In this episode of The Balls Of Steel Show, our host Sarthak Varshney talks to one headstrong woman of steel. Someone who has undertaken entrepreneurship out of a sheer passion for what she does that helped her in starting a fashion label. In conversation with Ruth Samuel of Grace N’ Swagg, a woman of her own thoughts who has tried to bring the best out of her circumstances.
WHAT BUSINESS ARE YOU RUNNING BECAUSE OF WHICH WE CAN SAY THAT YOU’VE GOT THE BALLS OF STEEL?
The business that I am into is Grace n Swagg, it’s a fashion and lifestyle label. We customise clothes for every occasion from birthdays to weddings to everything. So, it caters to the requirements of kids and women more in comparison with men.
LET’S BEGIN THE CONVERSATION WITH YOUR JOURNEY RUTH, PLEASE TELL US EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY IN DETAIL TILL THE CURRENT TIME?
This question takes me way back in time. So, just to give a background of myself before talking about my journey. I was born and brought up in Mumbai. But, my family decided on shifting to Coimbatore because of my father’s business, so. We didn’t have any family here still we came down to Coimbatore and had problems with language mainly. I remember my school days wherein I had a little language problem so it was a bit of a struggle. My peers at that time picked on me a lot but then I’ve got some good friends too who were with me always.
As much as I remember I have always been fascinated by fashion since childhood. I used to dress up my barbie dolls different while growing up. The seeds of fashion were sown back then, I believe. It was maybe the starting point of my journey now. I’ve always been that fashion enthusiast in my family. Even though nobody in my family is like that. Everyone has a science background and they are into science and research. I was always the one interested in fashion.
Once I finished my schooling, I knew what I wanted to pursue further. So, I took up fashion designing and that’s how I started. I also finished my post-graduation in fashion studies. Once that was done too, so I looked out for jobs because I wanted to gain some experience under someone. People often ask me why didn’t you move out for fashion and why did you stay back at Coimbatore. That was because my mother was alone and I wanted to stay with her. I lost my father when I was in my 10th std, so I just didn’t want to leave my mother alone.
So, I got this opportunity in a boutique where they told me that I could join in as the Store Manager and the Designer and joined. After a few months, I realised that the job was not doing anything for me. I wasn’t doing anything there either and I was just standing there and waiting for people to come. I decided to talk with the owner, telling her that the store experience wasn’t doing any good to me and it doesn’t push me to do things. Then she said something to me which I can suggest sparked something in me and can be called as the birth of my business idea. She said, “Ruth, see I don’t know fashion designing and I haven’t studied fashion designing, but I have a lot of money so I can do whatever I want.”
That just one thing just hit me, you like people have money so they can do everything that they, what about people like us who even have the passion. I just thought that we could just do so much more. So, I decided to pursue my idea of opening my boutique.
Even if my brand would be small, I decided on doing something on my own. I just told my family that you know, I am quitting and pursuing something of my own. It wasn’t easy for me I did cry a lot and another event took place at that given point of time.
The owner told me that she wants me exclusively to be in the men’s section and I want you to wear short clothes. I protested that all the other girls are in the women section why should I be in the men section. She was using me as a prop to attract customers. She even insisted on selling undergarments to males. So, at that time I was taken aback a little. I remember coming back home and crying you know, and I was determined that no, I won’t tolerate kind of behaviour.
It took me four years to set up everything and it has been two years since I first launched my brand. And in two years too, people started acknowledging my brand, this means a lot to me. the struggle of these four years is worth it.
SO, BEFORE WE MOVE AHEAD IN THIS CONVERSATION RUTH, WHY DON’T YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD?
I had a lot of fun while growing up. But, I don’t remember much of my time in Mumbai. I was fairly young when we shifted to Coimbatore. But I remember, my time here. It was just the four of us here, my parents, my brother and I. We did have a lot of struggles while growing up but at the same time, we had a lot of fun.
My mother is the Principal of a nursing college. So I remember her working all her life also when she had to move to Saudi Arabia for 3 years. At that time somehow, we three, my father, brother and I were managing without her. I wasn’t particularly very close to my mother, so my father kind of filled that spot. My father used to braid my hair and take care of me and my brother, he also used to cook for us. It was a good time but we also knew that my father was suffering from cancer. This revelation was a real shock for us to understand particularly at that age. At the same time, my father didn’t want my mother to know about his health condition because he didn’t want to worry about her.
