Fashion and Business

Unveiling the layers with Preeta Sukhtankar

Insights on being a female founder, managing complexities of a business, and crafting a standout brand.
21 February, 2024

A firecracker of a woman, Preeta Sukhtankar is all kinds of different. A single adoptive mom with an ex-husband for her best friend or rather her primary care giver as she has calls him, Preeta has had extensive business experience in the fashion and entertainment industries. Preeta embodies versatility and creativity - It's as if she traverses through different avatars and professions, journeying seamlessly across the ever-changing landscape of startups. 

Starting her career as a journalist at Elle magazine, she made her mark at MTV as a show producer, before founding a celebrity management firm. The last “terrible” experience inspired her to build The Label Life—one of India's first direct-to-consumer fashion e-commerce brands—showcasing her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for innovation. Today, having sold her business, she’s discovering how to stay still whilst help other (not just) female founders build their own brands

For a while now we’ve been wanting to eat her brains on how she GETS IT ALL DONE. And ever welcome with words of experience and advice, Preeta let us do so, giving us invaluable insights on pioneering as a female founder, navigating the complexities of running a business, and shaping an irresistible brand.

Preeta in our Sanna Day Dress.

JODI: You’ve had a very diverse career, tell us about your hopes and dreams?Preeta: If I have to really encompass my professional career, it's a bit tough. But, how I see it is that I really have grown up with the modern Indian female consumer and have gotten to know her across various stages of her life. I believe I know this consumer intimately across my various avatars in my career. So if you ask me about my hopes and dreams, I really feel that I desire to get to know her better i.e provide her with different ideas and platforms in and shape or form of businesses or brands or media concepts to elevate her from where she is today. I don't think I'll ever have an end to my career. I’d like to leave behind a legacy of really championing the Indian female founder. Of advocating and encouraging not just her but all women to work and build their own future. And if I had to put it down in numbers, I would love to have supported at least 100 female founders or women in business meaningfully - whether by investing in them, partnering with them or simply motivating them.

JODI: Did you face any challenges as a female founder ? What has been your  experience of functioning in what is still essentially a boys’ club, but they inevitably decline, saying, “I view myself as a CEO, not as a ‘female CEO.’” Surely there’s a difference worth exploring?

This platform isn’t enough to list down the challenges that a woman in business face and you can read about them across various media. I’d like to talk instead about changing the outlook of most working women to begin with as a starting point. In my 30’s I felt like I wanted to be treated like a man at work and felt being for example, emotionless was what it would take to make it. It is actually how most women think like. Today though I realise that reaction was an ingrained form of patriarchy because the reality is that even those stereotypes need to be broken and women should celebrate being who they are as female leaders. Statistically we are better CEOs and that employee satisfaction is greater under a female leader, and we should be proud of that whilst acknowledging that early on in our journey. Hope that the next generation leads the charge thinking differently unlike mine 

On another note, I hear a lot of people say that they aren’t women in the boardroom but the reality is there’s a steep drop even abroad at different life stages in a woman’s life - for example, to get married or a have a child - you you simply don’t see that in a man’s career trajectory - that right there is the simple answer to why! The funnel itself is small or else given we are 50% of the world’s population - the least we should have is that same representation even in a boardroom.

JODI: What strategies do you use to build and communicate a strong brand identity?
The more I interact with founders today and see how brands are being built out, I see a strong and marked difference between brands that are building an identity versus the ones that aren't i.e Business (revenue) > Brands seems to be the mantra

This was largely because most businesses were able to grow online and throwing money at acquiring a customer on Meta was the solution to increasing topline. As the money dries out in the startup system everyone is soon realising focusing on building brand is the only way out like the good ol’ times 

The strongest brand strategy is my opinion is to build a bridge between brand and your customer - always via a strong communication forging a bond between the two ensuring longevity of the brand and a loyal customer. It’s a misconception that building brand is just imagery but instead it is everything from your website to how your customer service talks to the consumer - every touch point in your consumers journey needs to be through and be on point.

Preeta wears the Amboli mini dress.

