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CatFit presents ‘Tryst with Destiny’ Rising Back from a crisis with entrepreneur Pooja Bedi

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NewsX recently carried out a special show- ‘Tryst With Destiny’ Rising Back From A Crisis With Pooja Bedi, presented by CatFit. This series provided a holistic conversation about mental health, challenges faced in life and how to come out of it stronger, with anecdotes from Pooja Bedi’s life. This discussion targeted how to deal with adversities in life and the different coping skills required to overcome those challenges.

NewsX was joined by Arpan Dixit, Global Head, CatFit, Shefali Chopra, TEDx speaker and Storyteller, CatFit and entrepreneur Pooja Bedi, for this special episode, ‘Tryst With Destiny’ Rising Back From A Crisis With Pooja Bedi.

In her inaugural address, Pooja Bedi spoke about her mental and emotional crisis which drained her and how she came out of it. She said, “It’s very easy to look at an exterior, like a film family and put a bracket around it and stereotype people while saying what an easy life. Having said that, we’re all human beings, whatever it is that we go through, we through as a human being going through life and being a star child is actually very difficult because your life is public domain. There’s a lot of trauma associated with the fact that parents may have had relationships or are divorced and that becomes public fodder. One goes through challenges in terms of emotional challenges, for example, I was sexually molested in my teenage years by my stepfather, so those are human experiences you go through and rise from. An emotional experience for me would be, from the age of 27 to the time I was 32, I think I lost everything that was important to me in my life. I lost the man who raised me, my Nani passed away, my dog passed away and my mother died in a landslide, my brother committed suicide because he was schizophrenic. My marriage broke up, I had two small children and in addition to that I was starting off life with no income once again. I started writing columns for 4,000 rupees for Midday, trying to get my life back together again. These are huge challenges from 27-32 when you’re just developing your own sense of identity, going out there in the world and figuring things out. It’s a huge setback to lose every support system known to you at that point of time and still be positive. When people saw me, I never cried and lamented, I did in private when I cried and let it all out because it’s very important to never suppress thing but to experience it. The idea is what is the bigger picture, I could wallow in what has happened, I can look back at the past and wail. At the end of the day, it’s my life and these are my choices as to what happens to me doesn’t define me but my attitude towards what happened to me defines me. It’s not exclusive to me, everybody will lose a parent or go through a failed relationship, everybody goes through professional challenges and ups and downs, it’s called the journey of life. How I choose to embrace my challenges, rise from it, be stronger as a result of it, those are my choices. It’s up to me how I handle a crisis, whether I allow myself to be scarred by it, be bitter about it or to be better because of it”.


When the CatFit team goes to schools, they find a lot of children, male and female who have been molested or violated and result in suicidal tendencies or going into a shell. Giving out a message for such children, Pooja said, “I think it’s very important to take away stigma and shame from that. If you don’t attach stigma or shame to it, a child will go in a shell. It’s important to tell people to speak up, to tell children they have a right and they must speak up. I believe statistics say that almost 80% of sexual abuse cases take place with somebody known to the victim. It’s necessary to speak up and there are so many times families tend to push it aside because it’s somebody known and they don’t want to create a family drama or create an unpleasantness within the family but I’m sorry, if someone is a bad person, they need to be highlighted, spotlighted and everybody needs to keep their kids away from them. It’s important to turn around and make a statement, mothers should not accept the fact that their child is a rapist and go stand up for him but give him two tight slaps and say how dare you violate the integrity and dignity of a woman. It is women who need to stand up for other women whether it’s mother-in-law’s who may have to tell you to abort a female fetus and are put through the trauma because the family wants a boy. Women have to stand up for women and if there is a case where people are looking the other way, that means a woman is involved and that is so unfortunate”.


