WINGS Woman of the Month
Every entrepreneur starts somewhere. There’s no magic pill that effortlessly launches you into the world of entrepreneurship. Meet Rashi Gupta who after the initial fear and hurdles, developed a deep sense of passion for motivating and educating herself to reach greater heights in business.
Her desire to build, create, and learn, surpasses her fear. Every challenge she’s faced becomes a greater experience of learning her true power. Read on to know about how this quiet and dignified lady got the start in her businesses. Her answers revealed the deep motivators and personal qualities that drover her big ideas to reality.
Have you always been entrepreneurial? What led you to taking that first step and setting up your own business?
No, I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I’ve done my Bachelor’s in Medical Sciences and Masters in Breast Cancer Genetics from the University of Toronto. I knew the benefits of being an entrepreneur as I come from a family of hardcore businessmen. My husband and father, both are “self-made’ men. It’s in my blood! However, I thought I was a nine-to-five kind of person until circumstances dictated that I couldn’t work anymore in my own field. I also struggled with a commute of 1.5 hours one-way to downtown Toronto.
The story behind both my ventures is very different. The idea of Shaza Canada was born when I would go to my sister’s room in India, and be enthralled by the stunning collection of her products. My father has an export house for textiles, cashmere, and pashmina. But my sister gave it a new direction. She turned a boring textile exports business into a design house, a brand. I would see her put up exhibits, all passionate about her line, and talking about her work to anyone she met. This contagious enthusiasm rubbed off on me. And quite simply, the beauty of the shawls was my inspiration to bring them to the North American market. To be able to provide something so exquisite to other people. To be known as the seller of these beautiful scarves felt like a solid motivation. I’m quite convinced that the mainstream population here will fall in love with Shaza products.
HD was born out of sheer desperation. My 175 lbs Great Dane German breed dog, Bono would shiver in the cold. It was the fall of 2017, and I was pregnant. Regular pet stores didn’t have a coat that fit him, and the special brands that carry coats for dogs his size were too expensive and not warm enough. We had bought a jacket for him the previous year for $140, but it was small now. I did not want to spend another $140 on a not- so warm jacket which he might grow out again. So, I bought some warm Sherpa and fleece from Fabricland, a simple sewing machine, and set about learning how to use it. I was a novice! Just 15 tries, and 1 month later, I had a coat for him. It had taken a LOT of hard work, as I was in my last month and would be bent over for hours on the floor or on the machine, cutting, sewing, measuring the fabric. Sewing a coat for a 175 lbs dog takes a lot of fabric. 40 inches across the chest and 38 inches to the back to be
exact. The thickness of the double fleece and Sherpa made cutting and sewing that much harder. In the end, it was done, with a detachable hood, a neck warmer and all!
The following year, I made a similar coat for my other dog Bruce, who is a shepherd mix. I also donated some coats to a local Great Dane shelter. They were a hit with the shelter who couldn’t believe I made them. And, Haute Dawgs was born! Affordable winter wear for large breed dogs. When I was in India for 3 months, I used that time in sourcing fabric, researching design and sizes, and hiring two tailors.
What are the most important things to progressing as the owner of a business?
- Shamelessness. The shamelessness to tell anyone who will listen, about your work, to push your work into the light, to upstage your contemporaries, to be outspoken about why you believe your product is the best.
- Grit. Being convinced that it will work. Maybe not this way. Maybe not that way, but some way. It will work. Being willing to try out new strategies. Being steadfast and not throwing in the towel. Being determined to keep trying.
- A positive attitude. Not every failure is a judgement on you. Many things make or break a situation and not all of them can be controlled by you. Yes, it helps if you have the foresight and good judgement to avoid an adverse situation, but that’s how you learn.
- Learning attitude. Be ready to learn from everything, everyone, every failure, and even successes. Never fail. Either you succeed or you learn.
- Be Animate when talking about your product. Emote. Put yourself out there and express how great your product is. Talk to the person about how your product will benefit them.
Who inspired you?
The hundreds of WINGS women who work from home, and make it work and are kicking butt! If so many of the former ‘home-makers’ could thrive doing what they do, then I can too. Their stories, successes, and suggestions are all an inspiration.
Tell me about your businesses.
Shaza is a luxury brand that brings exclusive pashmina and cashmere products to the market. We specialize in wraps and drapes like scarves, shawls, and ponchos. We bring contemporary crafts like Swarovski, lace detailing, velvet appliques, fur trims, etc, as well as traditional crafts like Kalamkaris, Kani work, Phulkari, etc. We aim to increase the elegance quotient of our patrons and glamify their OOTD (outfit of the day) with our scarves.
Haute Dawgs (HD) provides affordable winter jackets for large dog breeds. Many times, large dog breeds don’t have affordable options available in regular pet stores like PetSmart and Global Pet Foods. These stores only want to house winter apparel for smaller dogs as that is what sells the most. We aim to fill this gap by reaching out to owners of large dogs and make caring for them a little bit easier on the pocket. Our coats are functional. They provide reliable warmth through the worst of winters, made of naturally water-resistant fleece, versatile with a removable cap option, and comes with bells and whistles. We also aim to expand our product line in the future with more choices for large dog breeds and specialized protective wear for arthritic dogs with painful knees.
How do you balance heading two businesses?
I try not to let it become a big deal in my head, so I don’t get overwhelmed. I take one task at a time as I also have a toddler and a house to run. Plus, I take care of two big dogs and a sustainability page I manage on Facebook. I give myself weekly, daily tasks, which I aim to check off in a specific amount of time. I’m not harsh on myself on days I get nothing done because I do a lot of background chores like cooking or ferrying around my baby everywhere I go. I try to take satisfaction in small things that I get done during my week, even if they are not on my task list. But giving myself written, bulleted, achievable tasks is super important. I work better when I have an accountability factor at the end of the day.
