Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Mani Kohli as part of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Fashion entrepreneur Mani Kohli is the Lead Designer and Founder of the Khubsoorat Collection. She is one of London’s leading designers of haute couture bridal and occasional wear, renowned for her impeccable style and taste. She has a track record of pioneering fusion ethnic readymade ensembles since 1983 and from a small UK boutique has since expanded to New York and New Jersey. Here she speaks to Reena about life on the move, its many struggles and following her passion for fashion.
What has the rollercoaster journey of setting up your own business and balancing it with motherhood been like?
I was born to an Army officer and I couldn’t have been better placed! Dad was on the move, posted from north, south, east and west of India till I finally flew to my own nest in the UK. It prepared me for moving homes, new schools, new environment and new people in life. The Army background rooted discipline and adaptability at an early age. It refined my senses to new palettes and adapting to the best for me.
So, when I got married and moved to UK, though I was prepared to adopt a new country and people, I was not mentally ready for the failures of marriage and responsibilities of having children at the early age of 19. I felt thrown into a deep end with all relations severed. I learnt the values of self-respect, confidence, education and self-reliance and all my 18 years of training proved vital. After my marriage breakup, I realised mothers have killer surviving instincts as I worked on a project to ensure mental nourishment for my kids with the best substitutes – grandparents – and started a business based on my passion for fashion.
It allowed me to fill a vacuum of readymade garments for a hungry consumer segment in the UK, who had their heart strings still connected to their mother country. I invested into building a small empire of organic handmade couture ethnic product out of India while keeping a watchful eye on the kids.
The business definitely paid back the fruits to my labour and risk-taking during its expansion phases. I did manage to grab a slice of fame and name with sheer determination and hard work as I built the brand Khubsoorat. My success seemed an attractive proposition for my absconding husband to come back and seek a settlement after 12 years of divorce. It heightened the vulnerability of my growing years and made me more resilient to fight and add the stamp of ownership to my income.
It certainly isn’t easy when you spend seven days of the week, 365 days of the year in relentlessly pursuit of your ambition and goal for years on end.
The saying that “it is easy to climb, but difficult to sustain”, sure stands true. Now I find having played the challenging field for the past 36 years, the Covid pandemic situation is sure taking its toll. I may have experience to handle the adversities but what makes me weak is seeing the next generation struggle to make a stand.
May we all emerge mentally and physically stronger from these trying times that face the world.
How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?
As I grew up in India, my emotional bond is very strong. India is my mother, my love. Since I learnt to respect bread and butter in the UK, to me it is my father, the provider.
If you could go back and give your teenage self one bit of advice, what would it be?
Listen to your head first, let the heart build the instincts of survival.
What do you think has been the most profound realisation or discovery about yourself over last few years?
It is hard to accept one’s own weaknesses and strengths. If only one could face these, the chosen life path may be less turbulent. I was married to my business and never stopped working to prove my capabilities.
Now I am forced to accept the changing environment. It has given me the opportunity to catch up on a lot of lost ground on the lighter notes that make me happy and indulge in enlightening interests. I am on a self-discovery channel right now!
Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive “In Conversation” series for ‘iGlobal’, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist will be catching up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.