Entrepreneur: Nirali Rangwala
Business Name: Maaneh Millinery
Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories episode 67
A graduate in systems and aerospace engineering from a globally acclaimed University certainly has numerous opportunities awaiting. There is no doubt that success has come her way, but perhaps not the way you imagined it. Young and enigmatic Nirali Rangwala made her way into entrepreneurship through millinery, the art of making women’s hats.
Does engineering teach you nothing? Well, it does. It grants you with a vision, a brand-new perspective and helps individuals with multidisciplinary interests come up with interdisciplinary practices.
Nirali hails from India and was raised in Louisville, United States, where she learnt her first lessons of millinery. She carefully integrates the Indian influences into each of her bespoke designs making every single one of her hats a collector’s piece.
Handcrafted to perfection, all of Nirali’s hats are capable of impressing even the toughest of connoisseurs. Her talents have caught the attention of the chic Indian crowd; she receives orders from around the world.
It certainly did not come easy. None of this was expected of her of course, when you graduate in engineering you are most often than not expected to stick to it. Nirali knew where her heart was and chose happiness over everything. It is that one decision that changes everything else.
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
Upon completion of my graduate degree in Systems and Aerospace engineering from Cornell University in Upstate New York, I started working for General Electric in Louisville, Kentucky. As a part of employee benefits, I got exposed to some of the best areas of the Churchill Downs racecourse (home to the famous Kentucky Derby).
There is a large derby fans community where women don all kinds of hats (yes, some crazy ones too!) to the races. I was fascinated to see how a single piece of accessory can make a woman look so polished, graceful and appealing.
Hats and Fascinators represent high fashion and gallant behavior, standing out of the crowd instantly. Soon I had the urge in me to own one.
Being a luxury accessory, it took me a while to find the right fit and shape. This quest for wanting a hat persuaded me more towards millinery. I learnt about the different varieties of hats and started visualizing which hat would look good on a particular dress. Disappointed to find that one perfect fit and hat, I decided to make my own.
I took up several courses after work. Never had I thought this so called “after work” hobby would soon turn into passion and now an obsession.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
In India, I could not find many hat-makers and milliners who could customize high fashion accessories. Bridging this market gap, I trust there is a lot I can contribute to the high fashion market and make an impact in the industry. I want to bring in blends from the east to the west while sticking to the basics of the millinery techniques.
International fashion has always had a big impact on the growing fashion scenarios in India. Current events such as the royal wedding that took place last summer in the Windsor Castle, sported celebrities and high profile guests across the globe in premium headgears that awed. With such flamboyant affairs, the ever so confident youth are more and more interested in accessories that are trendsetting.
Millinery industry was badly hit due to the change in fashion trends back in 60’s and 70’s. Lifted by the latest fashion trends, improving product traits, and escalating demand for premium, high fashion and retro styled hats, the market is poised to register healthy growth over the coming years. With an annual revival increase of almost 12.3%, there couldn’t have been a better time to be in the recession hit millinery industry, especially in India with minimal service providers.
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
It was a mixed bag. Being an engineer, getting into fashion was not something my family would have ever imagined. It was the constant push from my husband that kept me sticking to the idea.
Coming from a non design fashion background, I had my own set of challenges from never having worked with photo-shoot’s and models to talking to curators, to stylists, bloggers, PR agents, Illustrators and many more. All I knew was I loved making hats and I wanted to share the happiness that I experienced while wearing one to someone who would wear my design!
I had to prove to my family that I can do this and people love my product. Their distrust wasn’t in my abilities to do something, it was in the product, which targets a niche audience, and reaching out to them may be tough. It was after a few successful stories they heard, their belief in me started getting stronger.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
I believe, my biggest mistake is the way I designed my headgears. Earlier, I did everything I could to make sure my pieces looked spectacular which is necessary but not sufficient.
I have met many millinery icons during my participation at the annual Hat week held in London, who have helped me better my perspective to be able to make effective designs. Soon I realized, there were several characteristics to be kept in mind such as the eye and hair color, height, the skin tone, the dress, other accessories that women carry as well as the face shape; while designing that perfect hat!
These are the attributes that not only compliment customer requirements, but also commend for a good design to be able to deliver a complete package. Sometimes, it is not just about your product and to perfect it, but putting yourself in the customer’s shoe can help you know their requirements better and deliver superior service.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
Traditionally, India has not been a country seen with millinery trends. An accessory that can enhance the poise of women and instantly make them look exquisite is not something that needs cultural past.
The biggest obstacle I see is to be able to familiarize the concept and buoyancy to flaunt a hat or a fascinator within our country. I look for healthy collaborations and mutual benefits from bloggers, stylists, retailers, e-tailers and similar to be able to reach out to high fashion accessory seekers pan India and abroad.
6) What habits contribute to your success?
“Creativity is the intelligence having fun”, yes truly! With the quantitative engineering mind I have been trained to be, I love to improvise and believe in continuous improvement – “Kaizen”. With every detail and design, I learn something new and something better. It could be in process or just the way I create.
Some of these habits have surely helped since every piece I craft is different from the other, it forces me to think out of the box and come up with a better product every time. After all, millinery is purely engineering, just glamorous!
One thing that US has taught me the best is, product presentation makes all the difference. It gives you an experience like theatre, which I mimic with my products too.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
Given an opportunity, I would have launched my merchandise differently. As a one-stop shop for all headgears, presenting it to the world, I could bifurcate my products into several categories – premium race wear, wedding millinery, beach wear, travel friendly foldable hats, yacht collection, brunching fascinators, kids headgear, casual and street style as well as any commercial or special headgear applications such as airline hospitality.
I do this now eventually, but building up on the concept later can take time and quite a lot of funds for marketing as well as educating the consumers. This would have had an impact on my marketing strategies as well which I learnt the harder way!
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“There is no excuse for non performance”. This is my dad’s go to mantra and has been imbibed in me since childhood.
9) Where do you find inspiration?
Nature! Observing the nuances of nature is what gives me the ultimate inspiration. I try to mimic the experiences of flora, fauna and landscapes through my designs.
My love for travel and adventure has taken me to many unreal places that I connect to while designing my pieces. Each headgear has a specific thought process while being sculpted and I make sure I convey the same in the form of an experience.
10) What is your favourite book?
The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Never be afraid of taking that first step. Your present is all you have today; making assumptions will only give you worries of future and tomorrow, which is not in your hands. Many times we think, we rethink and we overthink – Just Act!
An entrepreneur need not just prove themselves to the world, but to their family as well, and mostly to the latter first. Nobody ever claimed entrepreneurship to be easy, but they are all happy with the choices they made, to have responded to their heart’s call.
“Millinery is purely engineering, just glamorous!” says Nirali while she happily blends her passion with her education. It is these dreamers and doers that make the world more exciting by presenting us with creations that are full of love and vigor. Your inspiration lies all around you, you just need to reach out to what’s seeking you.
You can check out Maaneh Millinery on Instagram now!
Facebook fans can find Nirali’s designer head gears here.