From Begumpet to New Jersey, This Indian Designer Knows How to Do Business
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On a quiet evening at a serene boutique at Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, Gaurang Shah handpicked a few sarees to show to his elite clientele. Not much convincing was needed; just a look at some sarees and I could spot a diamonds-clad mother-daughter duo pick their choices and leave with a smile.
A designer who never went to design school, this man isn’t one who believes in mincing his words. He instead is one who can be called as earthy as his collection, in the look, feel and the speak.
In simple words, Shah tells me ‘I promote handwoven sarees’.
With more than 800 handwoven looms in India, Shah is now designing sarees for the who’s who of Bollywood. But it hasn’t happened overnight.
“I started when I was 8-9. My father had a small blouse matching center. There was only one pure cotton material, the store had more than 1000 shades. At that time, sarees didn’t come with blouses. That’s when I learnt about colors, textures,” Shah tells me on the day he returned from a 1-day trip to Doha just to sell four heavy sarees to one client.
In the 1990s, when the TV boom saw heroines wearing fancy blouses, Shah went in search of blouse pieces to Coimbatore, Lucknow and Kanchi. He didn’t find any so went on to buy sarees and make them into blouse pieces – a freshness was thus introduced in the market.
Then the second time he gave his input to some weavers to make the full thaan (full roll of cloth). My design process had only started then.
“We have some very old clients who suggested I create sarees. My passion got fuelled, and a chance meet with a weaver from Uppada did the trick,” says Shah.
In 2001-02, handloom was out and Shah gave some innovative ideas for silk, jaamdaani designs to this weaver and the journey began.
Not long into his flight, the 2008 global recession hit his business. “I was finished,” says Shah
But in a turn of fortune some weavers supported him. As a result of his exhibitions, it struck him one day that he could start a store exclusively for hand-woven sarees.
September 2010 saw the opening of the first store in Mumbai. That gave him the kick to make more and 2011, he opened a store in Hyderabad.
This was the time when designer sarees were in, the embroidered ones. People were looking for designer sarees, so Shah had to project himseld as a designer.
“I wondered how to become a designer and the first thing I saw at that time was Lakme Fashion Week. I was rejected thrice by the jury at LFW but the fourth time the jury accepted my garments,” Shah exclaims.
Becoming the first one to showed sarees on the ramp, specifically hand woven ones, Shah transitioned from selling blouses to becoming one of the biggest designers selling hand-woven sarees.
Shah now has a store in New Jersey, United States and this isn’t going to be his first outside of India.
“My strategy is to first do a couple of exhibitions in a city and then open stores there. I want to open in many locations,” says Shah.
A crusader of hand-woven material, Shah firmly believes weavers are not dying neither are the sarees.
Shah says weavers are present, designers only have to make them work & give them the confidence that they will buy. “My weavers who have been with me from 1999 are still working with me,” says Shah.
Shah thinks people stopped wearing sarees because there wasn’t anything unusual around. Now every designer is talking about sarees.
“People buy, people wear sarees. It’s just that you need to create new things.”
Among the two biggest challenges that a designer like Shah faced are one to convince the weavers of his ideas, designs and textures and second to convince customers to buy.
“When I started, weavers used to weave sarees for INR 700, today it is almost a lakh rupees. Also, for a customer, what is the difference between a jaamdaani and kanjeevaram needs to be well explained. Once a person buys, they come back but the first buy is a challenge,” says Shah.
Shah attributes a great part of his success to his family, who he says are aware of his madness.
Tips to Budding Designers
Shah believes practical knowledge is the only way for students learn and finds design courses a big waste of time and money.
The students today want to ape the West. But innovation is the way to grow. You have to innovate everyday says Shah.
He intends to open a big design school but is only looking for those students who have the fire in their belly. I don’t see the fire in the young generation.
“I want to see someone want to learn the practical stuff and then you will see designers being produced.”