel it’s a lot easier for a woman to succeed as an entrepreneur. I say that because people are more receptive and respectful towards women,” Dave clears the air with a smile.

Since her perspectives are dissimilar than most people around, this is what makes the firm different than her rivals. They start late and her employees don’t work on weekends unless it’s absolutely important. “I think it’s important that everybody gets a good night’s sleep or you can’t give your 100 per cent to your work,” she feels. Their lunch breaks are long because they are busy discussing life. They love their coffee so there’s always a fresh pot brewing. People are allowed to leave early and take leaves as long as their work is taken care of. And most importantly, they treat each other like family! This is possible because Dave believes in empathy, discipline and unpretentiousness! And also accepts that the world needs more woman entrepreneurs because she thinks that India has been and still is a male dominated country where women often seek permission before doing something. More women entrepreneurs will inspire others to take control of their own lives and not depend on others.

Further, if you as a prospective client, a family member, or a distant cousin, these are the things you never say to her: One, “It’s your own business, wow! But beta, what are your plans for the future?” Two, “You have such a busy schedule, how will you keep up with it after you get married?” Three, “Does your father help you file your taxes?” Four, “Aren’t you too young?” And five, and her most favourite, “She always gets this from a man who’s received her reference from somewhere and is talking to Dave for the first time:

Man: “Hey, is this Richy’s number?”

Me: “Hey, yes.”

Man: (Awkward silence) “Can I speak with Richy, please?”

Me: “It’s me. You are speaking to Richy.”

Man: “Oh, I thought Richy was a man.”

Me: …

Follow Surge Digital here.

Priya Jain, Mishikrafts and Mishikrafts Supplies

Jain started Mishikrafts about four years ago. It began with the sole intention of making chemical free handmade soaps. The business is named after her niece for whom she made her first batch of soap, which seemed to work wonders. The firm soon progressed to many other handmade products, including chocolates and candles.

Mishikrafts Supplies, on the other hand, is under a year old. Jain was at the helm of a growing business, and this is when she realised that plenty of other people in a similar line of work were finding it difficult to find quality supplies to make their products in Bangalore. Tentatively, she started with stocking a few things from different parts of the country and now the business is growing with a community that is budding at an equally fast pace, she reflects. While Mishikrafts is handmade products, Mishikrafts Supplies enables people in the handmade soap and cosmetic business to focus on their game while Jain and her team work at providing quality supplies in the shortest time possible.

Like the women above, Jain too feels that people don’t her seriously. “Rarely have I come across a situation when I have been taken seriously the first time I suggested anything. I don’t really blame the people around me it is just social conditioning at its worst. This treatment comes from close friends, family, naysayers and everyone in between,” she illustrates.

Adding, “The social mindset needs to change. It is a huge task, none of it is easy. Till we stop taking things for granted, till education actually becomes the focus, till the safety net of parents and husbands providing for isn’t shaken, people will always continue to fall back on their comfort zones. Entrepreneurship is still a largely discouraged idea, irrespective of gender. Boys and girls both face a similar situation when they say they want to start something on their own. It’s new and hence must be scary, is a predominant thought.

And this starts when you are a child. We set boundaries for our children, rarely encouraging them to explore. Even when we let them explore, it is in a secure environment, those that go beyond those boundaries are often branded the bad children or the ones that need ‘taming’. The perspective needs to change, soon and in a very dynamic way.”

And how has this been a learning curve? “Nothing is easy and nothing is too difficult. Time management is still a huge task at times. There is no such thing as a ‘break’ in the business. A vacation is a luxury of the privileged salaried class. I have learnt to let go of assumptions, preconceived notions and things that don’t seem to work. You will have help from unknown people, but there will be times, you will feel let down by a few close ones. You learn to pick yourself up, dust yourself and walk on with your head high.”

As for a word of advice to budding woman entrepreneurs out there she says, “Be careful, think carefully, rethink it, give yourself 100 reasons why you shouldn’t do it, play the devil’s advocate and then go for it if your own arguments don’t convince you. It’s a huge leap of faith, one that will test you often. Be true to your goal, you will get there eventually.”

Follow Mishikrafts here.

