Leaving the family business, this self-made entrepreneur built a Rs 30 crore turnover footwear brand
Vol 13 | Issue 22
Born into a Marwari business family, Veena Ashiya decided to strike out on her own after working for a few years with international brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Versace.
Her father Sesh Kiran Ashiya is the founder of well-known perfume brand Moksha, but instead of joining the family business, Veena launched Monrow, a footwear brand for Indian women, in 2016.
|Veena Ashiya launched Monrow Shoes in 2016 after working for a few years with international brands Tommy Hilfiger and Versace (Photos: Special Arrangement) |
Monrow achieved a turnover of Rs 30 crore in FY 2021-22, with her products being sold in retail outlets across India and in leading ecommerce portals such as Reliance, Myntra and Ajio.
Veena, a self-made entrepreneur in her own right, traces the Monrow journey and remembers what it was like growing up in a business family.
“Ours was a Marwari family, and we literally listened to business related talks throughout my childhood. I almost learnt the skills of an MBA graduate at home,” says Veena, 38.
“However, I had a fascination for designing, and I struggled to convince my parents that fashion was my calling. But finally I ended up at NIFT, Bengaluru, where I studied fashion management and graduated in 2008.”
She stepped into the fashion world with her first job at Tommy Hilfiger where she worked as an assistant buyer till early 2009. She then joined Versace, New York, as a marketing assistant and worked there for about a year.
“At Versace, as part of the marketing team I learnt about brand image and how in a luxury industry, the brand image is most important,” says Veena. “I also learnt about what’s exciting and what sells. And this learning laid the base for my future.
“While going to office in New York, I would change my shoes in the subway, because the fancy ones I was wearing weren’t comfortable for walking long distances,” says Veena, who talks about her life in New York and how she got the idea of starting Monrow shoes.
This experience made her think about the scope for stylish yet comfortable footwear and she implemented the idea with Monrow Shoes in 2016 in India.
|Monrow received its first round of funding of Rs 3.5 crore in 2021|
India was seeing a plethora of homegrown apparel brands such as W, BIBA and Anita Dongre around that time. Inspired by these brands, Veena was confident of pulling off her own desi footwear brand.
She launched Monrow after extensive research with an investment of Rs 4 crore. The products were made available both in multi-brand outlets such as Central, Centro and Shoppers Stop and on ecommerce portals as well.
“Amazingly we did a business of Rs 3.5 crore in the first year itself. We started with six employees and today there are 55 employees,” says Veena, and goes on to explain how she differentiated her brand from the others.
She claims that most shoes in the market were not suitable for Indian women who have broader feet, unlike their western counterparts who have narrow feet.
“Indian women have different needs,” says Veena. “Their feet are broader due to constant use of flip flops. Armed with this research we were able to make shoes that were customised for Indian users.”
They now have 21 outlets across India. About 60% of their sales happen online, and the balance 40% is through physical outlets.
“We realised that a city where there is deep retail presence has good online sales as well,” says Veena, providing insights on their growth.
“An average woman consumer in India owns 19 pairs of shoes, and three of them are sneakers, and the rest are lifestyle shoes.
|Veena worked at Versace, New York, as a marketing assistant for about a year|
“We sell comfortable and chic shoes from Rs 1800 onwards at our retail outlets and offer budget friendly shoes from Rs 1200 onwards on our digital platforms.”
When prodded about her personal favourite shoes, she says, “I consider shoes to be my best friends. Like a woman has different sets of friends, who cater to her different needs like emotional, social, and fun factor, my shoes are also like this.
“I have a steady pair of comfortable walking shoes. I have a pair of sassy and trendy party shoes with kitten heels to enjoy the party and there is a luxurious pair of boots as well.
“I am highly influenced by celebrated shoe makers like Salvatore Ferragamo and United Nude. But of course Monrow is close to heart, as it is my own baby.”
High on life, Veena follows a fairly well planned day. “I get up at 4 a.m. and then work out with a combination of yoga, dance, and cardio among others. I believe our bodies are our best partners in our careers and so we must take good care of ourselves.
“I reach office at 10 a.m. I attend meetings till 6 and work on building our team, the products and the brand. I have an amazing power to galvanize people to their purpose.
“And I am very proud of our design and marketing team, which comprises of 70% women, and they are the most ambitious bunch of women.”
She believes that Monrow will become the biggest shoe brand in India in the coming years. “We are also looking at working with artisans and women entrepreneurs at grassroots level, and intend to nurture them and grow with them,” says Veena.
Monrow’s latest collection is ‘The Saree collection by Vee’ which is a shoe inspired by the humble saree that can be draped in different ways.
These shoes with printed straps like Phulkari, Ikkat, Banarasi, and Zentangle can be wrapped around the feet in different ways, enabling the wearer to get a new feeling every time they wear it.
|Veena started with six people, but today Monrow has a 55-strong workforce|
Last year, Monrow received its first round of investment of Rs 3.5 crore.
Veena’s mother Manju Ashiya is a political writer. Her elder brother now looks after the family business along with her father.
In 2014 Veena got married to Gourav Chindlur, who has his own digital marketing business, and additionally backed her venture from the start.
“He is the biggest blessing in my life. I believe that the biggest achievement of my life is finding love, and living with him every day,” says Veena, who loves to paint and has her own art gallery at home.
“I use different techniques to paint, and it is the biggest soother in my life, apart from my visits to the park, where I can spend endless hours just taking in the fragrance of the flowers.”