They say it only takes a vision and the will to act on that vision to make a difference in this world. And this is precisely what Zehra Picturewala, a young determined girl from a conservative Muslim family of Mumbai, aims to do.
Zehra, who originally hails from Gujarat, graduated from Nirmala Niketan with a degree in Textiles and Fashion Technology. Although Zehra had always dreamed of being a doctor, she knew that she had the heart of a designer. For her family, the next step for a 22 year old graduate girl was to get married and start a family. However, Zehra put her foot down and informed them of her passion and desire to do something more. It took a lot for young Zehra to convince her father that launching a business with a social undertone is what she truly wanted. Her efforts worked, he’s been her support ever since.
Zehra Picturewala runs a company called ‘ZnSkills’, which teaches underprivileged women and children the skill of crocheting and creating products. The company then sells these products and collects the revenue, which they then pay to the women and children who made them. So in a sense, her company is promoting indigenous handicrafts in a modern market and thus empowering the women and children from the underprivileged classes thereby bettering their position in society.
The idea for ‘ZnSkills’ came to her on a summer break during her graduation. Two of Zehra’s classmates started classes which offered livelihood skills, and these classes soon became a rampant success. The students who came down to attend these classes picked up these skills effortlessly and soon more started pooling in. The success of these classes led Zehra to believe that a professional initiative should be drawn around this theme which would help these students build their capabilities.
As soon as she completed her finals, she tried her hands at setting up several skills, out of which crocheting worked the best. Her cousin ordered a set of crocheted products for her, and Zehra began experimenting with the set. Her amateur hands soon turned professional, and people started clamouring to buy her work. She was thus compelled to search for artisans to herald in production on a large scale. An acquaintance gave her the idea of teaching these skills to the differently-disabled, and told her about an institute for the visual and hearing impaired children.
Zehra thus decided to teach these children, most of whom were girls, the necessary skills which they picked up even faster because of their enthusiasm. These students have now carried forth to produce the best pieces.
After this initial success, Zehra then turned her attention to the women living in unfavourable conditions in the remote areas of the city and brought them into her employ. Zehra attributes the success of ‘ZnSkills’ to these women.
Zehra confesses that her journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur wasn’t an easy one. Like many startup founders before her, she had a challenging time searching for investors, and she had the added challenge of doing this alone. “Training people, sourcing out products, designing as per demand, maintaining accounts, meeting potential investors, maintaining relations and struggling for buyers is hard, but it’s all worth my dream,” recalls Zehra.
To place focus on the company’s social angle, Zehra soon decided to tie up with some NGOs around the state – a good decision as it turned out, because in this way, she was able to meet people who were in need and who would be willing to work for a living. These people are provided with free training using free material, and once they worked for her company, the sales flew up and paved the way for the advent of a very successful business.
“The main problem that the women in the rural areas of our country face is the fact that they aren’t allowed to leave home to receive a proper education or employment. So, I decided to make the production happen from individual houses.” On how this plan works, she says, “we collect ID proofs of the people we train and then decide a venue where every week, everyone accumulates to collect the material and make the products.”
Currently, over seventy artisans are working and contributing to the company. Zehra’s focus is on the growth of the company, mostly targeting new mothers.
On being asked what the idea behind her company is, she says, “When we patronize handmade products, we empower the weakest section of our society, a journey to let people know that women can move mountains if they wish.”
When asked her opinion on entrepreneurship in India she says, “Today’s entrepreneurs may be more into marketing and less in manufacturing, but I would advise them to import less and export more.”