I balance time for myself by finding time to workout and attend some hobby classes. As much as I love my children and family, I make sure I give myself time to enjoy a little.
I have a husband who never discourages me from following any dream, project, hobby or passion. My mother-in-law is the ultimate empowerer! She gives me confidence, tips, and time. She was the one who pushed me into turning HD into a venture rather than a one-off adventure with the sewing machine. The rest of my family includes my parents, sister (in India), my FIL, my brother-in-law and his fiancé. I’m gifted with some wonderful friends which every girl should have when she needs to have a little fun without being too dependent on her partner to tag along!
One thing I enjoy most about my profession…
The contrast of having the flexibility and the stress of getting things done quickly and maintaining the momentum. I’m learning about being more active on social media and how to be more organized with my inventory and billing. Learning is a lot of fun. I love making my own hours and not being pressed by external factors to take the workload. The motivation is internal.
My proudest accomplishment…
To start a sustainability page where I share lifestyle tips by topic, every Saturday, and then during the week, I share more videos and articles related to it.
I’ve become increasingly afraid of the future of our children. I’m convinced of the Science when it tells us that the survival of our planet, and hence our survival as a species is in danger because there are record-breaking, averse natural disasters affecting us already. The scary prospect of the future led me to make significant lifestyle changes in my life, and I wanted to share this way of life with others, and bring awareness of what is happening, why it is happening, the political vs scientific climate around this topic, and what can we do about it, because we CAN do something. The problem so far is fixable but Earth is reaching a tipping point fast, a point of no return.
I rest just a little easy knowing that tomorrow if my children ask me, why did you not do anything about it, I can say, I did. I made all the lifestyle changes I could, and I tried very hard to spread awareness too.
My boldest move to date…
To reserve booths at two very big exhibits for Shaza and HD this November. I exhibited Shaza products at the National Women’s Show in Toronto at Metro Convention Centre and HD at the Christmas Edition for Canadian Pet Expo. The booking fees for both were quite steep. They are very big platforms, with massive footfall and I was nervous about going all out.
One thing that separates me and my company from competition is…
I don’t know anyone in Canada who houses scarves as beautiful as I do. The quality, craftsmanship, and designs are all unique. For Shaza, I have no Canadian competition.
The same is for HD too. There are no large dog winter jackets in the market which are as warm or as versatile for that price. Our largest jackets will only set you back under $100, compared to our competitors whose price begins at $100 before taxes.
I’m passionate about…
My products. I really believe I have no competition for either of my brands as no one is selling comparable things at this price.
I’m a passionate gardener, dog-lover and climate activist. I don’t organize rallies and strikes or hug trees. But my method is to spread awareness through social media, personal examples, and cutting through the scientific jargon for the everyday person to understand the message.
The future excites me…
A little. I’m ambitious, I’m hopeful, but I’m a little afraid to dream too much. But do I want Shaza and HD to become global brands and household names? Of course! But what if they don’t? That’s okay too. My value in myself is from other aspects of my life, in addition to my work. What I look forward to the most in the future is watching my son grow into the best possible version of himself that we can shape. I ‘m excited about teaching him things I’m good at.
My work is something I do to enhance and add value to my life which is filled with lots of other value-adding aspects. It is my necessity, not my entire life.
I’m concerned about…
Our consumerism attitude and how our excesses are going to inflict suffering on our children. That prospect makes me worry a lot about how our children will cope and what sufferings will visit them.
I heard about WINGS…
At home, on my dining table! My mother-in-law, Sanjukta Das is always inspiring me with success stories from various WINGS women!
WINGS has helped me to…
To gain my feet back while dealing with motherhood. It has given me a glimpse into the lives of other women from my culture in Canada, and how they deal with the strong homemaker values that our culture places on them vs their work. It has taught me networking, which earlier i didn’t think valuable. It has given me friends, mentors, and business associates. It has helped me to run my home, take care of my newborn and gain confidence.
The one message that I like to share with other women entrepreneurs across the GTA about WINGS is…
WINGS gives you the wings to fly. Whether its networking, friends, confidence, or mentors. It’s not just-another group aimed at socializing. There is a sense of altruism you get when you associate with WINGS charitable drives. There is fun at the various networking or socializing events where you not only make friends, but also find opportunities to make your business grow. If you are a woman entrepreneur in the GTA, then joining WINGS must be on your priority list.
The one message that I like to share with other women entrepreneurs across the GTA is…
We as women are powerhouses. We take care of our business, home, our children, our husband, our parents, our in-laws, our pets, we participate in our large and vibrant community, everything! We have a big role to play in the future of this planet. We can help my instilling in our houses the lifestyle changes that will make our living more eco-friendly. We can initiate dinner table discussions or WhatsApp group discussions in our family groups about the upcoming elections. We can influence how many people vote and whom they vote got. We decide what’s on the menu and how the resources will be allocated. We can steer our household away from its dependence on plastic, and fossil fuels. So I request the members of this group to find ways to become aware of the climate crisis and not treat it with closed eyes. I ask that each one of us take small steps in our daily lives to steer us collectively away from this impending disaster because whether you are rich or poor, Hindu or Christian, Indian or Canadian, the climate crisis WILL affect your children.
You can reach Rashi Gupta at 416-841-6207 and follow her on:
Facebook – Haute Dawgs, Shaza, Sustainability Saturdays
Instagram – haute_dawgs, shaza.ca
About the Aarti: Aarti Santosh is a Communications professional with a background in Commercial Arts and Journalism.