There’s a lot of research to prove women make poor negotiators. I have to admit that in the first five years of my business, I didn’t know how to ask for my price. I did a lot of things at whatever money was offered to me because I thought it would help the label in the long run, it would give me experience and allow me to establish a certain kind of design work that would be synonymous with my label. It’s only in the last four years that I’ve become aware of the money involved, especially when we are collaborating with brands. We do a lot of associations these days, and, more often than not, we’re made to feel that we don’t have the authority to ask for money.

The point is that everyone loves creativity but they must know that we’re in the business of fashion, and our time demands money. Now, I let go of projects that don’t compensate me enough for my time, and instead focus on projects that pay what we deserve as a label. I’m very clear that there are things that we do to fulfil our creative needs, and then there are things we do to fulfil our commercial needs.

My biggest challenge has been balancing between Masaba the designer and House of Masaba, the label. Now that I have a manger to discuss money on my behalf, brands cannot imagine designers having managers. “It’s more of a Bollywood thing," is how they look at it. And that’s where I struggle while asking for my price, and respect for my time. Now, we lay down on the contract the price for my time as a designer and price for whatever I need to do as an influencer for an activity. Nearly six years ago, we had done an association with a brand where we lent our design to the packaging. The brand came back recently wanting to renew the contract at the same amount they paid back then. I refused to do it, and they pulled back. Some of the common mistakes women make while negotiating about money are—give knee-jerk reactions to offers. Remember, even if it feels good, it may not necessarily be good. In our case, it’s usually a product or a new store. You get into it without considering it carefully, and sometimes it doesn’t work out. As a creative person, I feel any business decision has to be based on four things: data, gut feeling, spontaneity and risk-taking ability. Some of the lessons I have learnt about money management while setting up my business are:

You have to save up for rainy days. There can be a vacuum in the business at any point. In fashion retail, we tend to put the entire money we make back in the business, but it’s important to put some money away in the form of a recurring deposit account.

It’s advisable to micromanage all expenses in the initial years of your business. Curb expenses as much as you can because that sets the tone for the coming years. For example, stationery costs can sometimes go through the roof because people abuse such resources. I remember taking 25,000 from my mother Neena Gupta that I paid Lakmé to get a show in the GenNext category at the Lakmé Fashion Week. After that I took a conservative approach for three years. I worked out of home; outsourced things instead of hiring teams and renting an office space.

Find someone you have had a working relationship with to be your eyes and ears in your company as far as spending is concerned. My mother is a director in my company, and she is the one who held it altogether when we got a workshop/manufacturing unit. The best advice she gave me was that underspending is a good idea.

It’s important to fully understand who you really are, what the market standards are, and what you deserve as opposed to what you may want. Keep in mind that you will not get a good deal if you don’t lay your cards on the table and ask for it.

Masaba Gupta is a fashion designer and founder and creative director of House of Masaba.

As told to Sandipan Dalal.

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