During my consulting and coaching days I learnt there are two kinds of people, one who see the world as is and one who see the world as it can be. I am the latter. My biggest strength and perhaps greatest weakness too, is that I am a dreamer. Not such a bad thing, when you are in a creative business.
I turned 40 in July 2019, and somehow had this strong feeling that life was passing me by. I was in the midst of a very messy and expensive divorce, my daughter was 9 and there was this constant feeling of guilt and doing what was right for her, yet not wanting to compromise on what I wanted. Work was very good, yet not exciting enough. I was a senior HR professional, leading the HR consulting practice for a top notch firm, yet something wasn’t making me happy. I wanted to build something more, create something of value.
Going Against My Dad’s Wishes
My father has one of the oldest leather export houses in India and wanted me to come join him, but that’s not something I wanted. For the past few years I had been making small shifts towards a sustainable lifestyle, like looking for ways to save water, moving away from plastic etc. and somehow leather didn’t fit into my changing belief system. So I started researching sustainable alternatives to leather and that really was the genesis of Beej. When I shared it with my father, he understandably wasn’t very thrilled with the idea, his was a business established over 45 years and he wasn’t looking to change, so I decided to start my own.
Put In My All
I put my savings and all I had to start a small studio in Mumbai in January 2020. It was born out of my single belief that style and sustainability can and must co-exist.I wanted to make sustainability a mainstream fashion choice. Most of the materials I used were plant-based leather alternatives sourced from various parts of the globe. Currently we are working with Cork, Pinatex made from pineapple leaves, and Desserto which is a leather alternative made from cactus pulp and sourced from Mexico. We chose our materials for their low environmental impact and well as their versatility to be designed into gorgeous accessories.
Once I decided to start, things slowly just fell into place. Very early on in our journey, Beej got incubated by an incubation centre supported by Niti Aayog that gave us access to a whole start-up eco system. Recently we also got into a UNDP program that selects women run start-ups to make them investor ready.
I think my biggest challenges then and even today are the ones I face within- the perpetual worry over managing finances, not having a salary credited at the end of the month. The challenges of managing home and work and a child. The constant guilt of not being home to help her with her homework, or classes, going home so tired and exhausted each day, that even the smallest thing at home would trigger of a volley of unnecessary reactions and more often than not Ekvira ( my daughter) is at the receiving end of it.
Impact of COVID on Small Businesses
COVID-19 has just made it so much harder. Businesses are struggling and for young independent bootstrapped brands like us, who are operating within niche segments, it’s been a nightmare. Business is not easy, but then starting up never is. I remember one evening when I was having a break down, I called up my ex-boss who is also my mentor and he said something so wise, “Businesses are built by perseverance and resilience, never by luck or brilliance. It’s a back breaking and nerve testing endeavour. The romance of business is when someone writes the biography years later” and that’s so true.
My story is to tell every woman out there, that if you believe it, you can do it. There will always be people and critics who will give you reasons why you can’t. Surround yourself with people who tell you, you can.
It’s not going to be easy, there will bad days, and very bad days but that’s okay. As long as we get up and show up the next day. There will be moments where the demands of your job will conflict with your other roles – it’s perfectly okay to prioritise different things at different times. The last few months has taught me that a small delay is not the end of the world – things still get done.
Trust your kids – I couldn’t have done this without my daughter. We very often underestimate the ability of our kids to understand, support and step up when needed. And finally, go out there and be foolishly brave.
The views expressed are the author’s own.