Q.1. Could you tell us a little about your journey and your business?
It’s a very long but sweet journey of evolving as I have learned through varied experiences of life. I started out as a commercial artist. Initially, I worked with a five-star hotel as a graphic designer then I joined Nirula’s as a designer. When I had a child, it was difficult for me to continue with a job that demanded long hours. So, I had to quit that job and I started working for an export house which was a completely different experience. Working there was a stepping stone towards a different kind of design: textiles. When someone referred me to Central Cottage Industries (Govt. of India), I started making women’s wear for them which turned out to be quite a hit but the government setup was a little difficult for me to manage. They kept asking for more and more designs and I didn’t have a place to start a unit. This prompted me to launch my own label and “Milawat by Priyanka” was born. Primarily, we make womenswear. Making readymade daily wear suits proved to be very challenging for me as I am a ‘onewoman army’; I do everything on my own, right from buying materials to mix and matching them and then printing and doing hand embroidery, etc. Then, I started exploring exhibitions in North India. What I noticed in the small towns was that established brands like ‘Biba’ and ‘W’ were already there but the women there wanted uniqueness as clothes were how they primarily expressed themselves since they loved dressing up for kitty parties and birthday parties! Subsequently, during these exhibitions, women would line up at my stall just to get the fabric for the suit that would set them apart, make them unique. Thus, having completely unique designs became my USP. Coming up with those 150 unique designs to please all the women was a very challenging task but it happened!
Q.2. How has the industry evolved since you started out?
I have come a long way; it has been almost 20 years since I started out. Today, we have too many players in the industry, it is great to see that people are trying such new and interesting things. One problem that I think we’re facing today is with the new generation who cares more about how they look in their pictures than the actual fabric and its quality, thus they’re switching to buying online but the older generation still wants to feel the fabric and it’s quality, they would like their clothes to be hemmed properly and the finishing on the fabric to be good. But you cannot blame the new generation for their lack of knowledge or time which mostly occurs because they don’t have the same appreciation for fabric that the older generation did. They have switched to a more temporary mindset when it comes to clothing and even the longevity of the fabrics is going down. I think educating them on how fabrics work and their advantages when it comes to time and money will surely help. My achievement is that whenever a woman wears my piece, someone will come up to her and ask her where she got it from and who designed it, this prompts them to come back and we get repeat clientele!
Q.3. How has digitization and the rise of social media impacted you?
Social media has changed my business a lot, it has become easier to display all your designs without having to physically carry them. Out of all of the social media platforms, WhatsApp has helped me the most, it helps me perform personalized marketing, a method that has worked out for me. It helps me connect better to people. They try out my products and come back to me because they like it and then they also refer me to other people so that helps a lot! The day before yesterday, someone came to me from Srinagar who said that her sister-in-law who lives in Chandigarh referred my fabrics to her, it feels really good when people place that much trust in you.
Q.4. What are your business plans for the future?
When I started my business, it used to feel like I was simultaneously juggling two jobs (being a mother and an entrepreneur). Now that my kids have grown up, I feel like I can give more time and energy to my family as well as my business and expand it, especially online.
Q.5. What are a few foundational skills to be a successful entrepreneur?
According to me, evolving, keep analyzing your own work, listening to customer’s feedback, being honest with your work, pay attention to your surroundings, and developing your own signature style are some skills that are imperative to be successful. It is vital to keep the hunger alive to learn and develop more. Never say no to work, always do it and take it on as a challenge and lastly, never compromise on the quality of your work, your quality speaks for your work. Q.6. What does feeling empowered mean to you? For me, feeling empowered is not restricted to feeling confident or earning money, it is the ability to give work to people who really need it. I work with a few boys and girls who really need work to keep their family afloat and they’re a bunch of hardworking people. So, what gives me power is that I can give work to those who really need it so that they can also rise to the same level where I am. I relate to them; I too have worked 18 hours a day and from a small cabinet and I have expanded. For other people, it was opening of another boutique; but for me, it was a long journey of climbing those stairs and doing everything on my own- from creating original designs to managing the finances. I haven’t taken a single rupee from my family; my husband has been a great support throughout my journey. Being able to do things for people, instead of having people do things for me is true empowerment. Especially for women, financial independence provides so much confidence and through this interview, I want to tell that to all the women they can do it too!
Q.6. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
I would tell myself to observe more, learn more, and be a little more patient, things will come back to me. I’ve always surrendered myself to God for a lot of things, I’ve led myself with the belief of “When it has to happen, will happen.” I would remind myself that there is nothing parallel to hard work. If I work hard, everything will fall into place.