Speaking about the mantra and where her resilience to rise back comes from, Pooja said, “Basically my parents really led by example, they had really rebellious lives, they went out there and fought conventions and defy a whole bunch of stuff. These days your trolls are available and the type of media on you in every possible way. I think watching them say if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen, the fact is you choose to go down a path. Take responsibility for yourself, your actions. It’s important to understand that every single thing in life is your choice, every decision that surrounds you, so you look at your life with a lot of gratitude and at yourself with a lot of appreciation. If you’ve made bad choices, then turn around and make some good choices. I think resilience also comes from a sense of self-worth, a lot of people don’t feel good enough and they accept the bad that is happening in their life because they feel they can get no better or they can do more and that they don’t deserve more in their lives. It’s very important to develop self-worth and that must be inculcated since childhood, we’re so used to telling people off and putting children down, be like so and so, do better, strive for these marks. Comparing children and motivating them only for success, making them feel less like they haven’t done their best or they’re not well rounded enough and all sorts of pressure is put on them. We need to build their self-worth, not in an overconfident, bratty way but true inner self-worth, where they believe that if they put in their time and effort for something, it will be of good use and generate value and great results. We all have these programs, limiting belief systems that we’ve all been programmed with, break out of them. Which belief system doesn’t work for you, let go of those systems instead of holding on because of a sense of identity, if it’s not serving you, it doesn’t belong in your life or space. Most importantly, gratitude, count your blessings and at every point, you feel victimized, turn around and count your blessings, the good things in life. If you fill your life with positivity, it gives you the strength to go forward as you realize your blessings and face any adversity better at that point of time. The stupidest things that we take for granted around us, emotional, material, mental, be grateful. What very important in life is passion, to have passion for something, everything else becomes inconsequential. When you have a goal and focus, you will do what you want in life and whatever happens along the way, you deal with it because you’re focused on where you’re going”.
Talking about her highest and lowest point so far, Pooja said, “When you’re going a crisis, it’s the worst because nothing in life feels as bad as that moment. At that moment, everything is paramount and everything has its place. When you look back in hindsight you realize, if you can go back in time and just tell yourself that everything is going to be okay and you’ll come out stronger. Whenever I’m going through any crisis, I think of my future self, coming back to give me a hug and say that everything will be fine”.


Speaking about her take on teaching psychological and mental health at schools, colleges or workplaces, Pooja said, “I think it’s extremely important to give children coping skills. As we know the world is getting smaller due to technology, the access to all the information can be used and misused. So many kids are addicted to these devices, they’re just engaged and don’t have any outside coping skills and are immersed in their screens. The fact is, this is the new generation, it’s their life, this will be their reality. So, our job isn’t to ask them to not do it because it is their world and if they do, they’ll be disconnected with a future that is impending. I would ask parents and schools to give the children coping skills to deal with the fact that we are human, going through a robotic space in so many ways and where is the emotional quotient leading to your mental quotient and strengthening that. We should give our children emotional, social, interpersonal, financial skills, teach them more and send them outdoors. How to heal, how to be better human beings and not shut off, how to handle a crisis, how to speak up, to develop personality and body language are things which are very important”.


The CatFit team has Special Forces and NSG commandos who go to schools, colleges, universities, corporates. Speaking about her closest experience with the defence personnel, Pooja said, “Firstly, I was in a military boarding school, it took a lot of mental toughness. I was surrounded by kids from the armed forces because the school catered to that entire demographic on a large scale. Second, my fiancé’s father, who was a Captain of the Indian Navy and Arjuna awardee. The kind of experiences he shared about the Navy, how incredible his journey was with the armed forces was very heartening. The armed forces care of their own and the courage, respect, care within their circle in very phenomenal”.


