With many young designers running the fashion rat race, upcoming designers and industry experts talk about why very few actually win it.

“Who is your favourite designer?” is my favourite question, given the number of youngsters trying to find a foothold in the fashion industry. Experts, however, have another tale to tell: youngsters just come and go. Even before they establish themselves, they are already out. There is a void but no one seems to know how to fill it.

Making an entry

In such a situation, it seems important to ask why youngsters chose fashion as their career in the first place. Designer Mandira Bansal (29) feels that’s true of any industry. In the fashion industry, she feels that clothes for men do not get enough attention. “A lot can be done in terms of menswear. Many of us experiment when it comes to women’s wear but think men like it simple and classic. That’s not true anymore. As designers, we need to give men something to show their personal style.” For some like Anaka Narayanan, owner of Brass Tacks, the answer is opportunity. “I joined the industry because I took a business approach to an opportunity that I saw. I felt there was a void in the Indian market for well-cut, well-made, tailored clothes made of natural and hand-woven fabric. Once I got into the business, however, I found the creative aspect far more interesting than I imagined. So instead of finding a designer as partner, I just started designing the clothes myself.”

For 25-year-old Divya Pandurangam, fashion is in the genes. “My grandmother and mother have been a part of the industry; naturally I was inclined towards it. I’ve grown up around my mum’s unit, with the karigars, master cutters and pattern-making tools. I loved sketching for all my mum’s clients and ended up doing a prêt-a-porter summer line in 2009. All I looked for was to help people look their best.” Divya now handles only the design for her store Pasadi and so has time to work on her idea shop called Spread the Word. “We help young fun brands spread the word about what they do. We handle their media planning, creatives and social media marketing, apart from organising their events.”

That brings us to the fact that many young designers are taking up other allied and non-allied careers while designing moves to the sidelines. Rehane, one of Chennai’s leading designers, rates the fashion scene in the city as risky. So having a back-up option makes sense if you are not sure it will take off. Upcoming designer Satkrit Krishna also agrees adding that Chennai is still quite conservative in its clothing and grooming sense. “It’s also a very price sensitive market that seldom chooses quality over cost. There are very few style icons for people to look up to. Finally, the climate also plays a role, though you can be in a really hot place and yet be stylish! But things are slowly starting to look up.”

Sruthi Sai, 26, who recently opened her boutique after trying many other things like painting, photography, make-up and hairstyling besides others, explains, “There are loads of youngsters like me who come and go. Some are from ‘bigger institutions’ and armed with the qualifications required to make it big in the industry but lack self-belief. I have struggled hard to get to this point and learnt my lessons the hard way. I survived only because I believed in myself and not in education, exposure or background. Also I think having a Plan B to rely on may mean that they are not dedicated enough.”

Though most of these youngsters are strong-willed and want to make it big, the question is — will they last? That’s something only time will tell. So I ask: where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Satkrit Krishna answers, “I’d like to see my line be a successful high-fashion retail brand with flagship stores in at least four to five cities to carve out a unique product identity on the basis of our traditional crafts of Kanchipuram as well. And wish to occupy at least one hanger in every woman’s wardrobe!” That pretty much sums up the aspirations of the others.

Looking forward

Designer Mandira Bansal, 29, wants to showcase Indian talent in Europe and bring back their creative best to Chennai. She thinks that designers need time to settle down and make their mark or create an identity. “Today, designers like Sabyasachi, Anamika Khanna, Rohit Bal, Tarun Tahiliani have patented their style and created a niche for themselves. And they have had time to do so. I won’t say that younger names do not have brand recall; all they need is time.”

Will time see them where they want to be or is there a chance that fashion will reach a saturation point or will re invention on the part of designers save the day? Anaka says, “I don’t think there can be a sense of saturation, unless designers run out of creative ideas or the market becomes really homogeneous in its taste. I’m not sure if constant re-invention is good for a brand because customers do look for consistency, but it is important to evolve.” Monisha Gidwani of Vimonisha feels that this business will always do well because fashion has now become a part of our lifestyle. “Brand recall depends on smart marketing and branding. Most designers are gifted artistes but don’t know how to function as a business model.”

As designer Vivek Karunakaran rightly puts its, “It’s very important for every creative individual to find their roots and, over time, create a certain design aesthetic that personifies them individually.”

Well today, having some real deep pockets gives one a great foundation to set up shop. But are deep pockets just good enough? Vivek is quick to reply saying, “I don't think so. I think is your product that has to be very special. Your customers find you and come to you not to admire your space, but they come because they love to wear you. That has to be the key towards driving a potential customer towards you. I do see a lot of people setting up shop only because they can afford to and not because they trust themselves to show a product in that space that personifies their talent and perfection.”

Monisha Gidwani:

It feels absolutely wonderful to see that today’s youngsters see this as a full-time profession. When I was in school, if you said you wanted to be a fashion designer you would have been labelled a poor student! It’s heartening to see that times have changed and students are looking at it as a profession.

As an entrepreneur myself, I do know that Chennai has a different mindset when it comes to fashion. When I look for young designers to bring to Chennai, I first see if their range will sell in Chennai before offering them a booking. Also what is important is their attitude… Shoppers in Chennai are warm, down-to-earth and love to ask questions about fabrics, colours, styles and what suits them. If we find that the designers who want to participate are not willing to establish a relationship with our clients, we counsel them so that they don’t put off the customers.

The city is certainly willing to experiment and try new styles and wants to stay in fashion, as long as her needs are addressed and her reservations fare taken in to account. Sustainability depends on the designers’ ability to churn out more “with it” designs.

Monisha is the owner of multi-brand boutique Vimonisha.

Vivek Karunakaran:

It’s fabulous to see a lot more people going the entrepreneurial way and setting up shop but the most difficult thing is to swim against the tide. You often wonder if the rat race towards making a mark in this industry is all about just setting up shop. I believe it is not the case! There is so much more to be accomplished in that journey.

Keeping in mind the current market scene, it is definitely a Herculean challenge to sustain yourself. If there is any fuel that can keep them afloat, it has to be passion and a great business. I always believe that one should never shy away from getting their fingers dirty, at least when they start. This is the only foolproof way to know it all... A vision and a plan to make it big are crucial to keep pushing yourself forward in that journey. While I say that, I also think that one needs to take calculated risks and sometimes just believe in yourself and go with your gut.

It’s very important for every creative individual (especially fashion designers) to find their roots and over time create a certain design aesthetic which personifies them individually. Work hard towards creating that look and feel in every bit of what you do. Make that your strength! You may not find it as you start but sure will evolve into it. Keep the faith and let the talent keep flowing.

Vivek is a Chennai-based designer whose label is called Viia.

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