JODI: How do you differentiate your business from competitors in the market? Any advice for new entrepreneurs?
Preeta: What I said earlier about really getting to your customer better and building for them is the single advantage for you versus your competitor as is obviously an good product or idea to begin with! Later, of course is operations and distribution, especially the seamless last mile kind of stuff which will set you apart - execution is always key.  

Today, especially in the fashion space, there are so many “labels” being built and there aren't very many products in the market that are differentiated. Take, for example, a simple white shirt: what sets apart a Zara shirt from one by Massimo or even a Gucci? More than the product - it's a strong brand identity and its communication with the customer that is differentiated. That said, a strong brand obviously influences the business it does - Invest in developing your brand identity and understanding who your customer is will not only set you apart but also influence your pricing strategy - allowing for better gross margins and profitability ensuring longevity of the brand.

Jodi does it well by the way! A Jodi dress i.e their product stands out due to its handmade craftsmanship, attention to detail, and unique prints following which their website/shop window is a differentiated experience again, their social or talking to their customer is thought through and finally the package received at home is another customer delight - making the entire customer journey led by brand first! 

JODI: How important has networking been in your entrepreneurial journey? Please give us some tips on how to be a baller hustler like you?
Preeta: Basically I love people! Being a former journalist, I have loved unpeeling layers of literally everyone I ever met and building long lasting authentic relationships. Everyone is a story to me and I adore collecting them. I wasted too much time in my twenties thinking being social meant I was uncool - again some sort of conditioning there but today I own it. My network is my career capital and I am most proud of it! I've cultivated a diverse network of connections, often bridging them for both professional and personal endeavours.

Not only does it make me who I am as a person but today is a skill that is intuitive guiding me through work on which founder or partner I should work. The likability and authenticity of a founder are undervalued traits and just as you can sense good energy when meeting someone for the first time, I believe this intuition is crucial in understanding individuals.

For instance, when I launched The Label Life, I reached out to my network, and the response was overwhelming. Not just from celebrated women like  Sussanne,  Malaika or Bipasha but friends from various backgrounds offered their support—one provided free advertising space, another offered television slots, while famous photographer friends like Jatin Kampani, Prasad Naik and Colston Julian volunteered their services at no cost. These gestures underscore the value of genuine connections formed over time, built on mutual respect and kindness. It's these connections that bind us as humans. I value that above all else.

JODI: The work-life balance can be daunting. I’ve never met a working mother who feels happy about how she’s doing either as a professional or as a mother. What’s your advice to women who feel so conflicted?
Preeta: Women should never stop working. Never. I do not doubt that a lot of women genuinely feel very connected to their children and want to stay at home and feel like they need to be part of the 24 hours of their child. We all do but if we want equality we must embody it on all fronts. This is my only piece of advice and I cannot stress on it enough however controversial - Women need to be financially independent. Period. A happy mother makes for a happy child.  

My forever inspiration is my elder sister and obviously as an aunt I think she has has brought up two awesome boys. Having said that by even any conventional metric of achievements across school work, sports, music and mental health, she seems to have aced parenting. Shweta has worked through and through and has had equal help from the husband raising model kids giving me a very real example very close to home basically what I am saying is that I don't think my nephews could have been better off had their mom stayed home.

Preeta wears the Sanna Day Dress.

JODI: How has your experience been with working with GEN Z? Being millennial founders, we do find a difference in their working styles and often we end up drawing comparisons. How do you navigate the difference in mindset and some tips would be great, if any?
Preeta: I really love working with Gen Z. I feel like I am learning new ways all the time. In my 40s. I celebrate it because I think I'm learning a lot more. Of course there's a difference in mindset. Anecdotally, technology that has changed  in the last five years has not evolved this much in the last hundred years, right? So obviously working styles will be different and obviously there will be many comparisons. The idea is not to compare, right? The idea is to embrace it. I feel like doom scrolling, ghosting, love bombing is equally part of my life as it is with Gen Z or Gen Alpha so no tips at all!

