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Beauty and fashion industries more receptive to employ from trans community: Transwoman Emma Dey, head of training, Combonation

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Shehwaaz Khan
Shehwaaz Khan
Mohd Shehwaaz Khan is a journalist based in New Delhi. He won Laadli Media Award 2023 for feature writing in print.

In April 2023, beauty and wellness startup Combonation devised a plan to onboard people from the trans community and the new Delhi-based company has so far hired four trans persons. The startup that offers deals of beauty products and services, said it is focused on inclusive workspace and plans to hire five more trans people in leading positions in the coming months. The brand also looks forward to opening a store that would entirely be run by trans people.

“A human being is beyond any gender. Forcing someone to wear a stamp for who they are is against the law of nature,” believes Pooja Sodhi, chief executive officer and co-founder of Combonation.

Combonation was founded in April 2021 and it secured $2 million in pre-seed funding by August 2022. The company also has opened two dozen brick-and-mortar stores in Delhi NCR, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. Beyond its combo deals and discounts strategy to boost sales by partnering with brands to make product bundles, the startup is making efforts to make its workplace an inclusive space, particularly for individuals from the trans community.

Indiaretailing interacted with Combonation’s Emma Dey, a trans woman who is the head of training at the company, to know more about her experiences in the startup, the challenges that trans people face and how they overcome it.

Excerpts:

Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

I am originally from Bengal and grew up in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi. I came out (as a trans woman) when I was in the sixth standard – first to my teacher and then to my family. They thought I had some condition or medical issues because I lost my mother when I was three years old. When my father found out, he took me to counseling. He was the head commander of the Jat regiment in the Indian army. I went to two or three counseling sessions. I am very keen, so I kept repeating that I am not a boy, and I felt that I was assigned the wrong body (of a boy). My father understood this finally. Ever since, he raised me the way he raised my sisters – like I am his daughter. He would say “You are not trans, you are my daughter.” I feel like I am the luckiest woman in this world to have not faced the kind of discrimination that so many trans people face every day.

How has your experience been at Combonation?

Combonation is a very friendly place. It’s trans-inclusive, and the team is really good. Whenever I visit the head office in Gurgaon, everyone there treats me warmly and with respect. They never make me feel like I am a trans woman. I think people nowadays are very fond of trans people. It’s also because trans people have achieved heights and created their space.

Could you explain to me a little about your work at Combonation and what it all involves?

Here, I look after all kinds of training sessions, including skin, makeup, hair, and looks. I head teams of beauty artists and teach them skin concerns and also take behavioral sessions. I also take care of their Instagram pages and look after all the SOPs on the floor.

You are the head of training at Combonation. Have you ever thought of employing more trans people in the workspace?

I would love that. I think it will be great to have a place where every staff member is from LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community. I would love to promote my community. I know a lot of talented people from the community who are willing to work in the makeup industry but they can’t due to multiple reasons. Let’s see in the future, maybe we will have more trans people in Combonation.

You have had a career largely in the beauty industry and your experiences there are positive. Do you think such acceptance of the trans community is exclusive to the beauty industry? For instance, a trans person working at a BPO is likely to face more discrimination than the one working in the beauty industry?

I think what matters the most is not the society you come from, or the community, or what your background is, but how you present yourself. I don’t think that a trans person working in the beauty industry will be respected more than, say, someone working in the teaching line or a BPO. What matters is how you talk, behave, and present yourself professionally.

However, brands, especially in the makeup, beauty, and fashion industry, are more friendly towards trans people.

Do you think trans people can one day be the face of beauty brands in India?

Of course. It’s already happening in other countries. Trans women are promoting their countries as brand ambassadors. They are participating in Miss Universe. So globally, the community is being recognized. Even in India, there are many pageants where trans people are getting a chance to represent themselves. So, it will happen.

You are a makeup artist. Have you ever faced any kind of prejudice or hesitation in your customers, particularly in a setting where a trans woman is teaching cisgender women how to do makeup or behave?

I have personally never faced that. My customers are very fond of me. There are customers who don’t even know that I am a trans woman until I tell them. So, I have never faced anything like that, not among my customers or my team.

Do you have anything to say about the trans community?

We should accept trans people as they are. We should give them opportunities to work with us, and the kind of equality that women are getting from the government, an industry, or a workplace. I am glad that it is becoming normal now, but there are still many places where the trans community continues to face discrimination.

Everyone’s the same. We all are human beings. So we should treat trans people as we would treat a [cisgender] man or a woman.

I believe that trans people in positions of authority should promote their community more. They should hire people from the community. I think this will be good for trans people who are jobless or uneducated. So, we should give them a chance – at brands, in industries!

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