Veena Ashiya, founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based startup Monrow Shoes, is on a mission to provide comfortable, affordable, and fashionable footwear for Indian women. Her direct-to-consumer footwear brand qualifies each design only after a team-member walks 15,000 steps in it.
The five-year old startup recently raised its first round of funding from venture capitalists and angel investors.
In a recent chat with MAKERS India, she recounted her journey, and her vision for 2021.
The New York story
After graduating from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Bengaluru, she worked with Versace in New York. In the city, Veena would walk everywhere – to work, to meetings, and to dates. She would make a habit of carrying a pair of comfortable shoes to make walking easier. That was where her dream to mix street/comfort wear with fashion began. “Once your customer likes the fit, design and comfort offered by your product, they stick to it; and it is this stickiness that brings success,” Veena tells MAKERS India.
Birth of an Entrepreneur
Asked about the ‘woman entrepreneur’ tag, Veena tells MAKERS India, “Risk aversion among women is very high. We tend to navigate and tread towards softer and safer options; get married at an early marriage and get jobs which steadily pay. But there are a lot of women like me who like to hustle and move, instead of remaining comfortable.”
Coming from a Marwadi family, Veena (35) says she has entrepreneurship in her DNA, that the advantage of having ancestral wisdom is the understanding of money and businesses. “I was raised to be an entrepreneur; I have been in incubation ever since I was little. Even when I was 7, I used to say that I will become a business woman in fashion,” she says.
After coming back to India in 2011, Veena was involved with her family business for five years. In 2016, Veena launched Monrow Shoes with an initial investment of Rs.2 crore.
She recollects that 2018 witnessed a spurt of growth for the brand, as celebrities and influencers started noticing Monrow. “We were clear about establishing ourselves before raising funding.
Making it big
In 2020, when a nation-wide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic ensured that people were staying home and rarely going out, one would expect a footwear business to suffer losses. However, it was during this period that Monrow Shoes redefined its strategies and turned EBITDA positive - a milestone for any startup. The team even came to office daily instead of working from home; the office space was, Veena claims, large enough to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols.
Veena explains how the company empathized with its customer base and gave them what they needed, “Sportswear and athleisure footwear has had its era; now is the era of lounge-leisure: you go for walks, errands– and we are the pioneers in lounge-leisure. We have 150-180 SKUs now; every 45 days we have new designs coming out.”
She adds that post the declaration of vaccine in October, people started stepping out again like they used to before COVID-19 hit. In fact, a survey by Monrow Shoes found that it is the excitement of opening a newly-delivered package that encourages most customers to buy online. (About 85% of the brand’s sales happen online.)
Veena adds an interesting point, “Unlike what a lot of people say that you grow out of your comfort zone, post pandemic, I realized the value of comfort zone (during the pandemic). The moment you make somebody comfortable, amazing things can happen - whether it's in creativity or a sense of belonging, or even the contribution by each team member.”
Monrow Shoes is expecting a three-fold growth in 2021. “Now that vaccine deployment has stated, life will hopefully go back to normalcy soon. And our funds have flown in, so our rocket is ready to soar high,” Veena signs off.
(Interviewed and produced by Athira Nair)