Khushboo Jain: From Fashion to Fundraising

By: Khushboo Jain

Published On: December 08, 2017

I am no fashion pundit, but I don’t remember a time when I did not take a serious interest in fashion and style. My mother, one of the most stylish women I know, would design a lot of the clothes I wore as a young girl, and she would always listen to my ideas before we put my, and later my sister’s, outfits together. We were encouraged to think about the clothes we wore as an extension of our personas, and a creative mode of self-expression.

By the time I was sixteen and about to take my first set of standardized school exams, I believed I’d make a career in fashion. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but this vision was not clearly defined. To learn about the nitty-gritties of running a business hands on, I started working for my father at his laboratory instruments company. I’d go to college in the mornings, leave at noon, and work a full nine hour day at our South Mumbai office, filing paperwork, talking to clients, sitting through strategic planning meetings with the board. 

After I graduated, I began an MBA program with a focus on Marketing. This was enjoyable, I knew I had found my calling, and it began to seem possible, with the exchange I had every day with my peers and professors, that I would really be an entrepreneur soon, it was only a matter of time.

I began my working life with a job in fashion after I finished with my management degree. After I was married my husband and I moved to America, and I took a second Master’s in fashion marketing from the Parsons School of Design in New York City. In the next three years, we moved around a lot between India and South Asia, and I worked with fashion stalwart Manish Malhotra, as a part of the team that researched and brought to life his showing at the Lakme India Fashion Week; at Malaika Arora’s The Closet Label (now The Label Life); and in Singapore with many luxury fashion and lifestyle brands like Hackett, Jimmy Choo, Canali, La Martina, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works and others.

Soon my husband and I began to ideate our own venture. We knew it had to be something that would let us pool our skill sets. Piyush’s (my husband) knowledge of finance and technology would have to be clubbed with the brand and communications skillsets I was building. We were also keen on a business model that would let us add value and meaning to our community; we were interested from the get go on founding our own social enterprise back home.

It turned out that setting up a crowdfunding platform would serve all of these interests and agendas. I quit my job in 2014 after weeks of deliberation, and we started on building up the Impact Guru label instead.

I remember that time as a period of hectic activity, a lot of travel between India, Singapore, and Jakarta, endless brainstorming sessions, and a sense of excitement mixed with wonder. Finally, I was an entrepreneur! Sometimes, I felt I was living in a happy, busy dream. 

We were getting geared up to break into the Indian social enterprise market, about which we were learning new things everyday. It was a unique and challenging market to begin work in, and we began to recruit talent in 2015. We hired a small group of very bright people who were about to help us bring our vision alive. 

By this time, we have grown from a two-person team to a group of forty (and counting) young and dynamic people operating from our Andheri office. Just as I did at my jobs with luxe fashion brands, I continue to work on research, have hours-long tactical meetings with the team, and design content and communication plans that will let us project a strong brand identity. We have hosted over 15000 campaigns. We promote an informal and cooperative work culture, helping each other shine every day that we put in together. 

Also, had I not co-founded Impact Guru, I would never have experienced the incredibly humbling feeling of being responsible for the livelihood of everyone who works committedly with us.

I’m often asked if I found the transition from fashion to fundraising difficult, and the answer surprises people until I explain.

Bottomline, I am what I wanted to be; I’m an entrepreneur. The shift across industries might have altered external paradigms, but the nature of the work I do on a day-to-day hasn’t changed all that much. I used to sell opulent products, and now I sell a service. If anything, this sales pitch is harder to execute, because we do not offer a tangible benefit.

That apart, Impact Guru has two sets of people who hold the enterprise together- campaigners, who use our platform, and donors, who make contributions on it. Both need to be convinced in differing ways that we are on their side. 

Also, I find striking parallels between fashion and fundraising. Both are visible and public. Each allows a performer in the arena to make a statement. At Impact Guru, we celebrate giving, and to our way of thinking, each act of making a gift is a statement of philanthropy, an acknowledgement of the idea that despite impoverishment and inequality, there is good in the world. Our job is to cluster the goodness of many people on our platform and make change as allies.

I still love fashion. My other interests are fitness and food, and when a long day at Impact Guru is done I rejuvenate myself by deep-diving into these hobbies. The need of the hour is to focus on fundraising, and I’m glad we have been instrumental in making some difference.

As told to Malini Bhattacharya.