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Women Mean Business: My brand is my personality – Farah Khan Ali

The gender divide is fast dissipating in every sphere of business. There are several women business leaders today, leading from the front and inspiring an entire generation of young women to take up the mantle of leadership. 

English Business News Channel BTVi - Business Television India has endeavoured to bring women thought leaders under one platform, celebrating their success stories, thereby motivating the millennial with their show, ‘Women Mean Business’. The second season of the show went on air on June 17, 2017 and airs every Saturday @ 8pm on the channel. The guests on the show this season will range from Media baron to Renowned Restaurateur, from award winning Gemologist and Jewellery Designer to Globally acclaimed artist.

Farah Khan Ali is the eldest of the four children of actor-producer-director Sanjay Khan and interior designer Zarine Khan. After finishing her graduation from Sophia College, Mumbai, Farah tried her hand at ad films to interior design and television production. She did a course in Gemmology at the renowned Gemmological Institute of America in Santa Monica, California in 1992 and launched her own jewellery brand, Farah Khan Fine Jewellery, in 2004. 

Today, she caters to both domestic and international clients. The ace designer was voted by the Network 7 Media Group’s India Leadership Conclave 2015 Edition as ‘Innovative Leadership in Luxury Brands Concept 2015’ founded by Satya Brahma. 

To watch full video click here.

You have created a brand that is very much about your personality. How do you think that reflects in the designs that you create?

My brand is my personality. I am the ever changing person who goes with the time and for me, being alive is the most important thing. My brand is unique in design and we cater to women with great taste of jewellery, women who want to indulge and women who want to have statement pieces. 

I began 23 years ago as a jewellery designer and here I am 23 years later as a brand. It’s been a long journey with lots of ups and downs and a lot of learning on the way, but all good learning’s. Even when there were experiences which pushed me back, I came back knowing that I order to jump one step ahead you need to two steps back. 

I am classic, I am creative and I love to do what I do. I live to design and not just love to design. 

You seem to be catering to different sides of the market, how has that strategy evolved over the years?

In the 23 years that I have been in this business, I have learnt that you don’t really have to be expensive to offer something beautiful, because there are a lot of people who love jewellery and they want to be a part of the brand. Initially I wanted to do one-of-a-kind pieces that would be statement pieces and also very unique and high luxury, but I later realised that there were a lot of people who wanted to possess a part of the brand. I travelled all over India, meeting various people and realised that they wanted to have something and so I thought about working within their budgets, likes and tastes and that’s how we made a move getting into the mass market. 

Today, we offer designs both online and offline, with prices starting from Rs 10,000 onwards. We keep coming up with new designs to meet the ever changing market of today. 

Out of both domestic and international collaborations, what was the whole experience with Tanishq like?

The experience with Tanishq was amazing and one that I really enjoyed, because it was about two likeminded brands getting together. This collaboration with Tanishq led me to interact with a lot of people all over India. It was the greatest learning experience of my life because it made me realise the kind of jewellery people wanted to wear, the kind of price points they wanted to possess and the cultural aspects that were so important in designing this jewellery. 

How does a brand maintain credibility, value and loyalty, when it comes to increasing competition and increasing exposure?

The product is always king and so it is very important to maintain high standards with the product, because at the end of day we are representing ourselves through that product. Also, it is very important to stay in tune with your customer, and so as a designer and a businesswoman, I listen to my customers because today we are living in a digital world. There is lack of consumer loyalty and consumer concentration is very limited. It is very important for a brand to evolve and to get that consumer’s attention, translating into sales. 

As a brand, I am always trying to innovate and come up with something unique that I can engage with my customers and pass it down to them. In terms of maintaining credibility, we have a really good reputation; we have always put our clients before us, making sure we cater to them not only till the point of sale but also the after sales. Building a relationship with the client over a long term is the most important thing, continuing the relationship and not look at it as a one-time sale – those are our strengths as a brand. 

Any inflection point while scaling up the business?

I learnt everything the hard way, started out with dreams in my eyes thinking I could conquer the world. The only thing that changed is that I translated my dreams into reality and I now know that I have conquered the world. There were a lot of ups and downs. About 4 years ago, I lost everything I had in my life because of a bad decision with a financial partner of mine. It landed up in court and it took 6 months. This brought an amazing change in my life and I thank God that I went through it. Before that I was just a designer trying to create and be inspiring and be inspired, but today I am so much more. I am a businesswoman and half a lawyer due to my legal experience. I am a banker, I am an accountant, I am a manager. When you are in a financial transaction with anyone – be it a partnership or business – it’s important to be on top of things. 

How important is celebrity when it comes to the popularity of a brand and also creating resonance?

