From the Confines of Tradition to Leadership


Kochi: I hail from a very conservative family and hence, it was made clear to me very early in my life that I would remain a homemaker, looking after children and taking care of household affairs. When I reached marriageable age, I was thinking of getting hitched to a government employee after witnessing the comforts enjoyed by some of our neighbours. Looking at my businessman father, who was always busy and could never spend time with us, I felt that I should marry someone from the service industry. Since the entire Sindh community was involved in business, the male members usually joined the family enterprise immediately after high school. My father convinced me that business is always better as it gives ample opportunities for advancement whereas in service industry, the growth is limited. When I got married into the Aswani family (Husband Deepak L Aswani is head of Aswani Lachmandas Group and co-chair of FICCI Kerala State Council), I understood the advantages of getting into a business family and the potential for expansion it offered.

If you put in extra effort, your business will grow and if you become lazy, the business will remain stagnant. From the beginning, my thinking was different from other girls of my age. I always wanted to do something on my own even if I was not allowed to go out of the four walls of my house. I have always had a small amount of money given by my husband. I had a dream of starting something on my own, like a beauty parlour at home, a boutique, or something of that sort. If a girl like me from such a traditional background could dream of such things and try to achieve it, definitely the youngsters who are enjoying much more comforts and freedom can dream bigger. As the children grew older, my ambition of starting something on my own also grew. But the situation did not allow me to come out of the family home. Finally, when my father-in-law became ill, I put all my effort to convince him that I would help him in business and started coming to office for a couple of hours. What started as a two-hour session gradually developed into longer spells and I started actively participating in the day-to-day running of the business.

Coming to Kerala had also proved to be a tough challenge in the beginning. The cultural and social differences were quite daunting during the initial days. Even learned people were not ready to interact in English and that was when I put some extra effort to learn Malayalam. It was in 1992-93, after one of our foreign trips, that we started Priceless apparel store in Kochi, which was a new concept in India at that time. Through our new showroom ‘My Kingdom’ we again became the pioneers of providing total shopping experience to men, women and children. It was actually my concept. I conceived ‘My Kingdom’ as a one-of-its-kind family fashion store, and it soon came to be recognised as one of India’s top retail outlets. The work of Kochi Metro rail, however, derailed our business a lot and we are hoping that we would be able to get back to the business soon with its imminent launch.

I keep myself updated with the latest trends and also the business aspects. We, as retailers, have to change according to changing times. We are planning to come up with some new ideas to offer both online and offline experiences to the customers who walk into our stores. Customers who come to the trial room can select a material/dress of their choice on the iPad from the trial room itself and the sales person will bring it to them. In this way, you can save much time and get the help of an experienced salesperson and online assistance at one go. Giving the customers an opportunity to see themselves in a dress they wish to select before taking it to the trial room is another facility we are trying to come up with in the shops in 5 to 6 months’ time.

We are now planning to move to smaller towns. The buying capacity of smaller towns has increased considerably compared to the past and we think this is the right time to tap the buying potential of tier II and III cities. The business prospects of Kerala are increasing and it is good to see more people coming forward to become entrepreneurs. Earlier, not just women, even the men in Kerala, used to think about securing a government job after their studies. But this has changed now; they have started thinking about running their own businesses, which is a good sign. People who are planning to get into entrepreneurship should understand that this is no cakewalk and they have to have the patience to watch the market and work hard to achieve their goals.