Nikita Naiknavare, Lost The Plot

Lost The Plot (an open air cinema company) was an amalgamation of many things that were essentially meant to keep people like Naiknavare from ‘losing the plot’. After living in the UK for six years and away from Pune for ten, she decided to move back. Studying Law in the UK made her realise that Naiknavare’s calling was for something creative. More in the arts and culture space (she always wanted to be a writer). “Coincidentally, the summer before I was to move back, a lot of open air cinemas started popping up in London and being an avid film buff I attended all of them. I simply loved the experience, so that yearning for something creative coupled with everything I had learned in copyright law gave birth to this idea and made me decide to move back home and start my own open air cinema company,” she highlights. She was also a little frustrated with how the variety of film options in India was at the time—‘there was either mainstream Bollywood or Hollywood, nothing in between’. Plus,  Naiknavare discovered that life in India—in terms of work, schedules, socialising, and entertainment was quite hectic. There were hardly any spaces for unwinding and relaxing. “To me, movies and books are the ultimate escape from reality and I wanted to meet other like-minded people. So I suppose, it was the right idea at the right time—which came together like a really good jigsaw puzzle!”

And the USP of the firm? We make it a point to screen all our films legally, acquiring all the required licenses and permissions from the relevant copyrights holders. This, of course, takes quite a bit of time because each film belongs to or is handled by a different studio, producer or distributor. We have taken a lot of trouble to build relationships within the industry to ensure we screen films with permissions. This is because my goal was to create a sustainable system for alternative distribution of films—a model which is quite unexplored in India. Though with the rise of VOD platforms this space has changed quite a bit—which is where our film curation comes into the picture. We screen urban, smart yet entertaining films which give a holistic movie watching experience—not one where you have to leave your brain at home,” she points out.

Also, it’s quite empowering, but also a very humbling experience to be an independent woman entrepreneur in 2017, she says. “I look at this as a huge opportunity that most people in our country don’t have—men or women. To have the resources to be able to see your idea through is amazing, but it also makes you appreciate how complex the world is and that there is still a lot left to learn. I think there are quite a few advantages to being a woman entrepreneur—of course there are times when you’re not taken seriously, but there are also a lot of people who will go out of their way to help you simply because they understand that it’s a tough choice you have made to step out of the fold—to be in your late 20’s and not want to have marriage, safety, family on the horizon can be quite an isolating decision!” She also thinks that an organised structure, its people, and well-defined goals are the important assets of a good company.

The best professional advice you got? “Accepting mistakes and failure as part of the learning curve is important. Feeling afraid of making mistakes can paralyse you. It took me some time to stop looking at past mistakes as something damning and something to be ashamed of. But I can tell you from experience, that the attitude change makes all the difference and in fact stimulates growth.”

Naiknavare really enjoys working with other women. But there aren’t a lot of women in the entertainment/F&B industry she clarifies—the late hours, hectic schedules deter a lot of families from letting their daughters work for events, even though she firmly believe that some things women just do better than men. So that can be tough. ‘Everyone out there isn’t a wolf waiting for Red Riding Hood!’

Changes you would like to see in the entrepreneur world in India? “We are one of the youngest countries in the world! And yet, we have this attitude that young people know nothing, or can’t be trusted or are immature. I don’t believe that there is an age bracket for entrepreneurs, but given the statistics, it’s likely that a lot of businesses will have young bosses. I hope that someday (soon) instead of being shocked by this and resisting it, the bureaucracy learns to accept it as a reality—there’s a lot we can learn from each other if we just drop all these prejudices,” exuents Naiknavare.

Follow Lost The Plot here.

 

What do you think of these women and their stories? Are you a woman entrepreneur (or know of others) with an interesting story? Let us know in the comments below or write to us at hellogreyalley@gmail.com. Since this an ongoing feature we still have room for many more!

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3 Comments »

  1. Hi, I’d recommend Minu Marie Mathew, founder of ART-ery. Her business is jewellery that’s affordable and yet very fashionable, inspired by the interesting travel she does. It’s thus two passions working together – travel and fashion. She’s got an interesting mix of Indian and international clientele and is a well known brand at many exhibitions. You can see details on Instagram @shopartery . This is not a paid promotion.

    Like

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