‘A Bad Marriage Fired My Entrepreneur Journey’ – Designer Mani Kohli

Mani Kohli

You know me as the name behind the brand ‘Khubsoorat Collection.’ Or perhaps, you have been one of those beautiful brides whose bridal trousseau included my designs. You have seen me with celebrities, at glamorous events, and my collections being a part of films like Bend It Like Beckham or on the cover pages of fashion magazines.

It has been a long journey since I opened my first boutique in 1985 to being one of the most sought after brands in the UK. It has been beautiful, enriching one, but what you probably wouldn’t know is that my birth as an entrepreneur and designer came out of immense emotional turmoil.

Let me tell you my story. I was all of 18, a runaway bride when I came to the UK. When you are that young, you think you are in love, but you really don’t know what love is. For me, it is more of escapism. Very soon after my marriage, I realised I had made a mistake. The signs were loud and clear that there was no love in this marriage, at least not from my husband’s side. But how do I tell my parents? My dad was in the army, and I had been protected and sheltered and they thought the world of me.

At 19, I was a mother. My parents wanted me to work on my marriage, make an effort. So I did. I continued to live with my husband and we had a son. However, everything changed for me then. In the hospital after the childbirth, I realised that this was never going to work – my husband wasn’t being there for me when I needed him the most, he wasn’t being there for our children. He continued being unfaithful to me, and even if I pushed that aside, he wasn’t being a good father either.

For eight years, I had tried to bottle up my personality and my dreams only to please him and to make my marriage work. It resulted in creating unhappiness and uncertainty in the fragile family.

My daughter had seen at a young age the mental, physical and emotional abuse I was going through in my marriage, and she was beginning to understand and absorb it. It was time for changes, to release ourselves from the negative environment.

The divorce was a new beginning. Even though I had nothing, I had my talent, creativity, and belief in myself. I knew I had to provide for my children and I started working very hard on my business. When I was with my husband, I had used my innate sense for fashion and design to open my first shop and it was also with the hope that with a business, he would be there for us. But he was never able to give us that time and loyalty.

The shop suffered even though it helped me make frequent trips to Delhi to meet the artisans and to commission work. These trips were also a source of relief – the fact that I could meet my parents, I could get away from an environment where I wasn’t wanted or loved.

Now that I had the divorce, I had to start from scratch, clear the debts and give my
boutique a new lease of life. Over the course of the next ten years, as a single
mother, I worked, determined to prove my worth and calibre. I could put my children
through private schooling, buy my own house as my business grew. My designs
were being worn by celebrities, I was being interviewed…

It was a good time. But dark clouds loomed ahead. At the end of those ten years, my ex-husband came back, and wanted 50 per cent of my assets! Fifty per cent of the hard work, single-minded devotion that I had put into my business. We went to court and the proceedings lasted for three years. I won, and my husband died just two days before the judgement was delivered.

I still payed him my last respects. He was the father of the two beautiful children who are my world. Maybe, what he did to me gave me an impetus to do something with my life. I have learnt a lot about myself and maybe about relationships. I think it is important to know yourself before you think of marriage, and while I am not against anyone marrying young, I would say, give yourself some time. When you are 18 or 19, you don’t know what love really is.

I am still evolving and now facing the realisation of new challenges and situations. I was married to my business, I had to be, and so, I never had the time to find love again. Maybe, I should have made time to embark on and trust a new relationship. And to all those of you seeking love, marriage and companionship, there will be adjustments to be made, you have to put in a lot of effort and keep your expectations sane. Every relationship needs determination, commitment and loyalty. So does success! I believe, in telling my story, I may have inspired a few of you, and if that is so, I would be very happy.

(As told to Prerna Shah)

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