Women’s Day Special: Six Women Entrepreneurs Who Are Taking On The World
Inspiring women to chase their dreams, one success story at a time!
It’s no secret that throughout history, women in India (and around the world, really) have been the victims of predefined gender roles. This largely included hitting puberty, getting married off to a stranger without their consent, doubling up as a baby making machine, and of course, ‘making a home’.
If a woman voluntarily wants to make a home, then well, more power to her. However, there are scores of Indian women today who are brimming with aspirations and dreams — and as more success stories emerge from the shadows, it inspires more women to believe in themselves and aim for the stars every single day.
Keeping that in mind, this Women’s Day, we at Engrave decided to list down six such success stories, by featuring the women behind the brands that are taking the entrepreneurial world by storm.
Introducing The Women
Devika Srimal Bapna: KANABIS
Devika is the founder of KANABIS — a first of its kind animal friendly footwear brand for women. A graduate from University Of Warwick, she has many feathers in her cap — a Chartered Accountant degree from the UK, an MBA from Duke University, USA, and years of experience working abroad. She finally found her true calling, though, when she and her husband moved back to Delhi. As an animal lover and PETA volunteer, she gave up leather few years ago but had a tough time finding good non-leather shoes that were stylish, of good-quality, and affordable. Having always had an entrepreneurial itch since she was little, she finally took the plunge thinking, ‘I should start my own brand!’ and voila, KANABIS was born.
Niyati Arya and Priyal Parikh: Puro Body & Soul
The Puro range of handcrafted bath and body care products is the brainchild of two creatively inclined, young, and enterprising women: Niyati and Priyal. The duo’s common interest pursuit to economically empower women and make products which are naturally produced without the use of any harmful chemicals, brought them together to start their endeavour. Niyati completed her MBA in finance in 2006 and worked as an equity research analyst with Morgan Stanley for over 4.5 years. During this stint she has had the opportunity to work at Wall Street, New York and Canary Wharf, London. Priyal, on the other hand, has a dual degree in Engineering & Arts from the University of Pennsylvania, USA and has worked with Deloitte Consulting in USA and India as a business consultant for over four years.
The brand’s products are made from 100% vegetarian ingredients and are cruelty free as they do not include animal byproducts nor are they tested on animals. Niyati and Priyal are an inspiration to many for having taken a dynamic decision to launch their brand ‘Puro – Body & Soul’ in aid of an NGO (SaNiSa) by sacrificing their high profile jobs.
Neeta Goyal: Aria Arts
Aria Arts as a brand might just be three years old, but Neeta has been painting on porcelain for the last 12 years. She firmly believes that hand-painted porcelain is like an investment in art. “There are very few porcelain artists, but this form of art is being revived on an international scale,” she says. “But in India, hand-painted porcelain is not available easily.” Through her art, Neeta is trying to change just that. Apart from hand-painted porcelain, she also deals in exclusive crocheted items like batuas, bags, and children’s items. “It is a passion, and it’s my passion that I sell. Art, I believe has to come from within,” she says.
Rithika Kumar: Pyjama Party Studio
Rithika decided to take the leap of faith and follow something she’s passionate about well over six years ago. Pyjama Party Studio, she says, is a fun brand, and all the products she designs and paints are quirky, vibrant, and have a whimsical and eclectic feel to them.
“I think one of the biggest differentiators between Pyjama Party Studio products and other brands who are in the hand-painted space, is the need to create unique designs, I don’t believe in using stencils or other shortcuts just to sell more products,” she proudly says. “We are not cookie cutters — every design from the Pyjama Party Studio portfolio is one of a kind, hand-drawn and therefore no two products look alike. I do believe the devil is in the detail and all of my designs have a lot of intricate detailing which has taken years of practice to achieve and I believe makes them stand apart.”
Vrinda Dugar: Art By Vrinda
A freelance artist and designer based in Jaipur, Art By Vrinda was born in the fall of 2015. Although she had started selling her paintings when she was straight out of school, she put up her first solo exhibition in the second year of her undergraduate course — which was a complete sellout! “However, it was only after completing my Masters that I decided to take it up full time,” says Vrinda. “It was an uphill task convincing my parents that I had set my heart on doing something different instead of getting a doctoral degree in Literature, but thankfully, I managed to do it!”
Art By Vrinda is not just about affordable art for a contemporary lifestyle, it is also about wearable art, she says. “My paintings are printed on apparel and fabrics. The emphasis is always on creating a melange of aesthetics, and creativity, and I’ve sold over 125 paintings till date. My clientele includes people from across India from cities like Mumbai, Jaipur, Gurgaon, Delhi, Bangalore, Faridabad, Chennai and Kolkata; NRIs from American, England, Thailand, Hotel Westin Pushkar, export houses, and I am also in the process of closing a deal with a leading apparel house.”
Neha Vij: Auro Candles
A certified perfumer, Neha is a creative person who is inspired by deep love of crafts, the joy they bring, and the stories they tell. Natural, eco-friendly, luxurious, and handmade, Neha tries to make her candles look stunning and beautiful, using patterns, textures, finishes and fragrance formulations.
What made you take up entrepreneurship? How entrepreneurship different from an everyday 9-5 job?
Devika: It was a dream lingering since I was like 5 years old! I thought I’ll open my own stores called ‘Devika & Spencer’ – because I knew of Marks & Spencer, and thought all stores have to be called that! So that made for a nice dinner table joke for my family to have a laugh at. Coming back to reality, I started my career at Ernst & Young, London and then had a brief stint at Deloitte, Gurgaon but somewhere I wasn’t satisfied crunching numbers for the big firms. Moving from London to Delhi, from finance to fashion, from a big corporate to a start up, life took a 180! When its your own baby, there is no such thing as a 9-5. Think the best ideas and work surface only after five in the evening! Now when I have the liberty to take time off, it is actually very difficult to do that and my laptop is my travel buddy even on holidays. The other difference is as an entrepreneur you have to build your own team, find the right people where your wavelength matches and they are equally enthused about your idea/philosophy and have more to add to it.
