Young entrepreneurs: Fighting age and gender discrimination

2 Mins read

Despite a rise in female entrepreneurs in India, women continue to face prejudice. We sat down with Vatsala Kalani to discuss what it’s like being a woman in business.

India has seen a gradual increase in female entrepreneurs in recent years. Women represent 20% of all enterprises that provide direct employment to an estimated 22 to 27 million people

“I was 23-years-old when I started a business with my co-founder Oorja Shah,” said Vatsala Kalani, the owner of Shop Mauve, a clothing brand based in India.

Vatsala and Oorja met during their undergraduate years at Babson College in Boston, USA. With a similar taste in fashion, the two started thinking about building a brand in September 2021 and launched their company in March 2022. 

Shop Mauve, Vatsala Kalani and Oorja Shah’s brand Shop Mauve

“One of the major challenges we faced was that people were not taking us seriously. The manufacturers wouldn’t prioritise our work.” At face value, manufacturers in the market would seemingly commit to the requirements and demands of the young business women, but in reality would take months to complete their order.

“They would prioritise other people’s orders because firstly, we were girls, and secondly, we were too young, even though we were paying them on time. People were treating our brand as a college project,” said Vatsala.

Vatsala Kalani and Oorja Shah [Courtesy of Shop Mauve]

Despite a rise in women-led entrepreneurs, countless female businesswomen continue to experience gender and age discrimination. According to a recent study by CIEL HR Services, representing the voices of women from more than 200 companies, female entrepreneurs continue to face some of the biggest challenges while managing their businesses. 35.1% of women surveyed stated they face discrimination and biases as they are not taken seriously in their business endeavours.

Virginia Valian, professor of Psychology and Linguistics at Hunter College, New York, explored gender schemas that are unconscious culturally bound assumptions; she acknowledges them as a reason for gender discrimination in her book Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.

On the other hand, in her book The Authority Gap, journalist, broadcaster and author Mary Ann Sieghart talks about how much more seriously society takes men than women. She speaks about how, from a young age, traditional gender stereotypes create social roles, expectations and beliefs about leadership.

With just over a year of industry experience, an established website and more than 30K followers on Instagram, Vatsala feels that they have now found a valued place in the Indian fashion industry. 

“Now that we have a website and an Instagram page, people can see that we are legit. We have something substantial to show them to be taken seriously,” she said.

Having financial support from their family gave the two women the security that allowed them to take a leap of faith and establish their business. “I would advise all young entrepreneurs to have a financial source of money because starting a business is not always a success. It’s a hit or a miss.” 

She is already visualising how to take her business to the next level: “I wanted to expand into the UK and the US. I have started a knitwear line for the UK. We are in the production phase of that right now. I wanted to study the market in the UK as I didn’t know how the process works as I’ve never studied fashion or done anything related to fashion.”

At the moment, Vatsala is pursuing her Masters in Global Fashion Retailing at the London College of Fashion, and believes the challenges she’s faced have only driven her to expand her company.

Featured image courtesy of Shop Mauve.

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