If a woman introduces herself as a designer, what would we make of it? Fashion designer, jewelry designer, handbags and accessories designer? Women have forayed into all these industries with bold steps and we have powerhouse fashion labels attached to many females. But there are manospheres left intact. So, when a young woman says in a public discussion forum that she designs cars and goes on to refute the claim of a speaker about Russia having a better automobile industry than India, she will be certainly shown her place. What does she know!
But Fara Moloobhai is not one to be put down. She is out to prove that she knows it’s no mean task to carve a niche as a woman automotive designer. The Mumbaikar, who graduated in Transport & Product Design with a specialization in Automotive Design from Coventry University, UK, recently shared her story on the Facebook page Humans of Bombay. She opens up about the challenges of gaining a foothold in a man’s world.
Farah knew that the choice she was making was unconventional even as she set out to become an automotive engineer. “There are many women in the design world, but I’m an automotive designer — which is a male-dominated industry. Even when I was studying, there were three women in my course as opposed to 150 men over all.”
As a professional, Farah soon discovered that workplaces are patriarchal and more so in a niche area like hers. “Working in a male-dominated industry like mine, comes with its pros and cons – I’ve had men who have been very respectful and helpful, but there have been times where I’ve come face to face with complete knobs,” she says.
While most of it has been covert, almost subconscious retaliation for encroaching into a male space, some of it spilled out as reprimands and downright humiliation meant to belittle her. Says Farah, “I still remember this one time when I was in an open forum discussion. This one man who worked for a very reputable car firm went on and on about how ‘Indians should aim to be better than Russian car designers’. He was making no sense! India had a car Industry, while Russia didn’t — so I pointed that out and said we should look to Italian or German car industries for inspiration! He flipped it – he went on and on saying, ‘you know who I am?’ ‘you know who I work for?’, ‘who do you think you are?’ He said all of this in front of hundreds of people.”
But she had the last laugh, says Farah, adding an epilogue to this instance of public indictment for questioning a man’s authoritative knowledge on matters concerning automobiles. “In the long run, it didn’t matter— his company shut down within two years! So while there have been instances where I’ve been put down, ‘just because I’m a woman’ — I’ve taken it with a pinch of salt and motivated myself to be better!”
Yet, it’s not workplace prejudices and gender bias alone that one has to battle against in a judgmental world. In answer to a question whether there have been instances where the going has been tough, she says, “So many…I’ve lost count. I’m an athlete – because of my big build, I’ve been called ‘fat’. People have made fun of my appearance and judged me for it.”
But the feisty designer has come a long way. “I enjoy the challenge of doing my best and not allowing any of this to get intimidating,” she says. So what is it that she, as a woman automobile designer, brings to the table? “In fact, the feminine touch I bring to projects has actually worked to my advantage. It’s so funny that a car is a product everyone uses — it’s supposed to be neutral, but the target audience is male! I’m on a mission to change that.”
She turned an entrepreneur with her Mumbai-based design firm Licious Designs. The firm is not restricted to automobile designing and caters to a variety of design needs, including modification of vehicle parts to make them aerodynamically viable, surface modeling of vehicles, to designing cartoon characters, buildings and interiors of living spaces.
On what keeps her ticking, Farah says, “every day that you wake up with a creative, working mind is a victory – make the best of it. Question everything, don’t be scared of anything, keep learning and most importantly, go out there and kick some booty in everything you do – think of every opportunity as you are one shot to making it!”