Vrinda: I’m largely a self taught artist since I like doing things my way & being restricted to a set syllabus or schedule hampers my imagination. So, I always knew that I wanted to combine my talent with my entrepreneurial skills because it’s a beautiful thing when a career & passion come together ! The perks of being an entrepreneur are that it allows me to follow my non-art passions like reading and travelling. The best part is that my creativity is not constricted and I can juggle my schedule according to my mood.
Rithika: Starting my own line of art decor products was always in the back alleys of my mind, it almost caught me unawares when I realised the designs I painted for myself and friends were liked by a much larger audience. I come from a very talented family of artists where art, music and culture have almost been a constant feature at home growing up. In hindsight all of these influences, encouragement and exposure to creative fields gave me the nudge and confidence to start my own art studio. Having worked as a Strategy Planner in advertising, there’s a marked difference when it comes to starting your own company, I think it gives you the time and space to explore many facets of your personality. It’s definitely more challenging every step of the way, as many a times you are faced with unforeseen obstacles both creatively as well as from the business angle.
As an Indian woman, what are the difficulties you face in the entrepreneurial world?
Niyati and Priyal: We are strongly associated with an NGO that promotes ‘women related causes’ and thus we have always kept this as the forefront through our entrepreneurial journey. Thanks to this stated objective, we believe that we have attracted like minded organisations and individuals in our dealings, thus we have been fortunate not to encounter any disadvantages being Indian women entrepreneurs. In fact, it has been a key pillar of our strength.
Vrinda: Apart from family pressure to take up a secure job (read: a 9 to 5 desk job that is called ‘secure’ in our country), I haven’t faced any bias or prejudice as a woman yet. I’ve had my share of rejections and taunts, though. I’ve been ‘advised’ to switch my career line, and I’ve been told an umpteen number of times to get married and to think of a career after settling down. I’ve also been told that I would never make it in my chosen field but every single negative and hurtful comment only spurred me on to prove myself. But I don’t think this is exclusive to only women, as even men face backlash of this sort, especially if they choose an offbeat path. To quote Frank Sinatra: “Success is the best revenge” and people have begun to sit up and take notice of me!
Devika: I don’t think the difficulties are because I am an Indian woman, they would be there for men as well. I think women have copious amount of skill and potential to be great entrepreneurs and leaders in any field. As a country we are seeing some amazing work being done by women and as they say this is just the beginning. Since we only sell women’s shoes at the moment, it has been easier for me to relate with our customers, the products, brand image, and so on.
Neha: If I had to sum it up in one line, I’d say that often, just because you’re a woman, people don’t take you seriously — and that’s something that needs to change.
What’s the best bit about being your own boss?
Rithika: There are plenty, but the most obvious would be the fact that no-one tells you what to do and you have the leeway to expend time and energy on products or designs without having to answer to your ‘boss’. Having said that, being your boss is not as hunky-dory as people might believe it to be. It comes with its fair share of responsibility and forced discipline, and anyone who is creatively inclined would agree that’s the biggest hurdle!
Neha: The best part about owning your business is you become very disciplined and with every new project you aim to expand your own boundaries. I love that I get to choose what stays and what goes, thus giving me complete control over the direction I’d want to take my brand in.
Neeta: I am the boss, employer, employee — everything, really! I don’t have to report to anyone, which is always great. Furthermore, since I work from home, I have the luxury to decide when to work when to not. There are times when I paint or crochet till four in the morning, while spending time with family and friends during the day. I take all these decisions myself — and that’s something you’d never find if you’re an employee.
What advice would you give to a young Indian girl who’s aspiring to be an entrepreneur in the future?
Devika: As an entrepreneur, I feel that the learning is endless and that makes this path extremely fulfilling for man and woman, alike. So my two cents would be if you have a solid idea and the passion to pull it through then just go for it. Proof of the pudding is in the execution!
Neeta: For starters, it’s important to have faith in oneself and confidence in your ability. I also believe in the age old saying that the client is the king. Always show that you care for them, and take their remarks and comments kindly — it’ll give you scope for improvement. Furthermore, try your best to fund the business yourself without any loans. It can get difficult to service the loans if things don’t work out!
Niyati and Priyal: There is no sure shot formula for success, but there are certainly some things that we have learnt through our experience and journey over the last five years. The singular, most important ingredient is positive, creative thinking. Don’t let the failures bring you down — there is always a way to make even the worst situation better. Be willing and courageous enough to change and evolve as per what the current situation demands, and don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board in order to achieve success. Don’t be satisfied by making money for yourself alone, create opportunities for all women, if the people working for you are happy, you will get better results.
Rithika: I believe everyone should follow their heart and passion, do let your brain tag along cause at the end of the day, it is your bread and butter. But if you decide to do anything creative just for the money your fuel will run dry pretty soon. For any aspiring artist, all I have to say is keep at it, sketch and paint as much as you can with rigour and discipline, make mistakes because sometimes mistakes turn into delightfully beautiful artwork, and lastly, always stay unabashedly curious.
Vrinda: I would say dream big — huge, gigantic dreams, because they come true. I started from scratch with no backing — and I’ve achieved success thanks to hard work, and dedication. Right from being told that my work is trash, to being told that I would never make it as a designer without a ‘good marriage’, to being suggested to find better career prospects at every social gathering, I’ve managed to hold my own and follow my heart. So girls, follow your heart too, and go for it!