Talking about people finding their inner strength out of their comfort zone, Pooja said, “We always say that we developed our inner strength and toughness because we came out of our tough times and that teaches us a lot about us. Your greatest tormentor is your greatest teacher because the tormentor is teaching you so much about yourself and somebody that you despise with all your heart may be a hero to someone else. So, the person isn’t bad, your equation with them is. You need to figure out what is it that went wrong between the two of you or what is dysfunctional about you and that person. The part of you that believes in the dysfunction is what perpetuates it and it’s important to turn around and take responsibility to every relationship, good and bad, to thank those people who sometimes need to come into our lives to teach us a hard truth and thank them for teaching you a lesson”.
Life skills are the most important skills and talking about which skills she believes should be a part of student’s lives and work culture, Pooja said, “The most important thing to teach everyone is the importance of holistic wellness. Unfortunately, wellness is only seen as physical and nowadays mental wellness is coming into the picture. However, there’s also emotional, spiritual, sexual, financial and social wellness, all these different forms are intrinsic to our proper functioning and if one of these is out of balance, a large part of us is dysfunctional. It’s important to us to, firstly, in schools, colleges, workplace to introduce the concept at every point of holistic wellness. Second, self-worth. Teach people to stand up for themselves, not accept nonsense, bullying, to have the strength of purpose and integrity. It’s extremely important to emphasize integrity, it’s okay to make a mistake but not lie about it. Also, in terms of coping skills, to have certain forums in place between the sexes, how to interact, work and live with the opposite sex. You need to have this at all levels and you need education regarding this because of the many myths surrounding it and issues surrounding it. There are so many mental phobias and fears around it, people are scared to work with women in the workplace now because they might get accused of sexual harassment, misuse the law. I think all this leads to a very unhealthy environment in the workplace, it’s important to educate people how to use and not misuse the law, how to treat the opposite gender with the utmost respect at all levels”.


Psychologists at CatFit have done research on mental health and they’ve put forward their findings. Sharing that body of work, Arpan said, “Last year, four of our psychologists were a part of the Government of India’s study and the whole idea was to find out the impact of Covid-19 on mental health. This will give everyone an idea of what it does to a person’s mind, mental, psychological and emotional health. Six fields were undertaken, teachers, parents, doctors, policemen and the Corona warriors to identify what was happening inside the brains of these people. It was an extensive study, six books have been published in the field by the Government, this is for posterity. Now, on the basis of this study, we can go back and will be in a perfect position to find out what kind of depression levels, stress, anxiety, emotional issues or levels of resilience they had. How to ensure that they have better coping with adversity skills. So, these are some of things we managed to bring out through this study and this is what we will pass over to the people once the restrictions are lesser”.


Speaking about weaving storytelling dimension to mental health and its response and success, Shefali said, “Initially when I started, there weren’t many takers but now I realize people are opening their minds to it because one story can change many lives. These stories aren’t community-based but they travel from country to country. When there are stories regarding strength, self-worth and talk about illnesses and breaking the mental shackles, I have stories to do with it. People will always remember these stories and their impact. Schools must take storytelling as a serious subject because they really transform people. The stories with regard to strength, it creates an impact and is unbelievable how a story can lives”.


Pooja added, “It’s all about your mind and how strong your mind is. Martina Navratilova said ‘The game of life is played in the six inches between your ears’. It’s all happening in your mind and strengthen your mind is, is on you. How you program yourself, reprogram yourself is all up to you. You have all the tools available, incredible psychologists, incredible teams, the Internet to research how to do that, how to go about changing certain aspects of yourself and getting the mental strength required and need to have an amazing life which you deserve. I think that’s the most important thing we should share today, is to tell people the power to change life is with them and it is their choice to stay where they are, or to move on and ahead, going from strength to strength”.

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TECHNOLOGY WILL BE A KEY PART OF FASHION INDUSTRY’S GROWTH: SUNAINA KWATRA

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra spoke to NewsX India A-List about doing business during the pandemic, the impact of technology in the fashion industry and more. Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years of work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in the Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omnichannel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for the brand.

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an international upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in the Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in line with the brand vision and improved productivity across the network. When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. While growing up my father always said that travel is the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in five continents. This allows me to be sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development, and marketing allow me to be detail-oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omnichannel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during the pandemic had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localities, fulfilment centres or direct consumers. E-commerce has been a key to successful businesses in the pandemic. Businesses had to be agile and responsive to different means of reaching consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of the pandemic, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Opting for materials that are good for the environment as well as good for us: non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and the successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewellery, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitisation is the key to the success and supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give to business owners in India as we come out of second Covid-19 wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategise and further activate their omnichannels, integrate, and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare them for the future.