Celebrity is essentially a lifestyle that people aspire to be like. It is really important for a celebrity when they are tying themselves with any brand or product. It is important that it matches their sensibility, because a lot of times when you watch commercials, it looks like the celebrity is saying only because he/she is paid for it. There are commercials where the celebrity likes what they are promoting and so I feel as a brand and as a product it is important to align oneself with celebrities who speak the same language. 

At the same time, the product has to be king and when that happens, the celebrity ends up enhancing the product. That’s a win-win situation for both the brand and the celebrity. 

Your life earlier had a very scientific course. Could you tell us more about it?

I have always been this artistic person, someone who has enjoyed sketching, drawing, being creative. To be honest, maths and science weren’t my favourite subjects. When I enrolled into gemmology, I actually tagged along with a friend of mine who was going to America to do this course. The first day when I opened the books, I saw that gemmology is the study of chemical, optical, and physical properties of 99 minerals and gem stone varieties. It involved very objective questions. I was in a shock because all the maths and science which I didn’t want was in there. But I believe that if you do something, you should do it exceptionally well or don’t attempt it at all, and so I decided to take this as a challenge. I studied every day of my life, maxed at every paper and came on top of my class. Today, I am where I am because I made it happen, that’s what I believe and that’s what I am intending to do ahead as well. 

Since you wanted to be a jewellery designer, did people around you understand what you were talking about and the kind of expertise you wanted to apply, considering your academic exposure?

When I came back 23 years ago, the profession of jewellery designing didn’t exist and everyone looked at me as a rich kid from Bollywood who didn’t wanted to join movies and had found something to keep herself occupied. I had a lot people who were curious to know what I was going to offer them and what I was all about, and my background got this entire people to my door. But what kept them coming back was that they realised that I was very serious about what I was doing. I wanted to make a career out of it and they appreciated my work and art. In order to excel and show your true colours and artistry, you need to be talented. Today it is not a hobby but a full-time profession for me and something where I have completely put all my heart and soul into. 

What kind of work ethics did you see at home that influenced you?

My mother was extremely responsible for all her daughters working hard. I have memories of my mother going to work and coming back and then spending the evenings with me. While other mothers tell their daughter to look beautiful and get married when they grow up, my mother told me that we need to work, we need to support ourselves, we need to be useful and we need to make something of our lives. All of us siblings, especially my sisters and I, ended up with the thought of working and making something of our lives thanks to my mom. My parents always wanted us to do it on our own. My parents gave me education as a legacy and I worked hard at it. There was no financial backing at that point and I created everything by myself. Today, I feel proud that my parents are responsible for making me believe in myself, for letting me live my dreams and for being there whenever I fell. I wish all parents encourage their daughters to work and not think about only getting married. 

What have you learnt from your father?

My dad has been my beloved strength. He always taught me that nothing is impossible, because he is the only man who has probably cheated death three times in his life. One was when he was young and had Diphtheria; he had almost died. The second time was in 1989 when he survived a terrible accident on the sets of his serial ‘Tipu Sultan’, where he suffered third degree burns on 65 per cent of his body. The third time was when he survived a helicopter crash with Dr Vijay Mallya. He actually died three times on the operating table in two years, but he survived. My father is someone who has always defied the odds and he is someone who doesn’t take things lying down. He always believed that you have to make things happen and I am grateful to him for showing me the way. Because of him, all of us believe that the word ‘impossible’ can be read as ‘I’m possible’. He is my hero and someone who has overcome a lot of tragedies in his life and taught us to go from strength to strength. 

How do you engage with social media?

For me, Twitter is place for conversation and for expressing views, because I am a creative and philosophical person. It is also a place for me to share positivity, because of the way I have been brought up to view this world as a one world and humanity and to see no differences in people but to appreciate their uniqueness. When I started with Twitter, it was more about engaging with happy, cheerful banter with people. Unfortunately, over the years Twitter has become a political tool and political platform and I am not interested in politics neither am I affiliated to any political parties or political ideologies, because I believe that we are one people and humanity is my religion. 

However, I am yet to discover Twitter as a tool for branding because I don’t do that on Twitter. It remains a place for me to express my views. I use the Instagram platform more to express my work, giving people a peek into my lifestyle and my world. I believe in sharing, I appreciate the beauty and I love the world around us, and so I keep on sharing beautiful thoughts and pictures. As far as facing the brunt of people who troll you and people who say nasty things to you, I tend to block them because I believe that engaging with people in such a way is a waste of time and energy. 

What are your future plans regarding your business?

I have a lot of plans for my brand and will be revealing them in good time. There are a lot of expansion plans in the pipeline and I am also planning to take the brand to another level. I don’t want to divulge too many details as it is in a nascent stage, but next year you will be hearing a lot of big things from me.

To watch full video click here.

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