In February 2020, while I was in the process of setting up Alum Knight Partners (AKP), I was introduced to Shalini Sharma who, coincidentally, was also establishing her entrepreneurial venture Six Yard Story (SYS). Shalini was looking for a content partner to assist her in writing content for her to-be launched website. Fortunately, our thought processes aligned, and SYS became AKP’s first ever client. More than a year later, SYS continues to work with us, and we consider that to be a great privilege.
Acknowledging Shalini’s feisty spirit and her mission to spearhead the revival of handloom sarees and make them part of women’s daily wardrobes, AKP is dedicating this article to her and SYS on International Women’s Day. It is our sincere hope that this is the first of many such articles through which we celebrate the achievements of women who lead by example and pave the way for many others to follow in their footsteps.
AKP: After spending several years in the corporate world, what motivated you to start your own venture? And why handlooms in particular?
SYS: I always yearned to do something to give back to society in some form, through a profitable venture, by utilizing the learnings/knowledge that I gained during a successful corporate career spanning 16 years.
My fascination with traditional craftsmanship and Indian handloom, especially sarees, goes back many years. Six Yard Story is the realization of my belief in India’s priceless traditions and the skills of master weavers and craftsmen. During my visits to remote villages, I was humbled to see the spartan lifestyle of the artisans and their unflinching resolve to save a dying art. I wanted to make a contribution to promote their art, help improve their economic condition and offer them a chance to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
AKP: Women are major contributors to India’s handloom sector, yet they fail to receive adequate recognition for their efforts. Is Six Yard Story planning to undertake any initiatives to highlight their important role?
SYS: Weavers and artisans, irrespective of gender, are the building blocks of our brand. Six Yard Story wants to make their empowerment inclusive. We cannot do this if our initiatives are restricted only to women artisans. Through our efforts, we aim to give recognition to all artisans. An interesting fact is that in the weaving community, entire families are engaged in the profession. When we talk about empowerment and recognition, it needs to be for the entire family, and ultimately, for the entire community.
AKP: There is often a tendency to gender-define women’s entrepreneurial roles by using terms such as “woman entrepreneur” or “mom-preneur.” What is your view on such assignment of labels?
SYS: An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur in whatever way you want to define it. Assigning gender-specific labels does not change anything. In my view, certain roles in our society were defined to be pursued by men only; hence, when a woman takes up those roles, it is considered a big deal since it shatters a well-established stereotype. Women leaders have to work harder and prove themselves many times over before they are regarded as competent and successful. Male leaders, on the other hand, are allowed to fail before they are even questioned. I strongly believe in the concept of equality and not bringing gender into the equation while defining roles.
AKP: In your opinion, is there still a need for events and celebrations such as International Women’s Day (IWD)?
SYS: IWD day honors and celebrates women's achievements across all fields and raises awareness of the struggle women continue to face. I think it is important to reflect and admire the strength and resilience of women achievers which could be a source of inspiration to others.
AKP: In your view, what does feminism entail?
SYS: I feel that over the years, feminism has taken on a negative connotation, which is why calling oneself a feminist can be easily misconstrued. For me, feminism does not entail male bashing. Both genders exist for a reason and both are equally important. I consider feminism to be about equality and empowering your own self.
AKP: The campaign theme for IWD 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. If you were given a chance to challenge any one thing this year, what would it be?
SYS: I would like to take up the challenge of being the best version of myself in whatever I do, especially in this new journey that I have undertaken.
AKP: What would be your message to first-time entrepreneurs?
SYS: Have a vision, write your own story, believe in yourself, don’t be afraid to fail, don’t shy away from asking for help, and be obsessed about offering a great customer experience.
[Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.]
About Six Yard Story
Six Yard Story intertwines the purity of making a saree with the stylish, understated sophistication of a woman who proudly flaunts her Indian roots through her sartorial choices. It is a premium artisanal brand which embraces traditionalism rooted in an Indian craft aesthetic. Central to their ethos is the empowerment of weavers and revival of the slow fashion movement. By focusing on these aspects, the endeavor is to bring handloom sarees back in vogue and make them an indispensable part of women’s wardrobes.
For more details, please visit www.sixyardstory.com/