Expat Voice: New Beginnings
India is a place where one is free to do anything, says Mumbai-based Japanese entrepreneur Yoshiko Inoue.
Yoshiko Inoue first visited India in 1990 when she was still a “university kid.” The experience left a strong impression on her. So when she was offered a job at a company in Mumbai, she packed her bags and moved to the city of dreams in 2010.
“There was a lot to know about India. I wanted to understand the mentality of the people and know the reasons for the many ‘strange’ things I saw in India. Therefore, I took the job and moved to Mumbai,” Inoue, who hails from Osaka in Japan, tells Little India.
Before moving here, the 47-year-old tour leader-turned-entrepreneur visited India several times while working in Japan. “I was one of the very few tour leaders in the company who loved India tours, and was the only one who didn’t face any stomach problems due to the food. I grabbed all tours to India while others preferred Europe, Canada, etc.,” she says.
Inoue talks about her first visit to India, love for Sridevi, starting her own clothing brand, and more:
I visited India for the first time in 1990 as a member of a work-experience camp from an NGO, when I was a university kid. We stayed in a small village in Karnataka and dug a well.
I stayed in the village for about 10 days. This was during Holi. So we would have fun in the big yard of the pottery factory of the NGO chief of that region. We would then go to the village to do our work. While we would dig the well, most of the villagers would just sit and stare, which was kind of weird.
In the afternoon, we would play with the kids. We spent the night in a school building. The sky would look beautiful at night. It’s the best night sky that I’ve seen till date.
Whatever I saw and experienced in that village left a strong impression on me. India stayed in me after the camp.
‘You Look Like Sridevi!’
During my stay in the village, one of the village kids told me that I looked like Sridevi, the late Bollywood actress. That was when I first heard her name. Later, a few Nepali friends of mine showed me her posters and also a few films. When I saw them, I realized that there was zero similarity between us in the way we looked. But I anyway fell in love with her. I had seen Naagin and a few other films of hers and soon became a fan.
When I moved back home, I put a huge poster of Sridevi on my wall and listened to the cassettes I got in India every day.
One day I found a tiny brochure about a Bharatanatyam class on a power pole. It was the beginning of my second encounter with India. As a Sridevi fan, I immediately joined it and learnt Bharatanatyam for the next five years.
Starting Mirchi Komachi
I quit my job of five years to start my own business of making clothes. I had no option to leave India since I had already decided to live and grow old with my husband Sanjeev, who was my boyfriend at that point of time.
Though I had worked in a fashion house before, my experience was far too less to start a brand on my own. I am not from a business family and have zero idea about how to run a business. As a foreigner, I had limited knowledge about what Indian women like to wear. However, I still wanted to give it a shot.
I had to do everything at the same time – quit my job (abandoning my employee visa), get married, shift from a company flat to a private flat with him (strictly after marriage!), and start a business. Sanjeev was scared that I would never be able to come back to India once the employee visa expired. He ran around every day to complete the process so that I would not have to leave the country.
The clothes I design are the standard Western clothes which people wear all over the world. But I use Indian fabrics, textures and prints to make them. When I moved here, I realized that Western wear options were limited. Where are the blazer jackets, different types of skirts, trench coats, jumpsuits and the like? I see people wearing cheap synthetic tops/dresses and feel bad because India has such a great tradition of hand-crafted fabrics.
I want to see people wear clothes with gorgeous Indian fabrics. I want fashion photographers from across the world to come to India for its “unique street fashion” just like they do in Tokyo or New York!
I want to make Mirchi Komachi a brand that encourages Indian women to live their lives on their own terms. On one hand, I see news/customs where Indian women are brutally insulted every day and am disgusted by it. On the other hand, I see people expressing their opinions and fighting for what’s right in various ways – art, films, media, books, music, comedy, events.
I figured starting a clothing brand which is also vocal about making difference in the lives of Indian women would be the best way in which I could contribute.
The company is still in the initial stages. I haven’t even started working with artisans. I do everything at home. However, I am happy with my decision to start this business in India. I hope the company grows and I get the chance to work towards improving the lives of women here.
Mumbai is the Best!
Everything is extreme in India. I think Mumbai is the best city for me to live in because people are very open here. I would probably be suffocated in any other city due to the strict, unsaid and unwritten restrictions placed on women – something that I am against.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.