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The foreign tradeswomen of Delhi

From ad agencies to restaurants, expatriate women run many successful businesses in the city and NCR, writes Manoj Sharma.

fashion and trends Updated: Sep 05, 2009 23:23 IST
Manoj Sharma

Alecca Carrano, a fashion designer of Greek origin, had been running high-end fashion stores in France and Italy for three years when she felt stagnation creep in. So, she decided to explore opportunities in China and India—the two countries that looked most exciting to do business.

For many months, Carrano pondered over which country to choose. Finally, in 2006, she felt India call and decided to come to Delhi. Three years down the line, she feels her decision was right on target.

Today Carrano owns a factory in Noida and a store in upscale Sunder Nagar, which sells her high-end clothes, with her own name as brand.

"We chose India over China because language is not a barrier here, and Indian culture is pretty close to my oriental culture. I feel at home here," says Carrano, sitting behind the counter of her store in Sunder Nagar that showcases her elegant, ready to wear line, including wraps and shawls, her specialty.

Black and white framed pictures of both Indian and foreign models wearing her dresses adorn the walls of the store. Carrano, who was born in Lebanon and raised in Vienna, employs 23 people, all of them Indians.

Carrano is the not the only expatriate woman who owns a business in the Capital. In fact, there are many like her, and they run enterprises ranging from advertising companies to restaurants, art and furniture galleries, and even an agency that provides domestic help to expats.

Dutch to Desi

Like Carrano, Lalita de Goederen-van Lamsweerde, 30, came to India to start her own business. And like Carrano, she was looking at both China and India and decided in favour of India.

But Lamsweerde—who is from Holland—also had a sentimental reason for choosing to come to India. Her father had studied at BHU (Banaras Hindu University) in the early sixties and was so smitten by the country that he decided to give his daughter an Indian name.

"I always had a dream to set up my own business. India was a hot business destination; besides, I had an emotional connection with the country," says Lamsweerde, who in June this year, started Bagel's Café, a 1000 sq ft, two- storied restaurant in Gurgaon that specialises in different varieties of bagels.

She is happy with the response her café has received.

“Most of my customers are Indians and NRIs," says Lamsweerde, the mother of a five-months-old boy.

Noreen van Holstein, another Dutch woman owns 'Gotcha! Impact Media', an advertising company that specializes in postcard advertisement, a concept, she says, relatively unexplored in India. Her company has tie-ups with restaurants, cinemas, bookstores and cafes across the country, where her advertising postcards are displayed.

“I came to India 6 years ago with my journalist husband. I realised there was a huge potential as far as innovative advertising is concerned,” she says. “My company specializes in postcard and washroom advertising, a concept that has not been explored much in India.”

Holstein, director and creative head of the company, started with 3 employees four years back; today she has a team of 17.

“Most people in my team are Indians. I am happy with my young, spirited team," she says, showing us around her office in Lajpat Nagar, where about a dozen youngsters are busy on laptops.

Holstein believes that Delhi is a harder market to crack than Mumbai.

“But Delhi is a far more pleasant city to live in," she says. On weekends, Holstein likes to hang out at Sarojni Nagar Market and Select City Walk.

Not all Roses

The path to set up business in India has not always been smooth-paved for these enterprising women.

Though all three express the wish to stay in India at least for the next decade, they say it has not been easy setting up business here, what with finding their way around India's “insurmountable” officialdom.

"As a foreigner, you are treated differently; the prices of everything are much higher for us," says Carrano, who was based in New York for 17 years, before she shifted to Europe and then to Delhi.

“I have been in Delhi for three years now, but the bureaucracy is still insurmountable for me. I did not face this problem in the US and Europe. For a foreign woman running a business in Delhi is an everyday challenge."

Carrano also feels discriminated against by the local fashion fraternity. She says she was denied the membership of FDCI (Fashion Design Council Of India) on the grounds that she is a foreigner, which means that she can not participate in the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week.

Lamsweerde has a similar tale of woes to narrate.

"I had to run around a lot to get even water and electricity connections. In Delhi when people say it would be done tomorrow, it could actually mean a week, or even a month," she says.

"I faced many dealing with real estate agents, constructors and suppliers. But I fiercely pursued everyone to get things done. I think the problem is in Delhi traditionally people are used to dealing with men as far as business matters are concerned."

At the end of the day, however, it is the profits—both financial and emotional—that count. And in that respect, the women agree, India has turned out to be as exciting as they had thought.