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Time out: Yoga asanas amid busy work meetings

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Work from home means longer working hours, with more emails and even more work meetings. Attending those long back to back video calls can be boring, hectic, and it definitely makes your body stiff and sore due to long sitting hours at the work desk. It also affects your focus and productivity. Obviously, how can one properly concentrate while in pain? However, a little movement and stretching in between busy work meetings can save you from unwanted mind and body stress.

On International Self-Care Day, let’s decide to prioritise a healthy lifestyle amid busy schedules. 

Try these simple yoga asanas that you can do while sitting on your chair or while standing in between breaks:

1. GARUDASANA

This asana can be done while sitting on a chair or while standing. It is a great shoulder and upper back opener. It also works towards removing stiffness from the lower body as well. Remember to repeat this asana on both sides.

STEPS

· Sit up tall on the chair with your spine erect and feet flat on the floor 

· Bring both your hands together, elbows touching each other. Take the right arm around the left and bring it around so both palms are facing each other

· Lift your right leg and place it over your left thigh, tucking your right toes around the left calf

· Gaze straight and breathe normally. Remove the bind to come out of the pose

· Repeat on the other side 

2. SITTING SIDE BENDS 

Sitting at the desk for a long time can make the upper body very stiff. Hence, it is important to engage in some simple movements like side bends.

This pose can also be performed while sitting on a chair or hile standing.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the ground

· Inhale, raise both your arms up in the air and palms facing each other 

· As you exhale, take your right arm over your head, stretching it over to the left

· Simultaneously, bring your left arm down to the right side

· Breathe normally, feeling the stretch in your right-hand side of the body

· Hold this pose for 30 seconds

· Repeat on the other side 

3. TADASANA 

This is one of the most simple and effective poses. It is beneficial for overall health. It helps with aligning body posture, relieves back pain, increases focus, and balance.

STEPS

· Stand straight on the floor and keep a small gap between your feet

· Inhale and raise both your arms

· Interlock your fingers and stretch your arms upwards

· Now come on your toes, raising your heels 

· Feel the stretch in the sides of your body and be in this pose for a few seconds

· Release your arms and come down on your heels

4.  SHOULDER OPENER

This is an excellent stretch for the shoulders as well as the upper back. This stretch not only helps with stiff shoulders but also calms the mind as you fold forward.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on the chair with your feet flat on the floor

· Take your arms behind your back, interlacing your fingers 

· Bend your torso forward, bringing your hands over your head, straightening it as much as possible

· You can place your head on your lap if that’s comfortable or else, just gaze towards the floor 

· Be gentle and know your limit 

Remember to do deep breathing during these asanas. It will help you relax and destress. Take out at least a few minutes every day to rejuvenate and recharge yourself.

The writer is a Yoga Instructor at SARVA.

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WORLD ORDER AND INDIA: NEGOTIATING THUCYDIDES TRAP & GREAT CONVERGENCE

Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan

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Harvard Professor Graham Alison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ and Geneva School of Economics Professor Richard Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ are two dominant geopolitical perspectives today that guide and capture current global geopolitical transitions and turbulence of our times. Thucydides Trap and Great Convergence are recent propositions. There is, however, a very interesting third perspective too that was prophesied back in 1940s by former Director of London School of Economics, Sir Halford John Mackinder. 

Mackinder’s perspective centred around the imagination and theoretical construct of China and India rising to world centre stage. Back in 1943, Mackinder, writing the last article of his life, prophesied that “the Monsoon Lands of India and China holding a thousand million people of ancient oriental civilisation will grow to prosperity and balance the remaining great geographical regions.” Mackinder further added, “They will then balance the other thousand million who live between the Missouri (River in the USA) and the Yenisei (Russian River).  A balanced globe of human beings, and happy, because balanced and thus free.” In the midst of the World War II, Mackinder wrote this piece at the request of Foreign Policy magazine and imagined a great geopolitical turning point emerging from the Asian highlands where China and India shall hold and define the thread of international geopolitical balance. 

