Entrepreneur, Manali Shenoy tells Naaree how she figured out the Indian Women’s Office Wear needs and launched Indian Concepts – Corporate Kurtas for Women.
What inspired to become an entrepreneur? Did you always love it or was it something you got into?
Before venturing into my own start-up I had spent a few years in the corporate world after my post-graduation in Business Management. It was after my baby was born, I started looking for flexible work options.
Lack of flexibility in full time jobs and lack of good day care facilities for babies motivated me to start something of my own; this is how “Indian Concepts” (India’s First Corporate Kurtas for Women) was conceived.
When do you know that it is no longer just an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?
Any business is not possible without research. During my research for a business idea, I remembered how difficult it was during my corporate days to shop for decent kurtas to wear to work. The kurtas I found in stores were either with gaudy embroideries or flashy prints.
Corporate women are expected to dress elegantly to office with subtle colours and sober designs. I was thus left with no choice but to wear tight fitting western wear that restricted free movement of the body during work. I had also noticed my colleagues facing similar issues while shopping for comfortable office wear.
Moreover the average middle and senior management working woman in India has a typical body shape, for which Indian kurtas are more comfortable then western formals. We figured out the key features necessary to suit Indian Women’s Office Wear needs and thus launched Indian Concepts – Corporate Kurtas for Women.
Our corporate kurtas are crafted keeping in mind the structure of an average Indian woman. The fits are comfortable, designs are not too revealing and embroidery or patterns are very subtle.
Our other USPs like high quality underlock stitching provides longer life to the garment while retaining its original form and shape; body friendly fits facilitate easy stretching and free movement of your body.
After developing the designs, we received a lot of positive feedback from our target segment. This made us realize that we can develop this into a lucrative business.
What inspired you to start out on your own or with your partners? What learning lessons can you share from your startup experience?
Although the thought of being my own boss triggered long back when I started working in the corporate, nothing actually conceptualized. A full-time employer at any organization makes one feel dependent on the company not just financially but also psychologically.
It just takes one moment in your life when you realize you are ‘all set’ for it. Moreover when you feel that you could let go off your monthly salary to achieve something much beyond a mere salary package and have a vision of what you want to create, that’s the time all pieces fall into place.
Formation of any start-up needs a lot of conviction and hard work. There are tones of lessons to learn from a startup experience. Multitasking being one of them! Secondly spending good amount of time in research is crucial.
Exploring a niche segment gives an immediate visibility and recognition for the Brand, while product differentiation makes the product easily acceptable.
What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Do you have some examples to share and advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them?
When we launched Indian Concepts, we approached many branded retail stores to display our merchandise, but the commercial terms demanded by them were ridiculous.
Accepting these terms would have meant increasing the prices of our products by 100%, which was not acceptable to us since we wanted to offer value for money to our customers.
The escalating rentals for mall space also made launch of own store difficult. All these setbacks forced us to think about the unconventional channel of online store for our Corporate Kurtas.
Since we were targeting corporate women the online model also suited us, as most of the corporate women have access to internet in their office or at home. Considering that today’s corporate women are hard pressed for time, our online store offers her the convenience of shopping from the comfort of her home or office.
I would thus advice that if you find a path to your target to be extremely difficult, please do not give up and feel dejected. Instead use the setbacks as an opportunity to find a better and more sustainable solution to the problems. Always have a long term perspective and never get bogged down by short term issues.
What are all the things that a woman entrepreneur needs to keep in mind? I.e. apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?
The world outside isn’t a fancy land. Women who work in MNCs or any other corporate and would like to quit tofollow their dreams should keep one fundamental thing into their heads, that dealing with male colleagues or seniors in a professional atmosphere is motivating but, when you have to do things write from scratch on field it is a different ball game all together.
One gets subjected to gender issues especially if one deals with men who are less educated than you are. Whatever may be the circumstances you have to be bold and confident and not allow anybody to take you for granted.
Do women entrepreneurs find it tougher to get funding for businesses? If yes, why do you think that is?
Women oriented businesses are not taken seriously in a male dominated culture. Unfortunately the patriarchal society still believes that women’s income is secondary as compared to men.
Investors do feel that if a woman is leading, it could be a short term venture. So you really have to prove the concept before approaching funders.
Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you’re starting out on your own? What does a mentor bring to the table?
Of course it’s important! There’s no boss any more to turn to for advice or direction—maybe not even any employees yet. You’re pacing solo. Everybody needs a good reliable support, second opinion, moral and emotional support.
A mentor need not always be an expert from the same field. He could even be a well-wisher, a friend or a family member. A mentor provides the necessary direction in crucial times when your limited experience is not equipped to handle these situations.
How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?
Indian Concept’s core team comprises of two members at present. We have employed a set of Designers and Fabricators with whom we work on project basis. In the initial period since our scale was low nobody was ready to work with us and it took us almost a year to stabilise with our current partners.
We were recently invited by IIM-Ahmedabad to showcase our business where we interacted with many students, some of whom have shown keen interest to work with us.
What are 3 key things that you have learned as an entrepreneur?
1. Always remember the phrase “Acceptable Loss”. You need to know how much you are willing to lose before you even start thinking about starting something new.
2. You need to be open to learn new things and also accept change easily. One should learn to get rid of “fear of failure”.
3. Involve your loved ones in your start-up. Without their support, it’s impossible!
How important is social media in building a business today? How has it played a role in helping you build yours?
In today’s world we breathe on social media! Social networking sites today bring most of the traffic to our online store www.indianconceptsonline.com.
Social media makes interactions with our customers easier. These sites also help us in seeking customer feedback and suggestions on new designs for our ‘Corporate Kurtas’, thus our customers also get involved in developing our products!
Can you share some tips for women entrepreneurs to maintain a balance between work and family life?
The most important thing for women is to ‘speak out’. Just don’t try to do everything even if it gets beyond your capacity. Women tend to please everyone at home and at work neglecting themselves.
If you need domestic help, employ maids to keep off the household burden away. Spend that quality time with your family instead of working in the kitchen after spending a hectic day at work.