They say every beautiful smile has a hidden story to unfold and every happy soul is a result of hardships and tedious toils.
Nagaland has proven itself to become a haven for talented entrepreneurs in the past and one such upcoming initiator is Zuboni Humtsoe, the brains behind Nagaland’s fashion online brand, Preciousmelove (PML).
Preciousmelove is an all girls team from Dimapur, Nagland with a vision to empower and provide a platform of opportunities, jobs and welfare to generations. Established on 14th December 2011, the initiative has been breaking stereotypes on many levels.
Conversing with Shweta Raj Kanwar for TNT- The Northeast Today, Zuboni delves deep into the adversaries faced by the team and how teamwork has converted her dreams into reality.
Zuboni Humtsoe is a Political Science graduate from Kalindi College, DU. She loves travelling, especially Japan (literally everything about the country), fashion, art, photography, nature, poetry, philosophy, being an entrepreneur, marketing as a subject, animation movies, comics, music especially jazz and blues, reading and writing. Babur, Walt Disney, Angelina Jolie, Malala Yousafzai, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Ratan Tata do not fail to inspire.
When her father fell seriously ill and her family was going through a financial crisis, she realized that her life had hit an inflection point. It was depressing and heart-breaking to not even have enough money to buy medicines for her own loved one. Sitting on the cold benches of the hospital, she promised herself that she would make her own destiny and not wait for anybody.
PML was the result of an amalgamation of many factors and circumstances. Zuboni adds, “I believe it was God trying to show the right way. I have always loved photography, fashion, art, editorial photoshoots, empowerment and philanthropy. To be able to bring a dream to life through photography and philanthropy has always fascinated me. It was frustrating growing up because I did not know what I wanted to do but I was sure I wanted to do something different, I just did not know what or how. With time, everything started falling into place. Over the years, I struggled, worked really hard, taught myself, asked people to let me work and learn under them, experimented, innovated, kept myself open to feedback and criticism, started reaching out and surrounded myself with genuine and good people. Its very important to surround yourself with positive people, the influence and inspiration pushes you to be better”.
It may be mentioned that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his visit to Nagaland made it a point to meet her. Here are excerpts from the conversation with TNT:
TNT: We read about your story on your encounter with our PM Narendra Modi. Would you tell us more about it?
PML: He was leaving without visiting our stall and I was annoyed because we are struggling entrepreneurs from Northeast India, where it is so difficult to work on your own and start a business. Yet it was the politicians and bureaucrats who got to meet him. I ran after him and he was so kind to follow me back to look at our work, his humility really touched my heart. It was one of the most surreal and inspiring moments when you realize he is as human as you and I. Anything is possible and you can do anything or be anything you want to be. If he can become the Prime Minister of a great democracy, then even we can be anything that we want to be. Like how my mentor Thavaseelan always reminds me- “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”.
TNT: Amidst so many online fashion portals and brands, how do you think PML stands out from the others?
PML: A friend once advised that I should let my work be an extension of myself, because as individuals we are unique. Taking that as an inspiration we are buidling PML as an extension of each member’s dreams, ambitions and persona. Our fashion collections are also designed according to what styles we would love to wear, designs that are flattering and comfortable for different occasions and events, from classic formals to stylish casuals & the latest trends to basic style staples.
At PML we follow the Japanese work culture and ethics – everybody is an equal, everybody works, eats and plays together. We believe in dignity of labour, hard-work, creativity, constant innovation, improvisation and perseverance. We are tapping our creative veins, making use of available resources to the hilt and using artistic photography to share our story. To foster a sense of oneness amongst the team, speaking of tribal native language is prohibited. And above all we have been really lucky because we may not be the best but we are loved the best.
Nagaland Supermodel KethoLeno who agreed to be the face of Preciousmelove (PML)
Talking about supermodel Leno from Nagaland who endorses the brand, she says how her support and understanding has helped her in promoting the brand. “She is a good friend and a sister rolled into one. When we asked her if she can support us by launching the e-commerce site, she readily agreed. She personifies the ideal PML woman – self made, strong, independent, beautiful, kind and grounded – in essence, a woman of substance, ” she says.
