You’d agree if we mentioned that unless you’re Iris Apfel, people don’t really turn into a style icon with age. That said it is true that age has nothing to do with looking great or carrying oneself impeccably. An individualistic sense of style that defines your personality is all you need to stand out from the crowd. How are we so sure? Thanks to Rajesh Bathija, 51-year-old entrepreneur who owns Mumbai-based home appliances brand Tecnora. We’ve never seen Rajesh in formals when at work, and he’s usually always wearing solids rather than stripes or checks. But you’ll always take notice of him, even in a room full of people, because of how well dressed he is. We decided to chat with Rajesh about his fashion choices among other things. Read on…
Team WODROB: Tell us a little about your entrepreneurship journey?
Rajesh Bathija: I was always interested in gadgets and electronics; it had a lot to do with the exposure my dad gave me. That’s also what influenced me in wanting to become an electronic engineer. I was in Jai Hind college studying science but wasn’t very happy with the education I was getting. I thought it wasn’t challenging enough for me. So I dropped out after my 12th and joined the family business of textile processing. After working for three years, I wanted to do something by myself. With an opportunity in hand, I moved to Dubai. But I hated the place. In fact, I still think that the Gulf countries are quite primitive in their thought process. So I moved back and rejoined my family business, alongside which I also started on my own. I was supplying garments from India to a friend who was in Slovakia. Over time, I wanted to explore a new market. So I moved to Hungary in 1994 and started importing textiles for women’s garments from China, Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, the likes, to supply it to the local garment manufacturing industry. I did this for 18 years. That apart, I also ran two Indian quick-service restaurants in Budapest.
When the Leighman Brothers collapse happened in 2008, it came to a point that the kind of business I was doing there became insignificant. Also, I realised that my kids had grown up, but they were living in a bubble and I wanted them to know their roots. This is when I wrapped up the textile business and moved to Mumbai to do something I always wanted to do but never got the opportunity to. I built a brand called Tecnora — we sell coffee machines and home appliances online. First I was unsuccessful in selling my brand in the traditional retail space. But after restarting it online, it’s now been three years and is only picking up.
TW: Was the shift in the domain, from textiles to technology, difficult?
RB: It is fairly simple. Throughout my life, I was always in touch with technology. Not only did I read a lot, I would also observe my friends who were in the business. Technically, it’s a lot like trading. Also, I was always very conversant with how business happens in China, for example. It wasn’t a difficult transition for me because I have always been in touch with the industry. That said, I also always had a tinkering habit – I’d buy an appliance, open it up, see how it works, and so on. I guess the foundation was the same.
TW: Yours isn’t the traditional way of doing business, as online retail is different from selling in stores. How effective is the business model?
RB: What we do is develop appliances, produce some of it, create prototypes and then take it to China to mass produce it and sell it online. We’re currently selling in India and have some presence in the US. We will soon launch in UK and Europe.
I think with online turning mainstream in business, it only gives an opportunity to smaller brands to enter the market. But the big brands have not suffered. In fact, online retail has only helped them become bigger. The online model of business has helped many people set up their business as it’s easy and has a lower threshold. But with it, the competition has also increased. It’s not as much in India, but in the West, large format stores and multi-chain retailers are shutting as everyone (millennials especially) are hooked on to online shopping. The concept of touch and feel itself is fading out; one is okay buying something online and returning it if they don’t like it.
The reason I am able to sell online is that my product is unique. The concept of having a coffee machine at home is still very new to India. That said, the mixer grinders I sell don’t do that well. The success here, I would say, is product specific. If you’re selling something unique, that is also a good product, it is easier to sell it online.
TW: You moved to India from Hungary after 18 years. How different was the change in lifestyle?
RB: It was a massive change. In Budapest, we had so much time to ourselves. Weekends was about family time along with a close set of friends. I can comfortably say that the best years of my life are the ones I spent there. Here, the mindset is very different. As far as the social circle is concerned, I like it here. But when it comes to getting work done, calling it a challenge would be an understatement.
TW: Since you’ve travelled a lot, how would you explain fashion abroad vs fashion in India?
