Two and a half years ago, when I decided to quit the corporate world and try my luck at self-employment, little did I know that the path held whirlwind lessons and experiences for me.
One of the brands I’ve had the good fortune of working with, is Arture. The brainchild of two young incredible entrepreneurs Shivani Patel and Keshsa Vasant, Arture designs eco-friendly, vegan, sustainable, fashionable accessories. Think functional yet sexy bags, wallets, laptop and Kindle sleeves – all made from strong cork fabric.
Over the year I’ve known them, we’ve worked out of each other’s homes – writing product descriptions, talking database segmentation, stalking bloggers over raw carrots and filter coffee, walking dogs, and skyping across continents.
I will forever be in awe of their thirst for success, and their determination to uphold the values closest to their hearts – something the big bad corporate world can sometimes severely lack.
Shivani and Keshsa came up with #Collaborate – an idea to bring together their team (designers, writers, photographers, stylists) every few months. For the day, one of us teaches the rest of us something new. So far I’ve learned how to dress to express, and had some solid lessons in home decor.
To mark their second anniversary (Yay Arture!) they put together the 2017 Collaborative: #GirlBoss Edition.
“In the last two years, we’ve worked with a whole range of self-employed professionals and business owners – most of whom happen to be women. We wanted to find a way to celebrate that with #GirlBoss” says Shivani.
Breaking The Ice
That title is a lie, because there was no ice to break. We instantly bonded over the challenges we face as 20-something female professionals and business owners. The team included fashion designers, make-up artists, accessory manufacturers, a fitness instructor, retail store owners, a wedding planner, a chartered accountant, a photographer, an NGO founder, restaurant owners, mums, mums-to-be, writers, and certified scuba instructors.
Our Biggest Challenges
Once introductions were made (and we found out that the doggie-lovers outnumbered the kittie-fans and the sole pig-enthusiast), we jumped straight into talking about the challenges we face.
Gender and Age
Making the choice to be business owners is the easy bit, what comes after needs some navigating.
“I need to keep my store open till about 10pm, so I was looking to hire a male store manager,” said K, who as much as she dislikes it, must think about the safety issues that come with women working late into the night. “When I asked them to come in for interviews, most of them rejected me! They simply could not fathom reporting to a young, female boss.”
“Yep! Being a young woman can sometimes be an issue. The male tailors in the factory find it supremely challenging to take instructions from me.”
“There is an expectation that women should be polite and demure, so the moment you are assertive it blows minds.”
“I cannot understand the obsession with marriage and being “settled” in life. What does that even mean, “being settled”?!”
Our Own Worst Enemies
We’ve heard time and again that women are their own worst enemies. We asked what everyone thought of that.
“Can we all just agree that aunts are the worst?”
“I was always being told to cover up my belly so people don’t know I’m pregnant. Seriously?!”
“At the end of the day it is down to women – at home and at work – to support other women. We need to stop telling girls that their biological clocks are ticking, that their main goal in life is to procreate, or that they “will change their mind”. It is a personal choice that needs to be respected.”
“We couldn’t do what we do without our support systems – parents, partners, spouses, friends. But it irks me when I’m told “you can try, see what happens” I’m here to make a real effort at this, not to simply “try” until I decide to “settle down.””
“It’s most definitely changing though, we’re seeing our own parents opening up their minds to the baffling possibility that girls can be smart, independent business owners too, OMG!”
“I want to just chip in here and add some more positivity to the table,” said V, who works with underprivileged women and children through her NGO. “Many people are scared for me, because I work in the slums. But it’s the women I work with who have inspired me the most. They’ve taken me in, and struggle to comprehend why I or someone who cares for me would be afraid. They stand up for and back each other up. Sometimes women can be their own best bets.”
Making Compromises To Be Taken Seriously
“I had a store manager once, who was an enthusiastic, fresh-out-of-college designer, with new ideas and infectious energy. She was a fashionable person, and dressed to impress. But she found it so hard to get work out of the tailors because they wouldn’t stop staring at her bare legs. To date it is one of the worst things I’ve had to do – talk to her about making dressing compromises to be taken seriously.”
“I don’t even care anymore. If it means my work gets done, I just wear a salwar or a saree. I have a business to run, and I cannot fight every battle.”
“And if you don’t look old enough to have had a few children and greying hair, good luck trying to get anything done.”
“I’ve taken unreasonably low-paid projects because the client wouldn’t take me seriously, and I had to prove myself to them while gaining the gracious “exposure” they were giving me.”
“Don’t ever tell people you work from home if you can help it, they automatically think you’re doing it for time-pass!”
Recognising Privilege & The Option To Fail
The very fact we’re able to chase our dreams and be our own bosses, comes from privilege. We’ve all got the option to fail – we can all go back to a job if it doesn’t work out, or our circumstances change.
“We acknowledge that we’re blessed with a support system where it’s okay to not have an income some months. We understand that we’re part of the very few that have the opportunity to take a shot and explore their strengths.”
“Our challenges as women are many, but we’re not living under a rock about the fact that men aren’t always afforded the same privileges. They continue to carry the pressure of being primary breadwinners, with an expectation to bring in a steady stream of income.”
“We’re seeing everything we’ve discussed changing though. We’re building and running successful businesses, we’re creating jobs, we’re making an impact. And those of us that choose to have children will hopefully be able to foster a respect for gender equality, and entrepreneurship from a young age.”
Meet The Entrepreneurs
Shweta Raman and Saloni Shah – Style Salad
Shweta Raman and Saloni Shah run the Style Salad, a curated gifting website for interesting and customised gift boxes.
Shahin Ansari – Maal Gaadi
Shahin Ansari is the co-founder at Maal Gaadi, a creative concepts store in Besant Nagar that curates accessories, clothes, jewellery and related products.
Lavanya Mohan Suhrit – Chartered Accountant, Writer
Lavanya Mohan is a chartered accountant. She also runs a personal finance blog, and writes for a whole range of media houses.
Shiv Dhanya – The Knottt
Shiv Dhanya is the Managing Partner at The Knottt, an event management firm specialising in weddings.
Indou Theagrajan – Indie Culture
Indou Theagrajan is the Founder and Principal Designer at Indie Culture, a leather apparel and accessories brand.
Roshni Sanghvi – Fitness Coach
Roshni Sanghvi is an online fitness coach, who builds custom fitness regimes to help her clients get in shape.
Shrutilaya Ramanathan – Makeup Artist
Shrutilaya is a make-up artist who works on fashion, bridal, and special effects projects.
Bhumika Bhatia – Portrait Photographer
Bhumika is a portrait photographer and has worked on some incredible projects over the last few years.
Vedika Agarwal – Yein Udaan
Vedika runs Yein Udaan, a non-profit organisation that works towards the holistic development of underprivileged children.
Kshama Adka – Shmoozie’s
Kshama is the Founder at Schmoozie’s handcrafted ice-creams. She runs a store in Chennai and takes online orders as well.
Sruti Ashok – Inai
Sruti owns Inai, a women’s leather bags and accessories brand in Chennai.
Swetha Rengasamy – Mezze
Swetha (second from right) is a partner at Mezze, a cool new Mediterranean restaurant. Special shout-out to Mezze for the finger-licking good food at the event.
Bandana Narula – Fashion Designer
Bandana is the Founder, Director at her label Bandana Narula. She specialises in bridal wear.
And JIC You Don’t Know Me
Special thanks to Prachi, the photographer!
Also read: Inside The Entrepreneur’s Head.