Monika Anush, Founder & CEO of LeZazzu.Shop
Meet Monika Anush, healthcare executive turned startup founder who recently launched LeZazzu.Shop, an online shop featuring pieces from emerging designers in Asia who are seeking to bring their talents to the West. From our first conversation with Monika, we knew she’d be a perfect fit for us. She is brilliant, fierce and has blown away every Indian stereotype you can probably think of. She is a force to be reckoned with and a great example of being fearless in your own skin.
“I was born in the late 70s in Mumbai, India as the third and youngest of three sisters. I lost my father in a car accident at the age of four and a half, so my mom single-handedly raised me. She made sure that I turned out to be a tough cookie, but we also had our difficult moments.
I had a lot of close girlfriends growing up (I even went to an all-girls school), but I got along better with the guys and ended up hanging out more with the boys in our neighborhood. My mom was totally chill with that as long as we were all sitting under her roof, but at the same time, I wanted to go out and check out all these rock concerts that no other girl in my group wanted to go to. My mom was always asking me why I wanted to do these things, why I was hanging out with the guys, why I always wanted to wear jeans, you name it. She wanted me to be a sweet Indian girl (which I never was!)”
“I was always rebellious, but academic expectations were very clear to me. I had to be a topper in my class and excel at everything. So that’s exactly what I did, and as long as I met those expectations, I didn’t really care about what anyone else had to say!
A couple months after starting physical therapy school, I met the guy who has now been my partner for 22 years. I didn’t tell my mom about Anush to start with, because I knew that as soon as I did, she’d want me to get married. So I spent my college years trying to avoid the whole ‘oh, so and so is such a nice boy, you should meet him’ thing. Thankfully, both of my brother-in-laws were supportive of my education, so that worked in my favor, as I’d tell them I didn’t have the time to meet guys and get married.
After we both finished our education, we told my mom about our relationship. She first refused and was really not happy that he was Tamilian when we were Konkani (even though we were both Hindu!). I was obviously rebelling against her expectations, but it all ended well as my sisters and brothers-in-law convinced her that I was making the right decision. And you know what, I had the balls to say no. If my mom didn’t agree, I totally would have walked away and eloped.”
From Healthcare to Her Own Venture
“Once I got married and came to the U.S., I went through the trauma of waiting to get my green card. The best decision my husband helped me make was to go back to school and get on an F1 visa, so I enrolled for an advanced masters program in physical therapy at NYU. It was awesome. I got an on-campus job, passed my licensing exams, and ended up getting a full time job where my employer sponsored my green card.
Even when starting out, my bosses immediately recognized that I had strong leadership qualities and continued to promote me. I worked for three companies across seventeen years, and by December 2017, I was a vice president at a rehab company and managed four nursing homes with a staff of over 120. But at some point, I started to get tired of the bureaucracy and knew I wasn’t getting paid enough.
I’ve always been a very age and goal-oriented woman. I knew by what age I wanted to get my first job, that I wanted to have a child by 28 and that I wanted to be promoted to a Director by a certain age. So when I was 37, I told my husband that before the age of 40, I was going to have another profession.”
LeZazzu.Shop was Born
“You don’t see these designers much, but at a time when we’ve got more cultural diversity in mainstream media from people like Priyanka Chopra, Mindy Kaling and others, I knew that there would be a chance for this.”
“I’ve got a pretty eclectic fashion sense and don’t wear traditional Indian clothes a lot. But every time I’d shop in Mumbai in traditional stores, I’d start seeing small sections that catered to contemporary wear. So I’d buy those pieces, and while wearing them in Manhattan in the middle of the day, I’d get so many people asking me “who I was wearing.” And I was like damn, there’s potential for this. You don’t see these designers much, but at a time when we’ve got more cultural diversity in mainstream media from people like Priyanka Chopra, Mindy Kaling and others, I knew that there would be a chance for this.
In the beginning of 2017, I was working part time at my old job, and with Anush’s encouragement, I finally went for it and randomly messaged 25 Indian designers via Facebook, Instagram and email. The first designer to respond was Rahul Mishra (I couldn’t believe this guy actually wrote to me!), and I ended up getting replies from each and every one of them!
I then planned a trip to Delhi and Mumbai and met with those designers, and they all wanted to get on board with my idea. They told me that the biggest market in India is wedding wear, but they really wanted the opportunity to branch out. So I eventually quit my job, worked through the rest of the year with zero experience in the fashion world, and launched LeZazzu, named after our first dog, in the beginning of 2018.
This year, my focus is on improving our brand recognition and introducing our fall and holiday collections.
It’s challenging to be an e-commerce business, but we’ve seen that our pop-ups where we have a physical presence have been really successful and special.”
Breaking Down Stereotypes
“Our parents and grandparents still expect us to conform to everything they went through, but it doesn’t apply to us in the same way. That’s important for us to recognize - we need to break the notion of ‘I did this, so you should.’ Find someone who’s going to make you happy, someone with whom you want this enough and know it’s right. Tell your parents that they raised you well to recognize quality and to be smart enough to make this decision for yourself.”
ON MANAGING THE HOME…
“Don’t let anyone assume anything about you. It’s important that when you and your partner are both working, you should have the right to say ‘I’m too tired to cook tonight, why don’t we sit together and make a menu for the week. Or decide who’s going to take what chores together.’ For example, I have OCD about doing dishes and laundry, so I do those and Anush is the one who vacuums and bathes our dogs. We have separate chores. Also, food doesn’t have to be such a big deal as most South Asians make it. Be open to takeout when you need it!”
On having kids…
“My mother was of course on my case to have a child. She would tell us that we needed to have a baby boy with curly hair like Anush, be light-skinned like me and have the same nose as Anush’s mom. She had all these prerequisites, and both Anush and I would look at her like she was freakin’ crazy! So when we got our first dog, a white wire fox terrier with curly fur, we pulled my mom’s leg and teased her that we had a grandson who finally met her prerequisites! But Anush and I knew that we wanted to get to a good place professionally and financially first. We never let anyone pressure us into this decision and we worked on it together.”
On taking care of yourself…
“When I’m overwhelmed or stressed out, a good glass of wine, exercise and meditation help. Also, it’s okay to find a therapist. It can be amazing, as there are a lot of things you may not want a family member or friend’s advice or judgment on. South Asians look at this as taboo, but there shouldn’t be anything taboo here. I come from a clinical background, and having a therapist is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.”
Lessons from a founder…
“Making the first move is everything. You’ve got to have the balls to make that first move because if you don’t make it, you’ll always regret it.”
“You will have bad days. A bad day is just bad, and you have to look at it as a temporary hurdle.”
“Keep yourself open to people approaching you and looking to connect. You never know what connections will come in handy later.”