As told to Nitya Sriram:
Growing up, I had never thought that one day I would be an entrepreneur. My entrepreneurial journey, in fact, began after I completed my postgraduate studies in the States and returned to India to work with my family’s business – Shahi Exports.
I joined the industry to understand the world of manufacturing apparel more deeply, and realised that the idea of design and apparel in India was very evolved. This was, of course, much before brands like Zara and GAP came to India. There were already people in India, who wanted to wear what the rest of the world was wearing, but the issue was they didn’t have access to it.
It was this realisation that led me to start working on my pet project, which would go on to become bhane. With bhane., I wanted to create products that had global consumer appeal, but were, at the same time, affordable to people in India. And that’s what we started with – designing for ourselves, and for young people like us. We imagined bhane. as just a provider of tools for individuals to share their individual thoughts and personality.
We didn’t want to follow a traditional marketing model. We didn’t hire an advertising or PR company, and instead, we were letting people know about bhane. through our photo shoots of ‘real people’. We chose to go with this because it was transparent and genuine. After all, people respond best to authenticity. And they did! The response we got was positive and extremely encouraging. People really wanted to wear our designs! And realising this, I decided to go into bhane. full time.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing though. Coming from a family that owned and operated a successful brand of apparel, I set very high expectations for the business. There was constant pressure to achieve these, and there were days when I would come down very hard on myself for not matching certain preconceived standards of success that my legacy had left me with. I was hard on the team too, when bhane. did not achieve what I envisioned for it.
Furthermore, it is common for people to share their opinions, and because bhane. had started sort of ‘off the cuff’, I was swayed by these opinions – to add more clothes, styles and sizes. We got carried away and started taking on more than we could manage. We were doing so many things that we couldn’t focus on strengthening our core, and as a result, we ended up diluting the identity that we were hoping to establish. We tried to over-achieve and cater to everyone and everything, instead of what we had started out doing.
It was only recently that we realised that this was harming our brand and mission, and decided to pull back and work on what we had originally intended to do.
And this realisation also taught me that entrepreneurial success isn’t just understood monetarily. Success boils down to the story you want to tell with your business – and whether you’ve shared that story with those who choose you over others for it. For instance, bhane. is still very small and we still have a long way to go to ensure that it reaches its full potential. I’ve learned that it isn’t worth the while to stray off the story you want your business to tell, just to meet expectations. Often, the glamour of achieving more gets to you – but as an entrepreneur and leader, it’s important to have a clear sense of what direction you want to take.
It helps to put down the story you want to tell with your business in writing. Put it down, and you will not end up losing your identity, which is the most integral part of a business. And this story can definitely change, too! Only, writing it down ensures that it changes proactively.
I believe that the best brands in apparel are those that some people love and others don’t. It’s always best to build a culture like that, instead of trying to do everything and please everyone. For instance, now bhane. does very few styles in a season, but we do the ones we love – that is our identity, and nothing’s worth changing that. That’s the kind of success every entrepreneur wants to see.