Women entrepreneurs have not only set a milestone in their careers but also have become an employment provider for other underprivileged women of our society. Pooja Thakur, CEO, Praefinio Footwear unveils some of the important stages of her journey and endeavours she has taken for her workforce.
Tell us about the advent of your idea of becoming an entrepreneur in footwear industry and did it commensurate with your education?
I always wanted to do something different and was uncertain for a long time about what I wanted to do after I completing my education. I had completed my MBA and with that kind of degree, you usually get jobs in banking, HR, and marketing industry. I was an HR professional for some time, then ventured into hospitality, and then jumped to banking but was not able to adapt anywhere. I had a lot of friends in the footwear industry and my love for footwear is well-known among my friends and family. So, I tried to analyse the intricacies of the design of footwear whenever I went to market or a fashion show. It was through this exploration, I discovered my innate desire for something in the footwear industry.
Please describe your evolution from a small footwear manufacturer to a retail giant in child’s footwear section?
As soon as I made my decision, I had to find ways to execute my plans. For this, I extensively researched the footwear market. For some days, I bought a pair of shoes from the market and dissected them to see their parts. The parts of shoes when lay open in front of me were incomprehensible to me because I had no background in footwear design. I then thoroughly studied the fabrics used for footwear in the market and spent almost a year researching about these things. I got married after this and things were halted for some time. I gave some time to my new life and then continued the journey of an entrepreneur again. I hired a tailor first to stitch shoes. My current supervisor is that tailor who was my first employee. He was not an educated man but knew his work well. I hired a small room with two machines and two employees at that time. Now, it has evolved into a shoe manufacturing unit with multiple employees.
What were the initial hurdles you faced and how was your journey of being a founder and CEO along with being a married woman?
The biggest hurdle was gender bias. The footwear industry is a male-dominated world and most of labourers and suppliers are men. You would hardly find a woman manufacturer in our industry. I have not come across a woman manufacturer till now. Women often work as a designer, as a sourcing agent or in other departments of this industry. Interacting with labour workforce was another challenge. Coming from a sophisticated background, explaining my requirements to them was tough. One has to listen carefully to them and become one of them. Another hurdle was opening a factory at a completely new place. Everyone in my family was against it including my father. The third hurdle was a huge initial investment. In our industry, everything works on credit. Initially, no one was ready to invest in us. Therefore, we had to source the raw material by paying cash. Also, this industry works on contract-based unorganized labour but I started salary system for the workforce working in my factory.
Can you describe your product chain?
I started my journey with booties for infants which don’t have sole. I got to know through my research in the market that maximum brands import these shoes from China. For any shoe the material of a shoe is laminated first, it is then cut and stitched afterwards. A finishing touch to a shoe is given in the end. When I acquired expertise in this section, I entered the toddler section. All through this journey, I had found that we Indians are fond of affordable footwear. Hence, the thought of producing quality footwear for children which every section of society can afford was my primary aim.
Any advice for young entrepreneurs!
Don’t think much if you are determined about something. I was at a stage three years ago when people used to think that my plans would never substantiate. But, one has to work hard for an enterprise to flourish and has to supervise every aspect of his or her business. Last but not the least, timelines don’t work in entrepreneurship. Hence, being an entrepreneur one shouldn’t set a benchmark for anything because uncertainties lurk at every step of such a journey.