Doing business in India is very different to doing business anywhere in the world – from language barriers to the country’s infamous reams of bureaucracy; it’s a tough place for most entrepreneurs. Throw in the foreign and female cards and you’ve got a whole new experience. Designer Vera Fritsch of Monsoon and Beyond spoke about why she decided to start her business in India, some of the challenges she’s faced and what the government could do better.
Fritsch, born and raised in Austria, is one of a number of non-Indian female entrepreneurs who have chosen to establish business ventures in India. Having lived in France, England, Italy and Sweden, it was a diplomatic mission job that brought her to India in 2007. Although she arrived with a background in economics, Fritsch says India really triggered turning her passion for design into a profession. She began her ethically fair home textiles and accessories brand, Monsoon and Beyond, in 2013. The brand retails in India, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Why India as a place to set up your business?
Vera Fritsch: There would be no Monsoon and Beyond if it weren’t for India.
Everyday life in India is my main inspiration. Each piece that I create tells a story about the mood and beauty of India. The indigo houses of Jodhpur, the faded wall of a medieval tomb in Old Delhi, the sunset over Marine Drive in Mumbai – all these images and related emotions come to life in my creations.
Another reason why India was the right place for Monsoon and Beyond is because of India’s high quality fabrics and the incredible skill set of artisans and craftsman in this country. My designs feature several ancient handicraft techniques such as Aari embroidery or hand block printing. Being able to celebrate India’s rich handicraft techniques and incorporate these ancient forms of art and craft into our eclectic, avant-garde designs was key for creating our brand.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Fritsch: In general, setting up a business in India is already a big challenge, given the bureaucratic hurdles that you encounter when you register and establish your company. To give you a simple example: it took me almost 2 months to open a bank account for my business. Luckily, my job at the trade commission already prepared me quite a bit for that.
What I was not prepared for however, were the operational challenges that I faced – one big one was how to find the right production house that could handle my intricate designs and high quality standards. I realized that for the sort of high-end, unique designs that I wanted to create, I needed a specific setup, but it took me more than a year to find the “right” one. The workshop that I collaborate with today is located just outside of Delhi and employs about 15 artisans full-time.
Every single piece that I produce feels so valuable because it is being created by skilled artisans with lots of love and care. It makes me incredibly proud to be able to say that all my products are handcrafted and produced in an ethically fair – and most of all – happy work environment.
What do you think the Indian government could do better for people like you?
Fritsch: I think the government could do a lot for entrepreneurs like me:
- Less red tape and restrictions with regards to transferring money in and out of the country.
- Lowering import duties to make it easier to trade,
- A national VAT instead of the CST/VAT system currently in place
- Subsidies, financial incentives for Indian companies to exhibit abroad
I think it is equally important to subsidize and financially support entrepreneurs that produce ethically and, or celebrate the rich traditional textile techniques that India has to offer and therefore help preserve the art, culture and heritage of India.
Future plans for Monsoon and Beyond?
Fritsch: The future is all about product portfolio expansion and new markets!