They say if you truly want to learn to swim, jump into the water. But if you’re a trained swimmer, as in the case of Mumbai-based fashion designer Anjali Patel Mehta, the deep seas will only help you get better.
The last two years have been choppy for most, but Mehta, 42, has managed to grow her business — from a custom order label for people-in-the-know, to a thriving design company. She opened her first standalone store in Goa (a popular destination for long-term renters during India’s brutal lockdowns) in November 2020, established a presence at international retail giants like Bergdorf Goodman (the only Indian at the moment to retail there; Sabyasachi had earlier hosted a trunk show) and Neiman Marcus, and showed at Miami Swim Week (since 2017). But most importantly, she raised $1.1 million in seed funding via marquee investors comprising Neeraj Arora (former CBO, WhatsApp), Mike Novogratz (CEO, Galaxy Investment Partners), Lydia Jett (partner, SoftBank Vision Fund), and PDS Venture (PDS Multinational Fashions’ venture tech portfolio), among others.
Fuel for growth
Mehta’s print-focussed, decade-old, resortwear label Verandah, which she bootstrapped from just ₹1.7 lakh of savings, is one of India’s chicest contemporary wear brands and she has no intention to pivot to bridal wear.
A science student, she never studied fashion — she has a background in banking and trading in New York. On the personal front, from 2001, she spent a lot of time in medical care, recovering from a spinal injury and several surgeries. “That kind of time in and out of hospitals makes you fearless,” she says. So when, for a lot of us, the pandemic put a stark focus on the timing of our lives, for Mehta it proved to be the fuel. Rumour has it, she works Sundays and doesn’t own a Netflix account.
Mehta isn’t new to Indian arts and crafts though. Her in-laws are one of the most successful embroidery ateliers in India, working with several international luxury brands. “It quickly taught me about good and bad design.” She also recounts being carted off to Cholamandal Artists’ Village (an artists’ commune in Chennai, known to spread modernism in South India) during her school holidays, with her artist mother. “I started designing because it brought me so much joy while I was on the bed. It’s also where I go to hide.” While it’s been a long detour, she’s managed to swim back home.
Thinking like a corporate strategist
Given her international bank training, it’s no surprise Mehta runs her creative business like a corporate structure. Conversations with her don’t meander to topics like mood boards, inspirational trips, and the face of the brand. Instead, it includes words like ‘business and execution plans’, ‘polymers’ (her dad is a chemical engineer) and ‘supply chain certification’.
She hosts 360° reviews for her team. A concept she adapted from her Goldman Sachs stint — six people, including bosses, review each other anonymously once a year, and your bonus depends on it. In her case, the master ji s always get their bonus, but it ensures people are nice to each other through the year.
Mehta is ambitious, an intelligent businesswoman, and plays to her strengths. “One of my main standpoints with Verandah is that ‘designed and embroidered in India’ doesn’t always have to mean ethnic designs or fabrics. We can dress a global audience easily.”
Facts over fabrics
Mehta’s meticulous need for certification, and tech-based mindful fabric sourcing, is a novel and expensive step for a young Indian brand. Even so, she disregards the title of a sustainable brand.
Verandah does use handloom fabrics from a cluster they support in Phulia, West Bengal, but it’s really her ease with new-age textiles and ethical practices that make it a label to look out for. They have been leather-free since 2015, carbon neutrality is the big goal, and follow a zero-waste policy.
Mogya tribal women, as a part of the Ranthambore Project, helped Mehta use years of waste to make textile art and quilts. The Molai Forest Reserve on Majuli Island, Assam, plants one tree for every e-commerce purchase — which, by the way, can be tracked by a URL accessible to the buyer. (In India, e-commerce is available via WhatsApp and email, as the price points are different.) Verandah’s packaging, including the cello-tape used, is certified biodegradable. They await their ‘Butterfly Status’, a prestigious mark of new-climate aligned sustainable practices, from Positive Luxury Group that has previously certified brands like Anya Hindmarch and Alice Temperley.
Her swimwear pieces are made with Econyl (regenerated nylon) from Italy-based company Aquafil (writer’s note: while Econyl can be infinitely recycled and uses ghost nets and materials that would have otherwise end up in landfills, it is still recycled polyester), and Bemberg, a man-made silk crafted from cotton linter that is biodegradable and compostable.
Dare we say, this is a bikini you’re saving the environment in.