Smruti Sriram is CEO of Supreme Creations and Co-founder of the Wings of Hope Achievement Award (WOHAA). Supreme Creations is the world’s largest ethical manufacturer of reusable bags and sustainable packaging. WOHAA is a UK social enterprise award for 14- 18 year olds.
Smruti was a finalist for the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award: New Generation 2015. The award celebrates up and coming female entrepreneurial talent in the UK who show a genuine commitment to responsible and sustainable business practices whilst optimising a gap in today’s market.
Channel your inner Shakti
From the Ancient Greeks to the Aztecs and from Celtic mythology to Hindu theology, feminine characteristics have been personified in goddess form. Aphrodite, Saraswati, Brigit and Amaterasu epitomise beauty and love, wisdom, healing, and the sun, respectively.
“Shakti”, the Sanskrit word for “empowerment”, represents the concept of power in a divine feminine form. So with such lofty labels given to us by history and religion do we, “the fairer sex”, truly believe in ourselves? We may be domestic goddesses, but surely we can be business goddesses too? My answer is yes, and we can enjoy this status, without bashing any men in the process.
Men and women both have the capacity to succeed in business. Qualities such as self-reliance, passion will-power, integrity, patience, and optimism are characteristics innate in both sexes. However the nuanced differences in our approaches exposes these qualities in different ways, and therein lies the beauty of our duality.
Nike: Goddess of Strength, Speed and Victory
Madame Veuve Clicquot took over her husband’s champagne house after she was widowed at just 27 years old. When Carolyn McCall, took over as CEO of easyJet, she faced air traffic control strikes, the worst snow in 30 years, surging fuel costs, and a volcano eruption which halted global air travel. Christine Lagarde took the reins at the International Monetary Fund after her predecessor’s extra-professional activities threw the organisation’s integrity into disrepute.
In the face of adversity, these women kept calm, and quietly carried on. They displayed no hubris nor made any disparaging public comments about their difficult inheritances.
I joined my father’s business after I graduated from Oxford. He didn’t ask me to; I just thought it would be opportune to learn first-hand from a successful entrepreneur (who happened to be my father). In 2008, his business, Supreme Creations, was the leading manufacturer of reusable shopping bags for UK supermarkets. Remember the “Ladybird” jute bag for Tesco? Or the first Fairtrade cotton shopping bag at the Co-Op? Supreme became the unknown manufacturer to millions of households across the UK; ethically producing alternatives to the plastic bag.
However, after I joined the business, the global recession ominously loomed, and the vast appetite of the supermarkets started to diminish. With large investments made to build a high-tech factory in South India, and a commitment to employ a large female workforce, the prospect of reducing capacity was simply unthinkable.
I quickly sought new business opportunities and turned to the fashion industry. I rallied the likes of Topshop, Vogue, and London Fashion Week to use our sustainable tote bags, as “walking billboards” for their campaigns and high profile events. I had to prove to marketing executives that our eco-bags were the perfect tools to promote their brand in visually stimulating ways; even if they were more expensive than cheaper, single-use substitutes such as paper and plastic.
Supreme now has 50,000 clients across the world. When the going gets tough, women demonstrate a special kind of resilience which can translate into recovery and victory. One of my favourite examples of nominative determinism is of the global sports brand, and my client, Nike.
Saraswati: Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom and Creativity
Having studied philosophy, politics and economics, I have been trained to question the fundamentals of theories. Is there a novel approach which hasn’t yet been explored? Why follow the status-quo?
I look to India’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw as a source of inspiration. She trained with her father in brewing at United Beers – a rather unconventional path for a woman. However, her early exposure to enzymes (albeit in yeast fermentation) combined with her desire to help people, propelled Kiran to innovate in the field of medical research. She is now chairperson at Biocon Ltd, a global bio-tech giant. Scientia potentia est, “knowledge is power”. When women are educated and are trained to think critically, they demonstrate an extraordinary ability to optimise gaps in markets.
At Supreme Creations I have challenged my clients to push the boundaries of clever communication by innovating through print and design. We are not producing just another tote bag. Our products are now “papped” and “instagrammed” as “must-haves”.
I embrace working through collaboration, a known feminine quality, and as such have become a key node between the esoteric fashion world and the mass retail market. Signature collaborations include Matthew Williamson for Sainsbury’s to raise funds for Comic Relief, and being part of the core team which brought Monty the Penguin onto a Christmas bag for John Lewis.
Women must not shy away from using their education to think creatively in business. Importantly, as the Millennium Development Goals come up for renewed discussion later this year, it is vital that we maintain the pressure to educate girls to secondary school levels and beyond, across the world. Education fosters self-confidence, breeds creativity and promotes tolerance – vital for positive improvements in society. As co-founder of the Wings of Hope Achievement Award (WOHAA), a social enterprise programme I started when I was 18, I see hundreds of girls from UK schools lead teams to raise funds and awareness for underprivileged children.
Through bake-sales, fashion shows, and marathons, girls demonstrate their entrepreneurial flair. We must continue to encourage schools, parents, teachers, businesses and government to champion girls in business through quasi education-enterprise programmes.
So ladies, channel your inner Shakti; we know we’re domestic goddesses but we’re also business goddesses. There’s no need to bash men as in reality for every god there is a goddess, and the sooner we recognise that our duality is a positive, the better it is for all.