After over 75 years of Mackinder’s hypothesis, while China’s rise has greatly ruptured the global power balance and distorted world order today, the rise of India into the world stage offers an alternative narrative. Away from the communist jingoism and carefully balanced from Western political prescriptions, India, as Mackinder imagined, has indeed emerged as the largest democratic polity in the world with a world view that is entirely native of India and flows from the civilisational values of the subcontinent while being organic in character and symbiotic with larger aspirations of the world.

RISING MULTIPLEX WORLD ORDER

Bretton Woods system is under great stress today symbolising a visible decline of American eminence in international affairs. The United Nations — the largest organ of Bretton Woods — is unable to respond to conflict situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Crimea, South China Sea dispute, terrorism, and radicalism issues. Demand for UN reform is quite rightfully growing. Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) emerging as new frontiers of conflict, newer security alignments and counter alignments like QUAD, joint military exercises like Malabar and MILAN, Sea Guardian et al are new strategic security experimentations. Given Chinese infrastructure investments in several Island Chain countries, long-neglected Island nations have suddenly emerged as critical investment destinations and phenomena of Island shopping by big powers. 

Bretton Woods financial architecture is also under stress. BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are seen as alternatives to World Bank. While the dollarised world economy is threatened by the Eurozone, cryptocurrencies, and the Chinese digital Yuan, the international trade regime is vacillating between trade liberalism and aspiration for protectionism. New players and economic clusters demanding and competing for power and influence, it’s new world order of pluralism and multipolarity which Professor Amitav Acharya captures as phenomena of multiplex world order. While the political analysts from Robert Keohane to Joseph Nye, and Kishore Mahbubani et al are largely in agreement with the multiplex world order hypothesis, economists have far too matured explanations of this change and the change drivers. 

GREAT CONVERGENCE HYPOTHESIS

‘Thucydides Trap’ sensitises all of us of a visible war. Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ hypothesis on the other hand squarely simplifies this puzzle. Baldwin argues that a fundamental shift in the world’s mode of production has occurred leading to the emergence of wealth in many parts of the world — a critical structural shift. Baldwin calls it as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where North American and Western European capital has integrated with cheap labour in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Vietnam et al. The net result — the erstwhile capitalist block is rendered de-industrialised and at their cost and expense, several countries of the world have become wealthier and correspondingly aspirational too. Knowledge economy and its critical arsenals like AI, algorithm, big data, digital currency, and decision tree et al have become new factors of production. 

While China took great advantage of this shifting mode of production to build the Chinese economic power and its corresponding geopolitical influence and ambition, several other countries like India, East Asian countries, Brazil, and Mexico et al also prospered as growing economic powers. Goldman Sachs former Chairman Jim O’Neill spotted this transition and coined the BRIC acronym in 2001. Baldwin called this a phenomenon of ‘Great Convergence’ that led to the pluralisation of the wealth of the world which was earlier limited to industrialised G-7 countries only. Several cluster economies like BRICS, ASEAN, and EU et al also emerged as sovereign country clubs to share the benefit of this change and better negotiate their fortune and influence.   

INDIA AS A SWING STATE

Meanwhile, Richard Fontaine and Daniel Kliman’s hypothesis of ‘Global Swing States’ is yet another explanation that captures countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey as the possible Swing States of the world and its transition. Global Swing States, as Fontaine and Kliman would see, are those nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge or gateways of multiple regions, and embrace democratic governments at home. They are increasingly active, aspirational, and desire changes in the existing international order. They greatly represent the aspirations of the developing countries that were systematically marginalised in the Bretton Woods arrangement.

DOES INDIA OFFER THE WAY?

India, in many ways, offers a very proactive and positive way forward towards a smooth transition of international order. In spite of being a nuclear power, India traditionally has downplayed military adventurism or musclemanship in foreign policy practice and choices. As a country of civilisational value order, India champions participatory and inclusive international governance order. While India’s democratic polity is an assured global value, as a critical representative of developing countries’ aspirations, India symbolises consensus than conflict. Since 1947, India has always advocated respect for territorial sovereignty for all nations and demanded strategic autonomy for itself in foreign policy choices. As the second-largest global market, India boasts of a huge labour force and attracts much more global interest than all other Swing States put together. In the Indo-Pacific Sea lanes, India talks of rule-based governance and ‘security and growth for all’ — a cooperative development module than predatory hegemony. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, India acted as a benevolent vaccines supplier than monopolising or profiting out of the crisis. 