JODI: Why aren’t more women finding strong mentors and sponsors? 
Preeta: I mean, that's like asking me, why does patriarchy exist? I hope it changes, and it will change. It's imperative that we take seemingly small steps, such as encouraging more women to advocate for each other. This means fostering an environment where women proudly assert their desire for board seats, CXO positions, and where they resist the societal pressures that lead to dropping out of work due to marriage and parenthood. Ultimately, it's about ensuring that women are adequately represented across all spheres of life.

JODI: What advice would you give to someone looking to secure funding for their startup?
Preeta: Don’t! I strongly believe in bootstrapping at least till the product market fit stage. Needless to say once you build a business that will survive without external cash, you'll see the funding come to you instead of you looking.

JODI: Your spirit animal?
Preeta: A Mantaray. I am an advanced diver and this is one animal I crave to see when underwater.

JODI: What's the weirdest talent you have that not many people know about?Preeta: My weirdest talent, in my view, is to style and restyle my home almost monthly - basically I move around furniture a lot. I enjoy doing this for my friends also - recently I helped a friend remodel his entire living room - from wall paint to cushions to house plants - I did it all! I also used to photograph a lot and won college competitions, and landed my first job thanks to that skill

JODI: Books you are currently loving?
Preeta: I’m currently in the process of understanding myself better, especially what influences my working style. Having read only fiction my whole life, I recently read “What Happened To You” by Bruce D Perry and Oprah Winfrey and it gave me a whole new perspective to lot of my life. I have also written a children’s story book that introduces 3-5 year olds to the concept of adoption which should be published soon

JODI: Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you were first starting out?
Absolutely yes! I made many many mistakes and would have built very differently if I was starting out today. The major one being not just growing the top line but keeping an eye on the bottom line as well. I always tell founders I work with that I may not be able to advice them on what to do but definitely can guide them on what not to.

Preeta in our Urrak day dress.

JODI: Female/Male founders or business women that have inspired you, and how?
Preeta: Kirthiga Reddy and Vani Kola - both women I’m proud to call my friends and mentors.

Then there’s Romita Mazumdar, the founder of Foxtale who started up barely two years ago and is today building the single largest and fastest-growing BPC (Beauty and Personal Care) product in the business.

Tejal Bajla from All Things Baby has built an admirable mommy network that I greatly admire - her business is authentic yet well planned. 

Then there’s women in music who normally go unnoticed - Nirmika Singh, the founder of Mox Media and former editor of Rolling Stones, is another outstanding example as is the young Lisa Misra who has built a career all by herself.

The list of inspiring female founders is endless for me - Nearly everyone I know serves as a source of inspiration in some way or the other especially in my close friendships. A great example of this is Malaika Arora who has stayed relevant to every generation and evolved her personal brand every single time.  

I adore some male founders too obviously and the two top of mind always are Mithun Sacheti, with whom I work closely today and co-founded CaratLane, is a dear friend and an ally. I consider myself fortunate to collaborate with him almost daily. His humility, despite achieving one of the largest exits a founder has seen, is truly inspiring to me. And then there’s the flamboyant Ashish Hemrajani who built the formidable Book My Show and led the way for the rest of us to follow.

JODI: Fantasy dinner party guests (dead or alive)?
Preeta: My fantasy dinner party guests may seem quite controversial to some but I would love to have specific world leaders at a table sharing some hummus and mezze - my favourite food. The agenda would be world peace - clearly a fantasy only.

JODI: What would be your fancy dress theme?
Preeta: My fancy dress theme would be- Wear your favourite JODI. 

JODI: You're very inclined towards the arts, what are some of your favourite artists?
Preeta: I am a fan of  Souza and Zarina Hashmi's art and am hoping to add a piece by each to my collection soon. I'm particularly drawn to Islamic-inspired art, so I also appreciate Saubiya Chashmawala's work. I'm keeping an eye on a few artists, including my latest acquisitions from Moon Leafing (Meghna Singh Patpatia) from the lovely Ayesha’s Art and Charlie in Bandra, whom I find intriguing.