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  • Kanika Bhatia

Is the sky purple yet?

Is the sky purple yet?

Let me define the scenario for you. I sit down to write this piece with some happy stomach tea and dense banana bread with Fray playing “over my head”, literally. What an ambience of determination (to write) and resignation (towards diet). The title sounds philosophical, and just like most philosophies, the situation I would like to talk about is far from ideal.

‘Purple’ might be my weak attempt at hinting gender equality, while of course giving air to stereotypes of how blue is to boys what pink is to girls. But when you have caterpillared your way through an industry, which is hard bent on male superiority and experience, your sense of humour might take a backseat. I am referring to the giant leather men’s shoe industry I have been a part of. If I wasn’t already jittery about entering a new space from start ups (which over time I had come to love), the welcome wasn’t making it any easier. To most people, someone complaining with a backing of a family business is almost criminal. But the myths that they are handed over in a platter and job is any easier with a lot of room for error as compared to any corporate job, here’s the pop for your delusional bubble!

My first year in the business (also detailed here ——) was less about taking charge but more of being appalled how the industry runs. Simply put, as a summary of later paras, it’s an industry for men, of men, and dictated by men. Democracy exists, but contingent. There is no resistance towards women entering the industry, however if your ideas are assumed delusional behind your back, your entry is as good as useless. Please note, this is not inspired from my experience limited to my organisation, but on personal and collected references across various profiles in the same industry.

As months passed, somewhere surrendering to what seemed to be my fate had become less about being dignified and more about cowardice. There were multiple times when being a woman here meant you either nodding heads or just not knowing better than men. Hell, you realise why they aren’t the fairer (more just) sex after all. I recount few such anecdotes when my idea to support a mass manufacturing company with a niche label might generate a new target market which has been a hit and miss all these years, was laughed at because numbers is all that are important. Or the basic assumption of every manufacturer, while congratulating you on joining your father, that I will be limiting myself to marketing/ communications was almost pathetically hilarious. Worse was when some people said “Good for you Kanika” when I showed interest in design, as if it was a spun-sugar fantasy, a fiction I have fed myself which will never happen as it’s not a woman’s job after all.

The irony is I am happy to be proven wrong, happy to not be a victim in your head, because I am not in mine. But this doesn’t change the facts, video ergo est (I see it, therefore it is). If there are PR opportunities walking your way only because you’re a woman in this testosterone saturated market, you’re almost not sure to be happy or sad. I have refused features or panels where am invited only because they couldn’t capture women in the forefront running the show. Anōme was partly born out of this frustration to be honest. Each year when they celebrate Women’s Day they find it hard to write about actual women forerunners within the industry, because they are so less in number.

The thrill- that I never found in joining the family business- continued when I was nursing Anome. But one particular day stands out in my memory. I was excitingly narrating to a bunch of my designer (gender mix) friends of what I wanna create. It was outrageous, crazy and maybe not even commercially viable. But the ideas were so well received, worked on, critically discussed that you almost felt a part of creating another Apple. However, I have seen a lack of reception of any ‘bizarre’ thought in this industry. They are snubbed because they are so comfortable in their mom and pop style of functioning that unless coming from an experienced man, the idea is, most times, not worth even a dinner table discussion.

All’s not lost however, I am not in a state of litost where I sigh each time I suffer another defeat. It’s a continued struggle, a long war, and I have managed to win tiny battles. I am currently working on customisation as a niche service offered by Egoss, a shoe spa, and a capsule collection that focuses on futuristic fashion. Family businesses are never about being the boss, it’s taming your team and growing with them. This industry is going to give much deserved voice to our ladies, after all it was a man who said “Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectation.”

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