PROLOGUE: It was during early years of my university days that my father, who was a voracious reader, came home from work one evening and flipped a book towards me and said, “Read it. I have a feeling, it will take you very far!”
I looked at the book as it lay next to me. The cover read, Don’t Say Yes When You Want To Say No, written by Dr Herbert Fensterheim, a clinical professor in psychiatry at the Cornell University Medical College. I picked up the book and never put it down until I finished the last page.
This yes and no business is not cool whether it’s in one’s personal life or when it comes to one’s field of work… in fact, it’s not good at all when it comes to business field and the commitments one makes.
FLASHBACK: It was about five years ago I remember. I was still working with Hindustan Times, India’s second largest English broadsheet daily, as its Fashion Editor. One day, based on an article written by me on the importance of nurturing young fashion designers and the lack of interest in the field that time, a real estate man approached me and asked me to start an incubator with my expertise and told he was willing to fund it.
I thought it was brilliant thing to do. I jumped at the idea as it was the first time I was getting a chance to do something, other than merely writing, to do something for the bright young fashion designer graduates. Immediately I came up with a concept called Young Designers Forum, a kind of group for young designers which will further the interests of upcoming talents.
Part of my idea for this YDF was to create a mentor platform of some of the well-known, senior fashion designers of the country. These designers were to come and share their experiences and success stories with this group of young designers. So I dialled about 15 numbers… and all without exception said YES.
Then the business of fashion, which ideally should be the core factor of this industry moved aside and the politics of fashion took over when someone floated a rumour that YDF was a parallel body to the fashion industry being floated by me. I had the contract and MoU with me stating that it was not a parallel association and that this outfit was being initiated merely to help and nurture young fashion designers find stronger grounds to set their feet in. Nope, that was not convincing enough for most.
Barring four fashion designers, all the rest who said YES, the rest fled from the scene. I asked them on what ground are they saying NO when they said YES to it especially when it wasn’t a completion to any of the existing fashion setups. It was just an ambitious venture to support young fashion designers who desperately need the support!
For the next few days some, whom I interacted years after I entered into the fashion industry, tried to make me the bête noire of the fashion industry. I told them that the fashion industry is part of me and that I grew up with the industry. That Indian fashion industry and its members are my friends that I grew up with and I will not put up something that is directly in conflict with their interest.
Fashion industry in India is made of three category of people. 1. The ones who are bold and speak their mind out. 2. The ones who are not bold so they tag along with the man who shout the loudest and 3. The ones who are like the spectators at the Wimbledon – they keep looking left, then right and eventually will run after the ones who they think are victorious.
Category 1 is always low on numbers. They are hard to find. But I am happy they are still part of the industry. And they still are my friends. They speak their minds out. There’s never a Yes from them when they want to say No.
Category 2 is the ones what you may want to call as those with no backbones. If I shout loud they listen to me. You shout they listen to you. And remember, you hear a Yes from them, always take it as a No.
Category 3 is the tennis spectators. They don’t really matter. If I win, they are on my side. If they win, they are with them.
In my professional area, I have never said Yes to anyone and then went back and said No to something that I was asked to do. I don’t know whether it was the book I read or was it just me, I have always believed that a man should me known for his word. You commit something, come hell or high water, you bloody well do it. Or say No… isn’t that simple.
PRESENT: Why I mentioned the book and the bitter experience I had before? Well, for the last four months I have been in touch with some of our fashion designers for a retail venture that my firm VNA is curating in Singapore. I must say here that a famous fashion designer was frank enough to tell me, “I worked my ass out for years and earned my name. If your proposal matches with my expectations I am in, else nope!” Perfect. I like to deal with such personalities. He didn’t mince any words. And he never kept me hanging in the air either.
Then couple of younger designers was forthright with their business policies. Frank and straight forward. Yes, that works too!
But what surprised me was when a very accomplished lady designer, who I immensely admire, called me when I sent her a text message siting the Singapore proposal. She was one of the first designers I approached. She called me the moment she read my message. She told me it’s a fantastic opportunity and she’s in. That she was travelling somewhere and the moment she is back in her city, we can proceed. Splendid. The words were so positive that I had no reason to doubt her.
Yet another stalwart said yes. Sent me the lookbooks. And then said No. Funny? Lol… it is indeed!
Four months down, I still haven’t heard from her. Three mails and several messages later, I decided to take her off the list of prospects. I remember my friend and the founder of New York Fashion Week Fern Mallis telling me while we sat down to watch a designer show at Lakme Fashion Week years ago how some of the leading names in Indian fashion fix up meetings and how they simply don’t show up. I didn’t quite realize what that meant or how they could do it. I do now.
You dial their number they don’t answer. You sent a message they don’t respond. You shoot an email, you will never hear from them. Trust me, it’s not for a favour. It is for a business opportunity where they can further their interest in a city which has potential and is good for their business. Out of perhaps the thousands of designers that I know and interact with, I needed just 12 names! It’s not difficult at all…
I am not here to spoon feed. They should know how to do their business and I am sure they all are happy with what they’ve got. Now I have the 12 names that I needed… those who said yes and stuck to their words. So I am happy.
EPILOGUE: I’ve dealt with the western fashion industry for many years. You sent a mail, you’re sure to get a response within the next few hours. And they are the ones who deal with hundreds of mails and phone calls from around the world on a daily basis. Still you get a response stating either a yes or a no.
The fact is that only about 20 percent of the members in India say the word and stick to it. When they said YES it means yes. And it’s always a NO when they want to say no. I admire the designer who told me frankly that he worked hard and now he wanted to cash in on his name. I admire the ones who respond to mails and phone calls and stick to their words and commitments. I think they are the ones who will take this industry forward.
They may be rare. They may be few in number. But I am glad they exist.
And I am glad they are a part of India’s fashion industry and they are the reason why I am saying YES we still have scope for growth even when I frankly feel like saying NO!