THE UNTIRING TEAM BEHIND PML
The girls in the PML team are the primary driving force. They consider themselves blessed and lucky to have amazing mentors supporting and guiding them. From a super-model to entrepreneurs, marketing experts, designers, engineers, photographers, tech experts and a Tamil IAS Officer.
PML is a place that believes in empowering people and creating equal opportunities for all. Since PML does not have a huge capital, they try to make good use of Facebook and started using it to do business. She adds, “I was always sure I did not want a ‘Government Job’; but government jobs being the evergreen vogue in Nagaland, it has been very difficult for us to convince our family and relatives most of the times. Entrepreneurship is very challenging, business has extreme highs and depressing lows and it does take a lot of time, money, effort and sacrifices. But being a team of dreamers and self-believers, our girls work really hard and we know we will make it one day. To provide a platform for self empowerment, PML regularly features and promotes young models, photographers, stylists, seamstresses, differently-abled women and doll-makers”, Zuboni adds.
However, it was a tedious journey and not a bed of roses for the team of PML. Rebelling against their family and financial hurdles, PML owes its achievement to the undending toil of the team behind the beautiful creations.
“There are many times when we had to literally rebel against our own families. Lothungbeni Humtsoe (PML stylist) told her father she doesnt want a government job and left home in 2015 to join PML saying, “If PML can do it, even I can do it”. Against her family’s wish, Babita (PML head-crafts designer) continues to work and make beautiful hand-made dolls of Nagaland. Julie (assistant crafts designer) is a differently abled single mother who left her previous job because she was being treated unfairly. Alen Konyak also sticks to her guns because she wants to learn and do something different unlike government jobs where there is hardly anything challenging or exciting to do. Our photographers also share similar stories of hardships and not enough support from either their own family or relatives. There were many times I was also called names and looked down upon for daring and choosing the road less travelled in Nagaland, but with time everything has changed. Perceptions have changed and after years of perseverance I’m not called a fool anymore. Likewise, I believe my girls will also convince their families with their hardwork, grit, determination and never-say-die attitude”, Zuboni adds.
Creativity, hard-work and the love and support of well-wishers, friends, family, customers, clients, patrons and mentors are the driving force behind the brand.
“In Nagaland, if you don’t have contacts in high places it is very difficult to get any help from the Government. One of the best advice given by one of our mentor was to not run after any government schemes, instead focus and learn to make the business stand on its own feet”, Zuboni adds adds.
The team envisions PML as a brand to be like the ‘Tata’ Group. Providing quality products and services while simultaneously empowering and providing job opportunities and welfare to generations. Celebrating love, dreams, dreamers, fashion, femininity, creativity, art and freedom is what PML is all about.
NUNGSHIBA Handicrafts : another innovation of PML
Handcrafted by local tribal women from Nagaland, the Nungshiba dolls have been carefully designed and made to resemble the unique and beautiful tribal’s from North-East India. Each doll takes a day to make, with a lot of labor, detailing, experimenting and perseverance by the local tribal women. Nungshiba is an initiative to encourage more self empowerment by innovating- using creativity, artistic talent and skills.
As rewarding as it can be, entrepreneurship is also one of the most difficult and challenging jobs in the region and when you happen to be from the Northeast India, it is even more challenging. Nagaland is yet to contain the proper basic infrastructure. The erratic power supply, horrible internet services, terrible roads and connectivity, expensive air-fares and limited train reservations, market linkage etc creates unforeseen challenges and clouds various business in uncertainty. Accessing loans or funds is also next to impossible in Nagaland if you don’t have the right contacts.
However, entrepreneurs like Zuboni and Merenla (Muffet’s Pantry) are leaving no stone unturned to inspire youths from the region to convert their dreams into reality.
“Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”. You can do anything or be anybody you want to be, but you have to believe and never give up. Always remember no dream is too big and no dreamer too small.
You can follow their Facebook official page here: https://www.facebook.com/officialpreciousmelove/?fref=ts
Check out their online shopping website by clicking here- http://www.preciousmelove.com/
–Interviewed by Shweta Raj Kanwar for TNT-The Northeast Today