My father, however, got sick and my mother had to be briefed about everything at the moment. She left her job and came back to us. So, my parents had to go to Mumbai for treatment, for a while it was just me and my brother taking care of ourselves and each other.
There is this one day that I can never forget. It was Father’s Day and I was ready to call my father and wish him. My uncle called us and said that your mother and father have had a big fight and you people would have to come over and they booked our tickets. We went there and outside my father’s Mumbai house we saw a lot of people and it did not strike us as to why are they here. It was when we saw our mother crying, we understood that we had lost our father. It just made me bad that my father passed away even without me saying bye to him.
Then our mother took our responsibility and said that she’d take care of us and moved down to Coimbatore. She singlehandedly took care of both of us and put us through college and made sure that we got whatever we wanted. It was a big building block in my life to see my mother taking care of both of us all by herself.
SINCE YOU WERE BORN IN MUMBAI, SO RUTH PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION THAT, DID BOMBAY INSTILL SOMETHING IN YOU?
I haven’t spent much of my time there but I can say that the spirit of working endlessly is what Mumbai has instilled in me. People in Mumbai are always on the go and they never stop and that is something I appreciate. As a kid, I remember our grandparents always working. It was just us, the kids and the cousins who stayed back.
I particularly picked this attitude after I gained maturity in a lot of things. It was while growing up that I realised, why things happened the way they did.
YOU ALSO TOLD US THAT YOUR FATHER WAS ALSO INTO BUSINESS, SO WHAT BUSINESS DID HE HAVE?
My father was a microbiologist but later he shifted to computers and his business was Cyber Struck Computers. They supplied and installed computers to schools and colleges. I remember that he also authored a book for St Joseph School in Kannur. So that what he did. But you sadly, he did not get that much of time to focus on his business because he got sick but then this is what he did.
I was just a spectator while the computers were assembled and sent out. My brother and my mother were the major driving forces that helped him throughout. I picked up from my father is his determination. There were times when there was a lot of assembling to do but he didn’t give up. He even worked when he was sick. So that’s what I learnt from him. I will take that determination and passion forever in my life.
WHEN YOU DECIDED TO PURSUE FASHION AS A CAREER, DID YOU GET ANY RESISTANCE FORM YOUR FAMILY? DID YOUR MOTHER AND BROTHER EXPRESS ANY APPREHENSION?
My brother and my mother have always been very supportive of everything that I have done. They did want me to become a lawyer but they thought that I’ll be a good lawyer because I speak well. They always said that I had that ease of talking and maybe arguing with people that I could become a good lawyer.
So had I not pursued fashion I would have pursued, law as a career. But you know when I said that fashion is something I want to pursue they didn’t object to that and just supported my decision. They saw the passion I had for my project and not even stopped me once from pursuing that. I always wanted to pursue fashion and that’s what I did.
SO, TAKING THE CONVERSATION AHEAD RUTH, BACK IN YOUR COLLEGE DAYS DID YOU THINK THAT YOU’LL START YOUR LABEL?
I believe my college days were one of the best times of my life. Provided in South India you cannot dress up like however, you want, there is a specific dress code. So, we had to wear kurtas and dupattas pinned correctly. We didn’t wear jeans to college. But even then, I didn’t bother about any sort of dress code. I just wore whatever I wanted to. I used to wear long tops and drape a dupatta over it with leggings.
So, I remember my HOD telling me to dress appropriately and I was laughing all the time. But the point is, that I always dressed differently since I loved trying new looks. I just never dressed how I was supposed to in college.
The other thing is that everyone knew me in college because of my heels. People used to be like “oh right, Ruth from fashion designing, the who wears heels.” So that was a part of my identification. I have such funny anecdotes associated with my footwear. Once I tripped down in my heels around 3:00-3:30 pm when the entire college used to out in the campus. People saw me tripping in my heels.
I think I had my style statement since then. At the same time, I don’t consider myself rebellious. I can’t say I was rebelling against anyone; I was just being myself. Also, because I studied well and scored good, nobody could have said anything to me.
SO, RUTH I WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING MORE ABOUT THE CULTURE, HOW DID YOUR MINDSET TRAIN YOU TO GO AGAINST SUCH BIASES WHILE LIVING WITH THEM?
Now, things must have changed I am sure of it, but back then when I was in college, they were different. I did never think of going against the flow. I was finding ways as to why we can’t wear something in a particular manner. Our clothes weren’t revealing, and we always used to dress modestly. On top of that, we were from the fashion designing department and we were supposed to experiment with ourselves.
