There is so much talk in the world about women not supporting women. But, 24-year-old Hurratul Maleka Taj is paving a different path. The founder of Chics Connect aims to help create a better world by helping women connect with each other like never before.
“It is similar to connecting the dots and accessing the larger picture – you let loose and let life surprise you with all the pros of connecting with other women. Every connection is a revolution in the making. We want to let the girls fly out of the cage of their defined limits and find new companions to build some inspiring and lasting relationships,” says Hurratul.
Hurratul’s own experience of the world since she was 16 is at the heart of the idea. This entrepreneur shares her startup journey, plans for Chics Connect, and the crowdfunding campaign they are running on Ketto.
Hurratul holds an MBA-Tech, a dual degree in Engineering and Businesss from NMIMS, Mumbai. She decided to not to join the job she had landed via college placements and started her own company Territory Of Fashion, an e-commerce portal in November 2014.
Hurratul’s exposure to entrepreneurs who visited her college as guest speakers, and her own increasing fascination towards fashion, made her realise that she wanted to do something of her own. Since her parents were both government employees, convincing them was a challenge.
“I chose to follow my heart and did not take up the job. That was a tough time because going back home meant fighting a lot more battles. I remained a topper throughout my college years and returning back home with that tag without a job was sure to invite speculation. A few months went into just constantly thinking about what it is that I would like to start and how I’m going to execute it.”
In the meanwhile, she took up a short fashion designing course, and in August 2014, when she was looking for some miracle to happen, she asked a mutual friend, Vinav who had just started an IT company to guide her.
“My dad was in utter shock after he came to know about my ambitions, while my paternal family completely opposed the idea. It was only my maternal grandmother, my mother, and Vinav who supported and pushed me into starting Territory Of Fashion.”
Hurratul started Territory Of Fashion as an experimental project where she designed clothes, wore them, and clicked pictures and wrote about it. Her friend Vinav helped her with the photography, website and the IT design. As the designs piled up, they tried their hands at digital printing. The vendor failed to deliver, and in the face of huge losses, they decided to take a new approach. .
“We changed the business model for Territory Of Fashion (TOF) from E-Commerce and fashion magazine to a platform that provides fashion consultancy to boutiques catering only to premium customised orders. My role in TOF is client handling, understanding their requirements, handing over the final designs and styling consultancy. We have designers in Delhi who manage designing and manufacturing for us. Vinav takes care of the IT, online marketing and designing. TOF is now much more stable comprising a team that handles a lot of things even in my absence. We are not making big profits but we are not running at a loss.”
Hurratul left home at the age of 16, and shifted to Kota to study for her IIT entrance exams. While in Kota, Hurratul faced her fair share of eve teasing. After Kota, she moved to college and during the last two years in Mumbai, she took up an Acting Course at Anupam Kher’s academy Actor Prepares. The dark side of the film industry and the modeling world left an impression on her and she decided not to pursue either of the fields.
“During one of my internships, my boss would engage in inappropriate conversations with me. I opposed it and reported it to the Head, after which I was transferred to another department. After college, I was pretty clear that I wanted do something on my own,” she says.
While all these experiences disturbed her, they also made her strong. “These were the times I would wonder where all the talented women were. Why was I not meeting the right girls? I thought to myself that they are all out there, but there is no platform on which they can connect instantly in this male-dominated world. It was only in March 2016 that I decided that I am going to give this thought a chance to grow into something.”
A Facebook status inviting other women interested in Fashion to meet and connect saw 12 women come forward and get together. Not all of them were from the fashion sector, but they felt isolated and confined and decided to join the meet up.
“They wanted to break the pattern and come out of their comfort zones. I was so inspired by the first meet, I decided to hold a second meet and kept it open to all girls, irrespective of domain. This time, 18 girls turned up. Then, more and more meets happened and since the number of women kept increasing, I decided to come up with a mobile app that would help create meaningful connections amongst the women and a network of personal professional communities would be made helping women grow on personal and professional fronts. This is how Chics Connect came into existence.”
Hurratul is clear that this is not an opportunity to sideline the men. “In fact , 80 per cent of my core team at Chics Connect are men. So I believe, there are some incredible men I have in my life who have and are helping me a lot,” she says.
Chic Connect has brought women together, many of whom are collaborating on businesses. Insiya, 21, has started her own home sandwich making business. A few others are working on a gifting domain. The response according to Hurratul has been tremendous.
The Facebook community comprises 500+ women from across different cities in India. People put up their queries in the group and there are girls who share details and help them with contacts and resources.
With a small team of five, they have an Android app in the testing phase and plan to launch it soon. “We would love to have it on iOS as well and have started a crowd-funding campaign to help fuel the project and make it happen.”
Those who download the app, will have to follow a strict registration process to eliminate any scope for identity theft. Once you register, the app will show you Chics Connect members in and around your current location or the location you choose. The app will help women connect one on one or as a group and help create events while sharing notifications with others.
Chics Connect is running a crowdfunding campaign on KETTO. “When I started this campaign, a day later, I got an email with a Rs 11,000 contribution from Rahul Narvekar, Founder, EX-CEO –NDTV Ethnic Retail Ltd. and Founder at Indiaroots.com. I had never met him before this campaign.” His email appreciating Hurratul’s efforts and belief in her idea was a big source of encouragement. Today, he is also her mentor.
While the crowdfunding campaign ends soon, Hurratul is excited about growing this community and showing cynics how women are going to be each other’s biggest strength and support.