Varsha and Golnaz worked together on our Mentoring Women in Business Programme between May 2017 and May 2018. Her time on the programme has made alumna mentee Varsha able to successfully navigate the challenges COVID-19 threw her way.
Varsha started her fashion business, UV Creations, in 2013 after a seven-year break from her career, but soon realised that she faced obstacles in her business path. To help overcome these, she applied to be a mentee in the Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme.
One of the reasons the Mentoring Programme suited Varsha in her business journey was because it was online. She notes that where she is in India means it is difficult to make connections with the outside world to build her business network and expand to other markets.
In May 2017, the Cherie Blair Foundation was able to pair her with Golnaz, who runs a fashion brand based in London. Golnaz has spent her career as an emerging designer and has founded her own fashion label creating her own products. She has experience organising shows for Toronto and London Fashion Weeks. Having received similar support earlier in her own career, Golnaz was happy to be able to mentor someone in turn.
The pair established a regular way to communicate with each other through email and Google Hangouts. They both found it useful to build trust and understand each other better through getting a better sense of each other’s creative language and approach to business.
Varsha identified the goals she wanted to focus on as starting a fashion collection and increasing her market exposure. Soon they started talking about how to make a business plan for Varsha’s business. They set direction by discussing photoshoots, presentation skills, and the development of a new catalogue. These specific conversations evolved into more overarching themes in Varsha’s business growth such as how to reach new marketplaces. In Varsha’s words, Golnaz “made me understand that I need to look into what is in my hand currently and what I can leverage.”
In the fashion industry, creativity is vital and with the nature of the business, ideas come spontaneously. “It was nice being open with Varsha when she had ideas in her head”, Golnaz notes in responding to the questions Varsha would throw her way. Moreover, what helped regulate the pace of the relationship was the fact they were both on a similar wavelength as the fashion industry has seasons that are busier than others.
Achievements and Challenges
In discussing the challenges and successes of their mentoring relationship, Varsha and Golnaz can look back at a number of features that helped to define their time together.
For mentor Golnaz the journey was enjoyable because Varsha was driven, and leading the relationship through asking questions and following them up. When Golnaz offered her advice, Varsha would take it and implement these changes in her business which she found rewarding. One of their early focuses included how to market Varsha’s clothes in a way that would appeal to a western audience and to do this they both worked on the same collection together. Golnaz’s knowledge of the fashion industry and trends, combined with Varsha’s unique designs and interest in traditional Indian craftsmanship led them to create a capsule collection of sustainable hand printed kaftans and kimono robes. Taking it one step at a time, Varsha was able to introduce her collection at a fashion show in India in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-ranging effects on the businesses of women entrepreneurs around the world, from restricted supply lines, government shut-downs to extra caring responsibilities and decreased customers. For Varsha and her five fulltime and five part-time employees in India, it meant closing the business for two and a half months. Varsha took on responsibilities at home, connecting with Golnaz to discuss opportunities for business once she could return to work. As she had been able to develop her unique fashion style involving the traditional Indian handprint, she made it her signature in a variety of ways, adapting her business to use this style in more creative ways, including bedsheets or tablecloths.
As a result of her time on the programme, Varsha has an increased her customer base, has started a fashion line and has more confidence in completing a greater number of export orders.
The lasting impact of the journey Varsha and Golnaz have been on in the Mentoring Women in Business Programme can be seen in the sustainable business plan Varsha now has for the future. The business resilience she learned about, she was able to put into practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While she has noted increased revenue generally, the challenges 2020 has brought show the fragility women-owned businesses face in an uncertain marketplace. In spite of these, Varsha has chosen to work with local artisans to generate a sustainable brand that has created opportunities in her community larger than her own business.
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