There were some things even I adhered to. Like they said don’t wear heels while stitching since the heels could get caught in the machine or might hurt you while the whole process. But I didn’t understand why we had to wear a dupatta and pin it peculiarly. Also, girls were to sit with girls only. I didn’t find any logic in that. But, I wasn’t there to revolutionize things; I just didn’t feel the necessity for those things. If the given instructions are correlating with my values, my ideas and something logical I would do that. I couldn’t align my beliefs with something bizarre.
There was this one instance where the HOD of my undergrad college was the examiner of my postgrad final viva. And seeing me instantly he said that he remembers me and told my postgrad professors about me. But all he said was that he loved my work and that filled me with immense pride and joy.
MOST OF THE THINGS THAT YOU’VE SAID ARE VERY NORMAL IN OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY AND YOU ALWAYS QUESTIONED THESE PARAMETERS IN YOUR CULTURE. PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION RUTH, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CULTURE NOW?
I think that the culture is changing, I cannot say that I have completely changed but it is improving. People have started accepting a certain type of dressing and how it is normal. Now I think the society has evolved a lot and has learnt their sweet lesson. But then those stares and glares are still there.
If I particularly talk about Coimbatore, the fashion here is a bit slow, but it is improving at a good rate. People can understand that this is what it is. Another thing that I feel has moved this change is that South Indian actors and actresses are quite fashionable and this has changed people’s opinion about fashion as well.
On another note, I couldn’t agree more that saree is the most glamourous attire. No matter how many western outfits come in, saree will remain the most glamourous outfit in India. Any woman who wears saree would look glamourous. People have become very accepting now.
SO, RUTH TELL US ABOUT YOUR POST GRADUATION DAYS, DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEA AS TO WOULD YOU TAKE UP A JOB OR OPEN SOMETHING OF YOUR OWN?
One of my purposes in pursuing higher studies was that I thirst to learn more about fashion. I went ahead for my Post Graduation and the two years taught me a great deal. The two years gave me a deeper insight into the arena of fashion and I thoroughly enjoyed my research work.
My project was about introducing Punk Fashion in Indian Wear, I went to a lot of boutiques asking them about my designs. They were in a state of shock to see them but at the same time, they were accepting of the designs. I entirely enjoyed the process of designing for my project.
WHEN YOU JOINED THE STORE AS A STORE MANAGER, THIS LADY SAID SOME BLATANT THINGS OUT LOUD TO YOU, THAT INSTILLED IN YOU THE SPIRIT OF DOING SOMETHING ON YOUR OWN, HOW DID THAT EXPERIENCE MAKE YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CULTURE THAT YOU WERE A PART OF?
I firmly think that people with money and quality education have it all. But that’s not always true. If you take a deeper look at these people who own big stores, not every big store owner, but the majority have such kind of attitude. This came to as a total shock. I honestly used to look up to them you know, women who owned these stores and had that kind of authority. That’s why I wanted to start under such a woman. But it amuses me when such people have a sick mentality.
It pains me to see such elements in a culture. I think that culture can only change if people change and if their mentality changes. It can only change when people are looking at things differently. At the same time, people like these can make a person doubt themselves. I still wonder why did she say that to me and why did she ask me to wear shot clothes and do the needful. You can make a mannequin look like that, but why would you ask a person to do that.
What I realised at that point was we generally think that it is the common people who have a mindset like that and people at large have matured. But no, it is the people with high education qualification and has wealth who think of other people as insignificant. They may expand their businesses but their minds are still narrow.
WHEN YOU THOUGHT OF STARTING YOUR LABEL, SO HOW DID YOU MANAGE THE INITIAL FUND?
So, initially, my mother sponsored me and put in a little money for my website. When I had to make my website, my mother sponsored it. But, when I suggested some change to the developers, they increased the price. But the website wasn’t up to the mark and I didn’t want people to know about my brand with that kind of website. So, I thought that you know, I should go online and study how to design a website and that’s what I did.
I learnt website designing and with hit and trial method, I made the website the way I wanted it. The first product I sold was a desk calendar and I got a great response. That’s how I started with my journey and my website. After this, I got enough money to reinvest in my business and even tie-up with manufacturers.