India characteristically holds a ‘goodwill value’ which is beneficial to the world at large. While Mackinder imaginatively predicted the rise of China, he was equally apprehensive of the rise of ‘Yellow Barbarian’ and anticipated that the rise of India shall beneficially balance the world order. Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India, undoubtedly, holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan is an Associate Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, KK Birla Goa Campus and serves as a Distinguished Fellow, Political Economy at Centre for Public Policy (CPPR), Kerala.

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra advises on changing modes of doing business in pandemic

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Sunaina Kwatra

Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra speaks exclusively to NewsX India A-List on a host of issues including doing business during the pandemic, impact of technology in fashion industry and the future of luxury inc.

Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omni-channel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for Louis Vuitton in India.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Congratulations on all you have achieved. Could you tell me more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an International upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in-line with brand vision and improved productivity across the network.

When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. Growing up my father always said that travel was the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in 5 continents. This allows me to sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development and marketing allow me to be detail oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omni-channel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during Covid had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localites, fulfillment centers or direct consumers. E-commerce has obviously a key to successful businesses in Covid. Businesses had to agile and responsive to different means of reaching the consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how do we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of Covid, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Materials, that are not only good for the environment, but good for us being non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewelry, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitization is key to the success and the supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give business owners in India as we come out of our second Covid wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategize and further activate their omni-channels, integrate and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare themselves for the future.

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Wanted to explore something other than film music: Sunidhi Chauhan

Singer Sunidhi Chauhan recently joined NewsX for a candid conversation wherein she talked about her new single ‘Ye Ranjishein’, besides sharing her incredible journey.

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Singer Sunidhi Chauhan recently joined NewsX for a conversation as part of NewsX India’s special A-List series. She talked about her new single ‘Ye Ranjishein’ and also shared insights from her incredible singing journey. 

Sunidhi Chauhan began by telling her side of the story, answering why it took 20 years to launch her new single and said, “Yeah, I know it sounds weird, right? I didn’t want it to be that way. But actually film music just generally kept me busy. So I didn’t have the time to think about what I wanted to do other than film music. During this lockdown, I happen to sit down and think about, what is it that I want to say in my own song? Because film music will keep happening and I am a product of the film music and I love it but on the side, I did want to explore something different and I just met the right people at the right time. Which was during the lockdown and I’m happy that something productive has come out of it.”

When asked about her new song, she began by praising the music video’s director, Ranju Varghese and said, “The credit for the music video is totally our director. We shot in a barren land, there was nothing that you could see too far. I don’t know how he put all of that together on the table of the Edit and it just looks so brilliant right now. None of those things were there while we were shooting, except for some properties. There was nothing and he’s really brought it to life and done a fab job. I met Shruti Rane, who’s this amazing young composer and sings very well, through Gaurav Dasgupta, a friend of mine who I’ve worked with. He himself is a music composer and I have really liked singing for him. So I thought maybe he’s meeting me for a song that he has composed and Shruti is one of the singers he is introducing me to but when I got to know that it’s her song written by her as she’s a songwriter. I was blown away, she’s a very sweet cute little girl and I didn’t think a serious song was coming out of her. I was really taken aback and I complimented her and I was like, let’s do this song.”

She urged people to be more responsible in these difficult times and said, “Through the song, I’m sending all the good vibes, positivity, love and prayers. Of course, we are losing a lot of people and these are crazy times. I urge everyone to be more responsible, you’ve been doing great, but I think we need more because it has hit us for the second time now and this wave is even more dangerous. It’s almost airborne now, you have to be more responsible and take care of each other. And it just takes to wear a mask properly. That’s all.”

