This is one of my childhood memories. Every summer holiday our old neighbour’s daughter paid him a customary visit with her family. Whenever she was in town, her lovely friend used to come over to spend a day with her. She was stylish, often draped in a stunning sari, wearing her hair in an elegant low nape bun, sporting minimalist trendy jewellery, walking like a runway model, her sharp click-clack of high heels announcing her arrival and departure. Her sing-song hellos and goodbyes brought all the friendly neighbours out to catch a glimpse of her. She sure was a sight for sore eyes! Secretly, I too longed to be fashionable like her when I grew up.
FASHION MAKES HEADS TURN.
Everything about Fashion is so glamourous – haute couture - expensive, exclusive, high quality designer clothes, models and ramp walk showcasing new designers and their clothing lines… and, whether you are a Fashion Model or a Fashion Designer, or both…. it takes you into a whole new world of boundless dreams and aspirations! If you are a fashion designer, then imagine designing, doing all the needlework, sampling, creating exclusive custom-fitting clothing season after season without repeating the colours, styles and fabrics used in the previous seasons. It takes a lot of imagination, hard work and determination to create a collection. And, if you are not upping your game all the time, there’s a good chance that your coffers would run dry before you even know it.
FASHION IS EPHEMERAL. FASHION IS DISCIPLINE.
"I like my money right where I can see it.. hanging in my closet."— Carrie Bradshaw
We connect with so many writers on social media. Some write because they are good at writing. But there are some others who write because they have a lot to tell. They share their stories. Stories are inspirational. Fashion is just like that - it’s not merely a garment tossed over your body but it celebrates tradition and tells a story about the cultural influence.
FASHION IS ABOUT STORYTELLING THROUGH CLOTHING.
Indian fashion designer and a friend, Bhagyashree-Patil-Kamat believes that having a story around your brand is important. On Gin n Sardonic, she opens up on her journey from textile designer to fashion designer, about sustainable fashion and how she created her label BAY LEAF.
SC: You’re a fashion designer and an NiFT alumnus. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?
BPK: Smita, I was always attracted to fashion for as long as I know it. Since I was a kid I think. But later on my inclination was more towards fabric design and to know about different weaves, prints and patterns. I'm actually a Textile Designer from NiFT Hyderabad. And, you’ll be surprised to know that my specialization for post-grad schooling was Home Furnishings. See, as a textile designer, I learned how to create designs for different types of fabrics that are used in clothing, bed linens, kitchen towels, carpets, and blankets, or non-fabric materials like wallpaper and wrapping paper. It laid a solid foundation for me and equipped me in design implementation for both traditional and modern textile production.
Big fashion houses source their fabrics directly from the manufacturers because they want their new collection to be fresh and exclusive with custom designed prints.
I firmly believe that fabrics are important in fashion business.
SC: What was your first job out of NiFT? Did you work for a Design House?
BPK: When I came back to Pune, I worked for an export house. I enjoyed it there for some time as I was given a free hand to work on designs, sampling, production, quality assurance, approval and export. Basically everything. This was my first hands-on experience. But, I also love to teach. I was the visiting faculty at Symbiosis Institute of Fashion Design, Pune and later in KLE’s Instt. of Fashion Technology and Apparel Design, Belgaum.
SC: Having less experience in fashion design, did you have any fear in shifting your focus?
BPK: After my marriage, I moved to Belgaum. That was fourteen years ago. People were generally less fashion-conscious in this small city back then and they didn’t understand the concept of getting their home furnishings designed by professionals. But they were very much inclined to know more about personal style-enhancing and open new ideas. So after a few hits-and-misses, I had to jump in at the deep end. I launched my label BAY LEAF in the year 2008 and started fashioning Indian and western garments. Slowly, I developed a market for hand embroidered dresses and wedding trousseaus.
SC: That must have been quite a challenge. To run a boutique successfully for over a decade is not an easy task. Especially, to consistently maintain such high fashion standards. How did you manage it? What are your fortes?
BPK: : Yes, quite. Running the BAY LEAF Studio for so many years has been a learning process. I was already doing customized clothing and readymade garments for exhibitions, but after my friend Avanti partnered with me in 2014, we started focusing on different ways of growing the business. We specialise in hand-embroidered garments. Over the years, our blouses have become our speciality - intricately decked designer blouses. We use a lot of mix-n-match fabrics to make the blouses. The elaborate hand-embroidery done by our craftsmen is our speciality. Over the years we have trained them to perfection. So, if you ask me what we are known for, it is this. Our hand-embroidery work that is done right here at BAY LEAF Studio and appreciated by all our patrons.
