Devika Srimal, is the founder and CEO of Kanabis – a leather-free women’s shoe brand launched in April this year. When she’s not busy running her business or studying for her MBA, she plays badminton and swims to relax. That’s when all her best ideas appear, she says. Her favourite pair of Kanabis shoes are her Cinderella wedges.
1. What was your first job? How did it come about?
I was a chartered accountant at Ernst & Young, London. I was always business-oriented and I wanted to learn about figures and business. I was good at accounting in school so it seemed like a natural path to follow.
I really thought this was something I wanted. These were the places everyone else was applying to. And I don’t regret it. The corporate experience teaches you discipline, work ethic and effective communication.
After five and a half years at my previous firm, I left London to go to Delhi to work in Corporate Finance at another Big Four accounting firm. I thought it would be quite glamourous.
But I quit after 3 months.
2. What made you quit?
Corporate finance is basically number-crunching. It’s long hours which I didn’t mind but you need to enjoy it.
There were days I sat at my desk and cried. I was counting the number of hours I was wasting in the job. I wasn’t making any significant impact and I just felt like a cog in the wheel.
I wanted something more meaningful and satisfying.
At that time, I was also struggling to find good footwear in India as I had given up on wearing leather a few years ago. I noticed a gap in the market. I bounced the idea off a few people and did a survey while I was at my job.
Then I quit.
3. But you didn’t know anything about running a shoe business. What made you think this could work?
I had no knowledge of footwear, fashion or design but I felt like I could make this work.
Shoes are not an original concept but my designs were new. For me, business is about identifying a gap and plugging it. Could I source a product, can I create a market for it? These were the key questions for me.
I am very fortunate. I am young. I don’t have any children and my parents were happy to support me if things didn’t go well. And I have a philosophy:
We have one life. You have to live it and mess it up in your own way.
4. So you learnt from scratch?
Pretty much! In the last year, I’ve learnt more than 6.5 years of corporate life. Learning now is something that happens everyday.
I’ve learnt so much about product design, sourcing, sales and marketing. I had to do research on the most popular shoe sizes. I was never active on social media and now I manage all our company pages myself.
5. It’s not easy selling online though …
Driving traffic is tough. When your product launches, you are like a kid, waiting for your cake to sell. Everyday there are moments of stress and but it also makes you realize what you can really do.
When you really dig yourself into it, things start falling into place. The dots slowly start connecting.
I am very conscious of the fact that 9 out of 10 start-ups fail. I know there is a long way to go and I’m willing to see how it goes.
6. What is the creative process like?
My eyes are always on the floor now; checking out what people are wearing. I research and keep up with a few fashion magazines. I have to mention I have a great footwear designer. I found him on LinkedIn and before I hired him, we had rounds of meetings and we realized our tastes matched.
He does a trend analysis for every season. Then we choose the funky fabrics, colours and prints and check with the manufacturers if it can be done.
7. What have you learnt most about yourself?
I may not always succeed but I hate regretting anything – so the feeling that I gave it my all is satisfying. I really will go to the ends of the world to chase a goal.
I have to do a lot of heavy lifting now. My hands are black, rough and so unfeminine from working in the warehouse. Completely different from my corporate days when my fingers were manicured and mostly used for typing.
8. What do you like about your days now?
Now I have the freedom of designing my thinking, my day and my life. The decision-making power is with me. I don’t feel stuck. And everyday is different. That’s what I really like about it.
For instance, tomorrow I have to visit my suppliers, brainstorm ideas with my photographer, update my website and in the middle of all this, I have a team meeting with my MBA classmates and an exhibition to prepare for.
Right now, my financial returns are not as high as my previous jobs. Money is important but I had money and I wasn’t happy. Now my satisfaction is a lot greater.
9. What career advice did you wish someone had given you?
My Dad’s advice to me is to not take advice from others.
Follow your own instincts and things will follow.
10. If five years ago, someone had told you that you would be running a shoe company, what would your reaction have been?
I would have just laughed it off.
A few years ago, I walked into KPMG’s office for an interview and then the other day, I walked in there for a pop-up sale of our shoes. I did go to the interview with an intention of working there but I never thought this is how it would happen.
You never know where life will take you.
If you are in India and you’d like to check out Kanabis, head down to the Pink Champagne Show at The Grand Hotel, Vasant Kunj, New-Delhi (12 August) or to the Fairytales Exhibition at Ashok Hotel, Chanakyapuri , New-Delhi (21st August).
Otherwise, check out what’s on offer from the links below: