Women entrepreneurs may be a commonplace occurrence in today’s digital world. However this is a story that goes back to 1985 – a time when entrepreneurship among women especially was rare. As I catch up with Nina Lekhi, MD & Chief Design Curator, Baggit, I understand how hard she has worked to not just sustain but take her business to newer heights all while balancing her personal and professional life to perfection.
Nina admits that she was very mischievous as a child and rebellious by nature and did things that her mother forbade her from doing. “I loved to follow my heart and I believed in my desires. If it was a gift I needed to buy, it was Chor Bazaar I would visit at the age of 17 to scout for those eccentric, yet wearable items. I think what really attracted me to making bags is its versatility and also that it can be experimented upon a lot. You can never get stuck with your creative ideas when it comes to designing a bag; you can put a telephone, metal shards, and so much more on it.” Three decades ago Nina realized that she and her friends did not have funky and contemporary bags to buy in India. “My design background helped me start off with one bag then. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive. I sold at exhibitions, supplied exclusively in my initial years to a few retail stores in South Mumbai. I learnt a lot of important lessons and gained customer insights on the shop floor. One day in our screen printing class, I found myself asking a question-why don’t we design bags with graphics?” This is when she started designing bags and soon one thing led to another and an entrepreneur inside her was born. “No woman in our family had ever worked, but my mother was extremely encouraging. I have always strived to cater to the lifestyle and fashion needs of the modern Indian women.”Business Matters
Nina picked up the tools of the trade very quickly and started on her journey in 1985. “My challenges were more internal to me, but they led me to prove myself and be accepted seriously as a person. The urge to build the right team, setting the production unit, handling different stores, despite being unaware of what kind of sale I would do, I still took the risk and followed what I was very keen on doing. My vision was very clear and I had to work towards it, no matter what,” she reminisces. Her bags have a concept of ‘Beauty without cruelty’ and she explains, “we believe in beauty without cruelty and use materials that are non-leather, recyclable and environmentally-friendly. Also, we make it a point to mix fashion and functionality together, and make sure to keep in mind the needs of the modern consumer before we design and manufacture our bags.” Her “Never Quitting” attitude along with the energy and exuberance saw her through those years. “My belief is that if you work with positive attitude then people appreciate your work. This hard work and support from my teams made Baggit a successful brand. I also learnt that direct interaction with the customer gives me innumerable insights about business processes and product design.” She is inspired by Richard Branson who she says is a great example who has maintained his work-life balance. “My husband, Manoj Lekhi is also my inspiration when it comes to maintaining a steady work-life balance. It is because of him, I have incorporated the Sidha Samadhi Yoga (SSY) values into my day to day life; this helps me to manage my work and personal life efficiently at the same time.”
Nina says her challenges were more internal to her and her failures, however small led her to challenge the environment and be accepted seriously as a person. “I needed to prove that my designs mattered and catered to the latent need of the customers. So the enthusiasm at such an early age coupled with the determination drove me to create a successful ecosystem.” Again as a female entrepreneur, she did face minor gender stereotyping issues during compliances, but was very firm on her vision and goals. “I believed in my idea and was very passionate. This clarity provided me a lot of support from everyone and didn’t let me see the gender challenges as a barrier. If you believe in your idea 100% then nothing in your way will look difficult. In my experience, if you are a good business person, your fellow business mates will take you seriously rather than getting into a male or a female comparison.” As a woman Nina says women have a secret power of multitasking which has helped her to ensure that all the different roles that she embodies have been fulfilled to the best of her ability. “I have been lucky as I always had my family’s support to do what I liked to do career wise and in my past time, like swimming and cycling. My mom-in-law was a great support to me whenever and my husband, Manoj and I were simultaneously busy at the start of my career and till today I believe I could work because I welcomed and valued her support.”
A firm believer in work-life balance she has a policy of working only for three days a week at her work place. “This three day work rule has got me to focus more intensely on my work objectives. I take out three days for myself and visit the Gurukulam in Katarkhadak that my husband and I have adopted in the outskirts of Pune. I make sure to involve myself in reading, thinking and analyzing when I am here. What I do for these three days can vary from week to week. It is really a stress buster to go back to the kids and my own daughter who is studying in the Gurukulam. Being a fitness freak, I go cycling, swimming, trekking, which are some of my favorite pastimes.” As the purchasing power of Indian consumers is increasing, her major focus is to penetrate in different zones in tier II and III cities of India, through distribution network. “Online retail is also showing positive signs to grow tremendous this year. Our long term target is to have presence in each city of India. We are also putting our plans together to grow internationally,” she concludes.
This story appeared in Deccan Herald’s She Column here