Why this 27-year-old dental surgeon became a fashion entrepreneur

24th Mar 2016
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One would think that for science students, the world is their oyster when they graduate, with the choicest of offers lining up for them. But what about those who have dreams that are too grand to fit dental chairs or too delicate to be seen through microscopes? Aanchal Makhija is one such dentist who broke free from this notional prison, and saw her entrepreneurial aspirations to fruition.

Aanchal Makhija HerStory

Doctor Who

“I studied dental surgery, but I felt something was missing from my life. My parents wanted me to continue with my dentistry since they had spent so much on my education, and I had invested five years in it. I gave in, but after a point, I just couldn’t put my heart into surgeries, it wasn’t my passion,” the 27-year-old explains.

Aanchal then went on to do an MBA in family business from NMIMS, Mumbai, against everyone’s wishes.

She did so, because she wanted to join her family trade in ethnic wear, which was a completely traditional offline set-up. “I knew entering into family business will not be easy being a girl. But my business needed modernisation, and I was willing to do what it takes,” she says.

After completing her MBA, Aanchal was ready to introduce her family’s business to digitisation, which she accomplished to a certain degree but not without facing resistance and scepticism from the old-timers.

Not missing the bus

The year was 2014, and e-commerce was just coming of age at the time, in business as well as in our mindsets. Not wanting to miss the bus, Aanchal was back to square one, scouting for other gaps in the market so that she could startup independently. “However, I observed that there were no horizontal e-commerce platforms in the market. So I came up with the idea of The Pehnava, for those who can’t afford designer labels like Manish Malhotra or Rohit Bal. We provide designer wear from budding designers or future designers, who aspire to be the next Manish Malhotras and are just as good,” Aanchal explains.

Through some quick market research, she also learnt how pernickety Indians were when it came to ethnic clothes, for they would always be meant for grand occasions. “People don’t shop for ready-to-wear, when they want to customise their designs. We welcome their designs and work with it,” she says.

Aanchal at Work

Keeping its main focus on customised tailoring from designers, The Pehnava was ready to take on competition. Aanchal had barely any funds for this leap of faith, and had everything riding on it. “We initially approached a company to make our site. We also planned to outsource the IT and marketing part. But, that company turned out to be a fraud. They took the money and never delivered the work. I took that as a challenge.”Without a background in IT or fashion, Aanchal started building her own in-house team. “This was my greatest challenge. Slowly and steadily I built my team, which took a year of references and vetting,”she adds.

Customisation was keyfor the company,and customers call or message for her designs and colour preferences. It now has an in-built software to do this digitally, which will be more customer-friendly and need fewer clicks.

“With the boom, we also expanded. During those Big Billion Days, we had amazing traction, but due to lack of logistics we somehow failed in delivering products, which is faced by all sectors. So, then we started facing issues like server and site speed,” Aanchal recalls. She then took an executive decision of shifting their whole platform from one server to other, which has paid off.

Aanchal raised The Pehnava, inch by inch, from a fledgling to an eminent name. With over 20,000 transactions completed in just a year-and-a-half, The Pehnava is now clocking $150,000 in revenues per year.

 “Fight until you get it, just like a child.”

“My family tried to sway me into opting for an easier life. My relatives said that as a girl it will be difficult for me to accomplish anything alone. I live in a section of the society where 40 percent of people think it’s not a woman’s place to be so independent; it’s almost taboo. But I focused on the remaining 60 percent. The 40 percent people are important too because they are your strength, you will work hard to prove them wrong,” she says.

Aanchal gives family support prime importance in the equation. “Without their support, the going gets tough, which was my case earlier. But when my father realised that I have made my decision, he simply went, ‘do what you like.’ I just want to say to all husbands, fathers and brothers- never underestimate women and their intelligence, believe in them,” she adds.

Unwaveringly taking to heart her own mantra, right from the first day, Aanchal has dedicated some time daily to expose herself to other success and failure stories, especially those of women. This inspired her to use her brand’s clout to add value to a woman’s life and journey, starting with a CSR initiative for training women in self-defence, in nearly eight colleges and corporates. Coming up is an out-and-out section for self-defence products embedded in jewellery and other accessories, to aid women for their safety.

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