Please tell us about your background
Payal’s journey in the fascinating world of couture has a humble beginning from the by lanes of Delhi, where she grew up in a childhood steeped profusely in art, culture and music. The years of intensive hard work cumulated when she graduated summa-cum-laude in 1993 from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, San Francisco. She ventured back to India at a time when the fashion industry was in its infancy and there was no organized retail. The struggles of the initial years are still amongst her fondest memories.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
After completing my schooling from Modern School, Vasant Vihar and B. Com Honors degree from JMC in Delhi, I went to Fashion Institute of design and merchandising (FIDM) in San Francisco, USA. I came back to India and started my own business in 1993.
During my 11th and 12th summer break, I worked for a couple of architects and soon I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. The part I liked about architecture was the drawing and sketching… not really standing on the construction site and working with contractors. Then, somebody suggested fashion which was certainly not the typical career choice in those days unlike engineering or medicine. Finally, by the end of class 12th, fashion was becoming more and more my chosen career path though I wasn’t completely sure at that point. So I decided to do a business degree because even with fashion, I would have needed to know commerce if I chose to do my own business. I switched to commerce.
In my second summer in college, I conducted an exhibition because I thought I must know whether I love this or hate this or can I do this for the rest of my life? By then, I realized that I just loved the Fashion business and this was my true calling. I could spend the rest of my life doing this with no regrets! Finally, by the end of my 3rd year I was in FIDM to pursue fashion technology.
You came back to India when the word fashion was something new to people. How did you manage your early days?
Fashion was non-existent when I came back to India in 1993. You were mixed with a glorified tailor. When I started people would walk in with fabric and say can you stitch this for us. I would say, I cannot but I’ll design it for you. It was an uphill task. Since my education was western clothing, I started with western clothing. But for a long time, there was no market for western clothing. I’ve seen the evolution and acceptance of western clothing in India. That’s the complete turnaround in society that I feel fortunate to have witnessed.
There were no fashion weeks when we started our businesses. If you wanted to do your own show, you had to arrange everything from sponsors to venue, production, sound, lights, music, travel, models. It was like a huge project and it would take 8-10 months to do a fashion show. I remember my first show was for a charitable cause. It was always very difficult to get sponsorships and all personal shows I did until fashion week started was for charity. For this, first you have to educate your sponsor, clients and other people in the business.
Tell us something about your fashion house and fashion shows.
I mostly design Western clothes but, when my clients want Indian outfits, I do design those too. My forte is definitely western silhouettes and I am constantly inspired by Indian textiles, crafts and heritage. So it is an eclectic mix of the East and West. I believe that my designs have an ‘Indian soul with a western body’.
Normally we do two shows a year. One is our personal show and the other one is a fashion week. Fashion weeks are nice and exciting but, I think I’ve done so many fashion week shows that now I prefer the luxury of my own shows. In the fashion world it’s very important to be aware of what is happening. You have to constantly invent new stuff and you have to come up with something new to say every season. You have to be better than your last season and constantly prove yourself season after season. It’s a very competitive business.
Having studies in US, you would have had many opportunities abroad. Why did you prefer India for your business?
I’m a very Indian at heart. There were no questions about not coming back to India for me. At that point in the United States the prospects were better and I had lots of job offer. I could have climbed the ladder very quickly. But as an Indian, I wish to live only in India and not anywhere else. I don’t want to live as second class citizen anywhere else in the world. I think in the last 10-15 years India has shown to others that this is where you need to be. Those who think they should still be in Europe or America it’s good for them. But I think India is the place to be and it’ll always be for me.
What is your message to the readers who would want to set up their business abroad?
It’s very difficult for an Indian to start a fashion business abroad. You are not in your home ground. You need a lot of infrastructure, support systems to set up a business. If you want to do what they do, you can’t do better than them! Your USP has to be your strength and that has to be in India. Even if you set up your business there you have to have an Indian sensibility. If you don’t, you can’t do better than what they do! Your strength can only be your culture not their culture. So to be successful in the place you set up, you should be unique and have a good reason to set it up there!
As someone who has conquered the fashion world, what would you like to advice the budding designers?
If you are very keen that this is your career, you have a passion for it then do your homework right before you choose the institute you want to go to. Whether you do it or not in the future, you have to know how to make a pattern, how to grade it, you have to be able to cut it and drape it. If you have one bad season, you’ll be torn into bits in public because there is absolutely no compassion or kindness involved in the public domain. It’s a very competitive and cut-throat business with a break-neck pace. You should learn to take criticism because it’s equal to the number of compliments you get. It’s a long wait but eventually it’s worth it. Work hard, truly believe in yourself. You will get there eventually.