Speaking about how she managed with the obstacles she encountered last year, she said, “We were just grooming, mopping, and dishes at home, and nothing else. And a few songs here and there. Which were recorded from home for the movies. Because even movies were shut, nobody was really working, but whatever little was happening was this and then after that, when I started getting used to the new norm, which was staying at home and doing nothing and days would just pass by just OTT and housework and that’s all and of course, a kid to look after. Then finally I got some space for myself where I could think about the fact that I have to do something different other than music. I am a product of film music, of course, and I love it.”

“Thanks to the lockdown it did give me a little place where I could think about who I want to work with. Like I did a single with Shalmali recently, it’s an English song called here is beautiful. I did one song, One non-film song with Daboo Malik and he was the first one to actually approach me during that time for me to sing a non film song and I did that and that was such a humble attempt. We couldn’t even make a nice video out of it. We just shot some portions at home and just made a video but we received such great response so that kind of gave me a boost to keep walking in that direction. And now here I am with three songs out already and I’m very excited. I plan to do a lot more songs not from songs because that’s like a little different side of me which is coming solely from completely from heart,” She added.

She also shared her defining moments from her career and said, “I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of love and a trophy, of course, because I won that competition, which was produced by Lata ji. And I had participated in that show, because I wanted to see her once in my entire life and I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen. But luckily, I won the competition. And she was the one who gave me that trophy. So that was one moment which I can never forget. Of course, then my child who completely changed my life. Now I’m very happy about this new, independent space. So I think it’s a rebirth. I actually feel that.”

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GUJARAT HIGH COURT TAKES RIGHT STEP, TIME FOR SUPREME REFORM

The judiciary has come a long way from the time a judge would not be elevated to a higher court just because he attended the funeral of an RSS leader. Over the decades, it has seen several big reforms. The Gujarat HC’s decision to start live streaming of proceedings is one such momentous move. One hopes other courts follow suit.

Utpal Kumar

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Last week when the Gujarat High Court became the first court in the country to formally start live streaming of proceedings, one realised how some of the most revolutionary steps often get stuck not because these can’t be done but because there’s a natural human—and even institutional—tendency to be comfortable with status quoism. What several committees, reports and recommendations over decades failed to do, a pandemic has done without any fuss!

File photos of the Supreme Court (top) and the Gujarat High Court (above).

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, on the occasion, announced that steps would soon be taken to replicate this in the Supreme Court as well. But why just the apex court, this Gujarat model needs to be applied in all courts across the country.

The Gujarat High Court’s decision to go ‘live’ is laudable for both constitutional as well as practical reasons. Constitutionally, as Justice Ramana said, it would, fulfilling the spirit of Article 19 of the Constitution, “allow the people access to… the functioning of these institutions”. A vibrant democracy needs informed citizenry. It is only on the basis of an informed citizenry that a “representative democracy can survive and evolve”, as he said.

But at a more practical, ‘aam aadmi’ level, the move is revolutionary. It eases their lives, makes things less arduous while dealing with court cases. As a Delhi-based friend of mine said after hearing the Gujarat High Court move, “Wish Calcutta courts, too, follow it!” The gentleman has been fighting a property dispute case in Kolkata for years, and he doesn’t know how and where the case is moving! “I get to know only what my lawyer tells me. That’s quite problematic,” he added.

The judicial opportunity came at the time—and because—of a humongous global crisis. The change we are witnessing everywhere, from the educational field to the judicial arena, is because Covid-19 has forced us to rethink and change our ways. In the ‘new normal’, things as usual just won’t work. Given the situation where the option was to either down the shutters or reorient itself, the judiciary took the second option and, to its credit, in no time made a swift digital turn.

A day before the lockdown was announced on 24 March 2020, the Supreme Court switched to digital hearing of “urgent matters”. Almost overnight, video conferencing facilities were put in place, keeping in mind Covid protocols of social distancing. Courts allowed e-filing of documents, and digital payment systems were set up to let court fees be paid at the click of a mouse. Even the then Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde acknowledged last year that Covid-19 gave impetus to the changes brought in during the lockdown period—the changes which the judiciary had been deliberating for decades without much success.