Today, we are supplying our creations to Aikya Store in Goa and hope to do so in other cities too. I think the key to running a fashion business successfully lies in the correctly understanding the client’s brief and creating fashions that exceed their expectations. I think that we have done this consistently at affordable rates. That’s why, we have built good relationships with over the years. More than 80 pc of our business is from customised clothing. The rest is retail fashion.
As a designer, I really enjoy all of the creative, artistic and technical aspects of designing my clothing. As a business owner, that helps in ensuring consistency all over and maintaining standards. We are both on the same page when it comes to the quality of our work and designs. We like to keep innovating all the time. So, this other idea we are focusing on now is sustainable fashion. Creating new designs and fashion from left over fabrics and even old saris is inspiring and creative more than ever.
I think that is something every fashion and design house should think about from now on. With the kind of textile waste that’s been generated and dumped on this planet, it is our duty to do whatever little we can do to prevent the pollution.
SC: Do you think the Fashion business likely to change forever post-covid?
BPK: Covid has badly affected our industry. A lot of boutiques and artisans are out of work. BAY LEAF has been a little lucky in this matter. Though the work has reduced considerably, we have managed to sustain. We had a staff of fourteen, but now we are down to just four. Indirectly, we employ at least a 100 artisans. It has always been our policy to hold client meetings with-appointment-only, so nothing much has changed here, but now we cannot call multiple clients at the same time. Of course, masks are mandatory, we maintain social distancing norms and sanitize the studio regularly.
But it is not the same, and we have already missed out on two wedding seasons that would have brought in a lot of potential business. Even now, as I talk to you, there’s an announcement of another lockdown from today. So yes, we are facing a lot of challenges during these trying times. Not so much as a designer, but as a business owner, it is sadly going to take us a considerable amount of time to get back to our earlier work levels. Another worry is, people have become cautious now, as they hesitate to spend on luxury items. But I brush it off thinking it is going to be temporary.
SC: What are your thoughts on atmanirbharta? Do you have a strategy to boost self-reliance.
BPK: All the intricate hand and machine embroidery is done by our craftsmen, the hemming and finishing work for dresses and blouses is done by the local women. We had started the process of forming a group of women whom we planned to train so they can in certain skillsets, so we can pass on work to them so they can earn their livelihood. But Covid has temporarily hampered our plan. And, that is not all. We are constantly fighting to protect our fashion artisans. I had visited the Naxalite areas in Adilabad to meet the artisans at work and know more about the beautiful textile lambadi embroidery. My first love is fabrics, and I am happy that our plan to collaborate directly with the weavers is now taking shape. This interaction will be mutually beneficial, as it gives a promise to the weavers to emerge as better designers and for us, because this way, we will add more and more sustainable and eco-friendly fashions to our mainstream collections.
You know, we have been selected to showcase BAY LEAF fashion clothing for The Handloom Day Fashion Show that's going to be held by the Telangana Textile Department on 7th August. We are designing a new clothing line for it.
SC: How do go about getting the word out about your fabulous clothing label BAY LEAF and find potential customers?
BPK: Initially, our business grew by word of mouth, and I believe, we have made a name for ourselves in Belgaum. We are quite active on social media you know, and keep our customers updated by sharing photographs of our fashions, creations, new ideas and reviews on facebook all the time. So far, we are happy with the response. As a part of our networking initiative, every year, I travel abroad with a dual purpose. I browse through some major clothing brands stores to keep myself abreast of latest fabrics, fashions and trends in those markets and meet customers too. It helps me understand and easily connect with our existing overseas customers and new prospects.
This blog is a great way to get our story out there. Soon we are planning to build our own brand website. We have a lot to show and tell!
SC: Clothing labels become successful because they are created by designers who are passionate about clothing. I see that in you. So, here’s a last one for the road. How do you want women to feel when wearing your clothes?
BPK: Beautiful. Confident. Chic.
"Don't be into trends. Don't make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live." —Gianni Versace
Meanwhile, I will be #self-distancing and #togetherathome during #lockdown and joining you in the wait to lead our altered lives post-corona. There’s going to be more coming from Gin n Sardonic. Please get in touch with me if you are interested to share your story on my blog. You can either leave a reply for me or email me on email@example.com