Last year I moved from NYC to Mumbai to set up operations for DFYnorm. After 4+ years of working really hard at a startup which grew into an astounding company, I was ready to start my own. It was a new city to me. Although I have visited it ever so often, I never lived here. I prided myself on being able to navigate using the teeming trains but that is just a tiny bit of the navigation iceberg.
Mumbai is a maze that amazes me! The diversity, the complexity and the challenges are overwhelming. I call it the tough love. Love indeed because there’s something very gritty about this city. Tough because it kicks up your survival instincts – which means you either flee or fight. So this is a city of warriors and in order to untangle my emotions and findings, I decided to write about it.
I started conversing with people in the local trains. Observed the tensions, the camaraderie and cat fights that break out occasionally and are entertaining to say the least. I recorded my adventures on my Tumblog. And slowly the stories started coming to me, until I got a little lazy about penning them down. But it was strange, I was meeting more people, getting to know things about them and their lives, on a regular basis. Richshaw drivers would lament about how their sons were not doing well in school, some would tell me their love stories and some would wish me luck!
One night I was traveling back home on the local train. I got into the ladies compartment and was waiting for my stop. Two stops later there was influx of men into the same compartment. I wasn’t sure why this happened but turns out some coaches become agender after 9pm!
I was nervous. I didn’t want to be the only lady in the train by the time we got to the last stop. So I asked the young lady next to me, after nudging her because she was grooving to music. She opened her eyes and was a little shocked herself at this sudden gender neutrality.
Turns out the two of us were going to the same destination. Hurray for that! We started chatting – the usual what’s your name, what do you do? Her name is Ankita. When she said she was a Fashion designer, I was excited! She was working for a very popular Indian retailer called Chemistry. I also got to know of her till-death-do-us-apart love for horses. She was in fact returning from a day at the races. Ask her about horses and you see this instant glimmer in her eyes.
My turn. I told her about what I was doing – building Dfynorm. And she got excited! Our stop was inching closer, so we stood up to move towards the door. Still talking. It was alright even though we were the only two women in the coach.
Sometimes we make things up in our heads, there were all sorts of men in the coach just like there were all sorts of women. One particularly flamboyant man did break into a song but the others were alright.
We shared the auto ride home, turned out we lived 5 minutes away from each other. We agreed to keep in touch. At that moment, we weren’t hiring. We had got Alex on board who was already at work creating our signature Ikat collection. But in the course of a few months, we were looking to expand our team and Ankita reached out again!
We loved her fluid designing aesthetic that resonated with our view of creating designs for different body types. We didn’t want to be another company that caters to only standard dimensions of beauty. Nu-uh. So we decided to make her an offer. I really needed on board, a designer who also loved the thrill of sourcing, finding out leads, coordinating trips between multiple vendors and so on. Operations + Design. Being a startup, we wear and provide many hats to our team mates.
And it has been such a great journey so far! Ankita and I have traversed parts of Mumbai that are tucked away in bustling streets, alleys and hidden corridors which we’d never have seen otherwise. We have had adventures and mis-adventures on our umpteen sourcing trips, made contacts and had the eye-opening kind of fun.
I never wrote about this on my Tumblog. I didn’t want to jinx it. Who hires on a train really, I would think to myself. (Paranoia is definitely one of the occupational hazards of my profession) But if you can pitch to a VC in an elevator, hey you can surely catch a good vibe on a train journey. Looking back, I realize there was an element of vulnerability to our starting conversation, stemming from the jitters of being in that coach. Not because it was scary but because we weren’t used to it.
Like we weren’t used to a lot of other things we took on. But we kept going and we’ve definitely come this far. We just launched our website few days ago. Its finally Live and breathing on www.dfynorm.com
So now I think its time to pen this story. Of How I met our designer.