One can understand—and appreciate—the judiciary’s digital giant leap forward from the fact that the e-courts project was launched way back in 2005 to digitise court records. In 2017, an attempt was made to make the Supreme Court paperless, but in the absence of an efficient e-filing system, it failed. Similarly, e-filing has been in the pipeline for almost two decades. Everyone knew the importance of going digital, paperless, but the impetus was missing. The pandemic provided that urge, that urgency!

At this point, it needs to be reiterated that several courts across the world, including the US Supreme Court, the UK Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal of the UK and the International Criminal Court, enable public viewership of proceedings through live streams or similar technology.

LOOKING BACK

Here, however, it must be said that the judiciary in India, especially higher courts, have had an impressive journey over the decades. It evolved with the passage of time to take up the role as the final arbiters of constitutional disputes, and has shown the courage and aptitude to overturn not only ordinary law enacted by a legislature, but, after the 1973 Kesavananda Bharati case, also constitutional amendments, which in its view violates the “basic structure” of the Constitution.

The Indian judiciary, especially the top court, has come a long way from the days of George Gadbois, the American expert of Indian “jurimetrics”, who, after conducting over 116 interviews with more than 66 judges of the Supreme Court, 19 of whom held the position of Chief Justice, offered a generic profile of an Indian judge: A man in his late 50s, mostly hailing from an influential Hindu family, well educated and with little or no involvement with the national movement. But more specifically—and disconcertingly—Gadbois exposed the growing executive tendency to get a “committed” judiciary in place, especially since the 1970s. He, for instance, learnt how one Madras High Court Chief Justice couldn’t make it to the Supreme Court after Mrs Indira Gandhi discovered that he had attended the funeral of RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar!

Worse, the appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court wasn’t just on the basis of ideology, but also region, religion, caste and gender. And, of course, it was often the result of personal idiosyncrasies of those in power. The appointment of Justice A.N. Ray, who infamously superseded three senior judges who had voted against the government in the Basic Structure case, is a perfect manifestation of the political interference. Interestingly, when Godbois asked him during an interview how he would recommend an appointment, Justice Ray said matter-of-factly: “Oh, he must be from a good family.” To this Godbois said, “Doesn’t that sound like a matrimonial ad?” Justice Ray said nothing further but smiled.

Justice Leila Seth, in her memoirs, talked about religious and gender issues influencing the appointment of a Supreme Court judge. Justice Seth lost out to Justice Fathima Beevi in her endeavour to join the Supreme Court, despite the support of two Chief Justices of India. She recalled in her memoirs, On Balance, that Justice Beevi had lobbied for the position on the ground that “she would be the first Muslim woman in the world to be a judge of a Supreme Court”, and that she would also be the only Muslim judge in the country at that time.

Justice Seth’s assessment of Justice Beevi’s appointment was scathing. She wrote, “It showed that lobbying worked. It showed politics worked. It showed that the misuse of religion worked. Above all, it showed that every decent convention could be broken and that merit was no consideration.”

Abhinav Chandrachud, a Bombay High Court advocate and a well-known author of the 2018 book Supreme Whispers, writes how after 1971, the method of appointing judges changed in three ways. One, where political appointments in earlier years had been made only on the basis of political patronage or regional or religious consideration, after 1971, the government started looking for “committed” judges. Two, the extent of executive interference in judicial appointments increased many-fold. Three, there was a growing tendency in the government to corner the judiciary by using means of supersessions and transfers.

Today, after introducing a series of reforms, the Indian judiciary, especially the apex court, has overcome these challenges to a great extent. With the advent of the collegium system, despite its limitations, the ideology of a judge is no longer a deciding factor in judicial appointments. And over the years, it has not only strengthened the walls of its autonomy vis-à-vis executive and legislative encroachments, but also, especially after the advent of the PIL phenomenon, taken a proactive role in shaping the journey and character of the Indian republic.

The Gujarat High Court’s decision to formally start live streaming of proceedings is another big and truly momentous step towards the much needed judicial reforms. One hopes other courts in the country, including the Supreme Court, follow suit without delay. For, we have already deliberated too much over the issue. It’s time for action. More so in the ongoing pandemic times!

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