Before I started my website, I was marketing my business on Instagram, I didn’t even have a Facebook since I was doing a lot of things myself, I thought of focusing on one platform at a time. Slowly after Instagram, I went to Whatsapp and then from there to Facebook. I also jogged up to my mother and my brother’s contacts and got a substantial response from there.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE THESE FOUR YEARS SETTING UP YOUR BUSINESS RUTH PLEASE TELL ME THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION?
When I initially started off my mother sponsored me and because of the website blunder, I had already lost a lot of money.
I made a point to save money that point on. 3 years went by while trying to get funds. I managed to get some money from my parents and some from my savings. I put in everything into that. Along with that I also had to search for manufacturers who were under my budget. I also had to study the market and what kind of taste did the consumers have. So, it took me 4 years to complete the entire thing by myself.
We also had to suffer a loss wherein I lost my young nephew and that took me a lot of time to cope up with that too. I worked for my website and today I don’t require anyone to make an update. I also went to deliver a lecture at a college and I model for my clothing line. These four years have been a lot at the same time they have taught me a lot.
Right from building my website from getting the GST certification, I have gone through it all. I want people to correlate my hard work to my brand because this is what an entrepreneur would want. This is the only thing that I want for Grace and Swag too.
NOW THAT WE HAVE KNOWN YOU QUITE A BIT, WE WOULD LOVE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE FIRST TRANSACTION?
Oh, that was one of an experience. The first transaction was the calendar and I still remember hearing to that clink on my website and the alert that popped up. It shocked me and made me happy at the same time. I received my first order. Many such clinks followed, and that made me happy. Also, even now, when that happens, it makes me happy.
The sales are symbolic since several good artists are making better calendars than I do and if someone is purchasing things from my website, it does mean a lot. I keep looking at the product and I constantly think that my products are being liked.
SO, RUTH SINCE YOU’VE FACED SO MANY ROUGH PATCHES, PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION THAT ARE YOU FEARFUL OF ANYTHING NOW?
Yes, that is true that I have been through a lot of things and now that my business surrounds my life, I fear, what if my products are not up to the mark? The only fear as of now that I have is that staying in trend and making things possible. I don’t want my products to go out of trend and fall out of my customer’s regard. Also, I started this business so that I can make luxurious clothing available to all. And I don’t want them to think that they have lost their money by investing it in the products.
WHAT CAN BE CALLED AS ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST FAILURES TILL NOW?
The biggest failure that I can say was the entire website fiasco because, in the beginning, you trust everyone. When you start, you are already fearful of a lot of risks also, any hindrance in your path becomes a failure. I had already taken money from my mother that I had invested in my website which didn’t turn out to be good. This incident in my opinion could have stopped me there and then.
But above all, I tried to turn that failure into a stepping stone for me and mind you I had lost a lot of money because of that mistrust that I placed in web developers. At the same time, I learnt something different which is web development that still helps me.
MOVING AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION RUTH ARE YOU A MONEY MINDED PERSON?
I am not money minded at all but I accept that running a business requires funds. I never give anything to anyone for free even if it’s my family or friends. But there is a reason that I want to make fashion available to all because of which my products are of affordable prices. My main target is college students, and we all know in college we always go for affordable fashion which makes sense.
The products that I sell are of good quality and they end up believing that they have spent less when it comes to the quality. This is what I want them to think precisely. To be honest, I got a good business this year but, you know what makes me happy? When the customers talk about the products and how much they like that, that satiates me. It is because it creates an image in my mind that my work has been appreciated which is much more important to me.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT MONEY MANAGEMENT?
To be honest, initially, I was really bad at it. I am a really bad person when it comes to money management. As soon as I got money, I spent it at that instant. I don’t save and it never gets into my head. Whenever I get money, I just spend it all, though I know which is not very wise. I just spend money on clothes, makeup and food. I am a big foodie so that’s where most of my money goes.
So, my mother manages my finances and that’s how I have started saving. I think if I’ll manage my finances, I wouldn’t have anything in my account. Thankfully, I have a good auditor, who checks all the things and manages the finances.
Own Your Swag is the business mindset of Ruth Samuel who owns her swag with grace and elegance. This conversation with Ruth gives us substantial questions that one can ask their cultural groups. She has expressed a viable apprehension as to why society has a certain glance over women. This conversation with Ruth showed a mirror as well as shown what determination can achieve all by itself. Listen to the entire episode, to know more about Ruth and add her business mindset to you Dhandho Ni Soch.