RB: Wherever I have been all over the world, people wear what’s in fashion but they do it in an elegant way. For instance, if a distressed pair of jeans is in fashion, even a 60 year old will wear it well… why? Because he’s fit and he will wear a pair of jeans that will fit him well. He won’t just wear it because it’s in style. In India, that’s not how it works. Whatever is in fashion, people want to wear it no matter if it suits them or not. You can ape trends, but you need to do it elegantly and to suit your personality. Wear drapes that suit you and your body type.
TW: Has style changed drastically over the years? If so, how?
RB: Everything is cyclical in fashion. I say this because I was in the fashion business in India and abroad and I was aware of what was going on. In our time, we had bell bottoms and it did make a comeback. Everything 90s is back again. Hawaiian tropical prints on shirts (that was in fashion back then) are back too.
TW: Give us a sneak peek of what your personal wardrobe is like?
RB: I don’t have too much – a few basic pairs of jeans, linen trousers. I wear a lot of knits (tees). I don’t have too many shirts. Also, I don’t wear loud prints or tees that shout the brand.
That said, back in the time, I had my Ed Hardy moments too (laughs).
TW: We’ve hardly seen you in formals. Is that a personal choice?
RB: I attribute this aspect of dressing up to Budapest. There, people dress very casually, and you won’t be surprised to see an owner of a small business working in his office in shorts during summer. They are very casual. In India, formal wear is nothing but a pair of pants and a shirt. But I like dressing in casuals to work, just like I would in Budapest.
TW: But what is your formal look like?
RB: I would prefer a nice fitted pair of jeans, a half-tucked clean solid shirt with rolled up sleeves. That’s how formal I can get. I like sticking to basics.
TW: What is your signature style like?
RB: I used to wear prints, but that phase has faded out for me. I like sticking to a minimal, basic look. I like wearing solid colours… and I think that is a differentiator.
TW: Men are quick at shopping and are also known to be terrible shopping companions? Is that true for you as well?
RB: I am very picky. I don’t buy anything impulsively and I don’t ever shop in a jiffy. I know what I want and I like buying the good stuff. If I need a shirt, I will pick up something from a good store. It’s important that it looks good on me – everything from the fit to the collar has to be perfect.
TW: Tell us your favourite brands?
RB: My favourite brand is Boggi Milano, they are great for menswear. I also like Zara. Then there’s Hugo Boss, I like their suits and even their t-shirts are of great quality.
TW: How about accessories and shoes?
RB: I don’t accessorise at all; I don’t even wear a watch. Shoes yes… I buy whatever looks good. I’d say I am very specific about the quality of a product. For instance, I wouldn’t buy shoes from Zara. I’d rather buy it from a shoe brand.
TW: How important is grooming for a man?
RB: I think grooming is very important. When you look at a man, the first thing you see is the energy. It could be a man in a dhoti, but if he is well-kempt, neat, clean, and carries himself well… that’s well-groomed for me.
TW: Are there any all-time favourite brands?
RB: No brand stays with any person for his lifetime. It is scientifically proven that every five years a person’s personality changes; so does their lifestyle choices, dressing sense, and more. You are bound to move on from your brands, which is why there are so many brands in so many categories. 10 years back I was a huge fan of Abercrombie & Fitch. But now I don’t wear it anymore.
TW: Do you think it is important to dress according to age?
RB: Age is never the issue. You need to be trendy, but like I mentioned before, it has to be done elegantly. You should wear outfits that suit your personality. Let’s say sleeveless tees come back in fashion, someone in their 60s who is fit and toned enough can surely wear it and look good.
TW: Since you have understated style, do you have any tips for readers who also have a minimalist style?
RB: Style is very individualistic. I don’t think I have any authority to give any tips on fashion. But I think it is important to stay fit, as it will make you look good in any outfit.
TW: You did mention that you like Anil Kapoor’s style? What in particular, as it’s very different from your personal style?
RB: When you see Anil Kapoor wearing anything, be it formal or trendy, he looks good in it. He looks great in what he wears, be it a suit, or even a simple pair jeans and tee. His flamboyance is his energy, which I love more than his style.