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Lady luxe

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METAL METTLE Mira Gulati (below) could have joined the family business but her penchant for ethnic jewellery made her launch her own brand called Mirari

As a teenager, Ashni's weekends were never quite the same as any other girl her age. She spent her evenings at swanky malls all right. But it was not the shopping bug that drove her to these upscale edifices. For the heiress of the Rs 10, 000-crore Future Group, the frequent expeditions to the brand outlets were, in fact, lessons for her on the finer nuances of her father, Kishore Biyani's retail business. Ashni started attending strategy sessions of the Future Group at the age of eight or nine and was naturally greeted with raised eyebrows by middle-aged men dressed in black formals. But while many must have assumed the child's interest in the business to be a flash in the pan, the training sessions for her had taken off even earlier - at family dinnertimes that were dominated by business talk. "An interest in the retail industry was thus inescapable for me, " she says. However, Ashni went a step further. Along with her innovation and incubation team at the Future Group, the young woman noticed several brand and product loopholes, and that's when she decided to come up with her own accessory brand, Holii. While the decision elicited both surprise and encouragement at home and at her workplace, the question was: why would a Biyani scion spin out on her own when a whole empire awaited her? Ashni has a ready reply: "Having grown up in an entrepreneurial environment, it is never easy to stay away from experiencing the thrill of creating a new enterprise and connecting with consumers in a whole new way. " And thus came about a partnership with founder of luxury brand Hidesign, Dilip Kapur, and the brand Holii, envisaged to cater especially to Indian women.

Ashni Biyani, director in Future Group and Holii, epitomises the growing interest of women in the retail industry today. What is more interesting is that a large chunk of these women come from well-established retail backgrounds. After grasping a sense of the industry at their family businesses, they are venturing out for a bigger share of the growing luxury market in the country. There's Mirari Jewellery's Mira Gulati, TSG Group's Priya and Charu Sachdev and Full Circle's Priyanka Malhotra. Dilip Kapur's 17-year old daughter, Ayesha, is probably the latest addition to the growing list.

Mira, a trained jewellery designer and gemologist, says she was never in two minds about her decision to become a jewellery designer. Despite a successful family business, her fetish for ethnic jewellery led her to come up with her brand, Mirari. Priya Sachdev helped diversify her family business of automobile into motor insurance and also conceptualised the luxury brand image for her company TSG, bringing in international brands like Alexander McQueen, Celine, Alice and Olivia among others. Along with her sister Charu, Priya introduced the first-of-its-kind multi-brand retail concept, 'Kitsch', in India.

Even as shopping remains close to a woman's heart, the role of a seller has never quite been her cup of tea. So, what is it that is prompting these women to don this hat today?

Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman of Creativeland Asia, says it is the long-term picture women have in mind that goes beyond the comfort of their family businesses. "When you have a large retail business backing you, it helps, " he says. "But these women are interpreting the industry in their own way. They are seeking to make more money in the niche retail segments and spinning off businesses that will do very well in the future. "

This observation speaks volumes about the emerging trends in the retail industry. With most retail honchos bleeding money, the concept of volume retail has long been lost on the new generation - it's value retail that is fast catching their attention instead. "Retail is about detail and women are good at detailing. Therefore, women often stand a better chance in delivering more value and better leadership in the retail sector, " says Future Group founder & CEO Kishore Biyani

Would it be right to say then that the influx of women marks their growing aptitude at being on the other side of the shopping counter? Not many experts agree. The visibility of the fairer sex in the business might be on the upside, but a woman's lifelong addiction to the industry justifies just one corner of the argument. Women may be greater shopaholics compared to men, but making it big in the industry is all about having a sense of the business. It is the boom of the sunrise luxury sector in retail that is fanning the fire.

Management consulting firm Technopak pegs the size of the Indian retail market at $470 billion, accounting for 35 per cent of GDP, and says it is expected to grow to $675 billion in the next five years. Of this, the luxury market itself is estimated to grow to two and a half times its current size to reach $6. 8 billion by 2015. The aspirational nouveau-riche segment in the country will fuel this further.

"Young women are now panning out. It is not because women have a developed sense of the industry but because retail as a business is booming in India and there is a lot of scope in niche areas, " says Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consultants.

Seventeen-year-old Ayesha voices it all. The high school senior, who is the ambassador for her brand, Ayesha, as also the designer, says her father's success with Hidesign was definitely a driver, but it was the increasingly visible scope for the growth of the business that prompted her to come up with her own brand. "I used to work with my mom at her boutique and that's when we came up with the idea. But I saw that accessories were a big hit in India and yet not all girls my age had the chance of splurging on them. Ayesha was designed to cater to them, " she says.

Despite all the impetus, for women it still remains a tough task to make their mark in a male-dominated industry. Says Ashni, "All women go through challenges at the workplace. One can either become a victim or choose to overcome it. Women possess natural leadership advantages - we are far more empathetic, understand emotions better, whether in dealing with colleagues or customers, and have a holistic view. And when we capitalise on these, the results become obvious and everyone starts accepting women as leaders. "

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