Sujata Gazder grew up in India where style can be found in the sumptuous brocades of Benares, the exquisite pietra dura of the Taj Mahal, and the graceful patterns of pashmina shawls… and where saris can be as hip as a great pair of jeans. It is in this world that she learned how to experiment with bold new techniques while honoring old traditions of embroidery and beadwork. An accomplished pianist, Sujata is as passionate about music as she is about fashion design. Be it in needle and thread or in ebony and ivory, she enjoys expressing herself in different creative ways.
Here, she takes some time away from her creative flow and tells us more…
What was the inspiration and vision behind the Sujata Gazder brand?
For as long as I can remember I have sketched, scribbled, doodled design ideas in my head. I love beautiful clothes. A well fitted garment constructed from luxe fabric can actually change the mood and demeanor of the person wearing it. I found that most mass market fashions fall short in being able to do that and high-end couture is accessible to only the privileged. So I decided to create a line of clothing that had exciting designs and paid attention to fit, form and feel and offer it at affordable luxury prices.
Was it a ‘lightbulb’ moment or was it more of a slow burning process?
It was more of a slow burning process. I have always loved fashion and growing up in India when bespoke clothing was the norm, I was designing my own clothing from the time I was 10. But I didn’t pursue a career in fashion till after I moved to the US. I was studying music in college at the time and wasn’t feeling “soul-fulfilled” with the path of my career. That is when I decided to take a chance and follow my heart. Although I still love music, I can’t say I’ve ever looked back.
Did you have any fears or worries when launching your business and how did you overcome them?
Oh goodness, I sure did have a few fears about launching my business. I didn’t have a degree in design. I did not have any connections in the industry – I was basically an outsider with no pedigree. But I realized that I could learn all those details. I trusted my own aesthetic sense and creativity. I knew my design ideas were eye-catching…all I needed to do next was to master the many details needed to bring them to life.
How did you come up with the designs and patterns for your label?
I sketch all my own designs, putting ideas in my head down on paper, refining them as I draw them out. Then I drape the more complex designs to create the sample patterns. These patterns are then finessed by my pattern makers to ensure balance and good fit.
Do you have a design process – where do you find your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from all over. It can be a piece of art or an artist during the visit to a museum or an art show. I am often inspired by a new fabric…the colors and the drape. Currently I am working on some pieces after seeing some beautiful quilts drying on a line with the backdrop of fresh green fields and azure blue skies with fluffy white cotton clouds.
How would you describe your signature style when it comes to your designs?
My signature style is one that epitomizes romanticism, timeless elegance and comfort. At the end of the day, one’s garments must fit and feel right, so there is an emphasis on fit and form. I use a lot of luxe fabrics, and old-world embellishment techniques to create very feminine but powerful pieces. To paraphrase Valentino, women wearing my designs do not borrow their personality from the garment they are wearing.
Do you have any favourite designers yourself that influences your style?
My favorite designers are Coco Chanel, Valentino Garavani and Lagerfeld
Looking back to when you were first coming up with the initial business concept, what advice would you give to yourself (knowing what you know now) and would you change anything?
Wouldn’t we all like to know then when we know now! Well, in my case it is a simple but important aspect. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would have stepped out of my comfort-zone earlier and done more with marketing and PR. My garments have always spoken for themselves but getting brand name recognition is what makes all the difference.
Where are your products made and how often do you change your collection?
All our garments are constructed and finished in the United States. This allows us to control the high quality we seek. All the embroidery or embellishment work is done in India. Currently we come out with just two collections a year- Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter.
Do you have any people that you personally look up to in business and have you been able to use this within your own business?
There are a lot of entrepreneurs I look up to, but none that I know personally. People like Sir Richard Branson, Tori Burch and others come to mind. These remarkable people believed in themselves when few others did. They had a vision for leaving the world just slightly better than when they found it. That has always been my driving force and I am working towards making that a reality.
What has been the most surprising thing that you have learnt about running your own business?
You know the idiom chief cook and bottle washer? Well, I was surprised to find out that as a small business owner you truly must internalize that phrase. Nothing in your start-up is too small to be overlooked, nothing is too big to be tackled.
What do you feel has been the defining moment so far in your business?
My defining moment is more a period than a moment and that came in 2010. That was the year we signed with a sales showroom in New York. I could finally focus on creating and not have to do any sales or any other similar aspects that I was not so comfortable with. Orders began flowing in and life was good. But soon I realized the showroom was cheating me and by the time I was able to terminate the contract the damage had been done. I was out a large amount of money and no viable avenue of revenue. That was when I realized how important it was for me to embrace every aspect of my business. What I didn’t know I learned. What I was uncomfortable with I worked at getting better at. Today I know what I am good at and I hire the right people
How would you describe your typical customer – how excited do you get when you see your designs on celebrities and showcased at fashion shows?
Our typical client is the woman who is elegant, understated, youthful in spirit, and effortlessly chic. That kind of woman is ageless and cross-cultural. And it is certainly very exciting to see my designs on celebrities and in fashion shows. In the fashion industry, let’s be honest, the more endorsements you get the better it is for your business. If a celebrity like Kylie Jenner starts a makeup line, the product will fly off the shelves. When Kate Middleton wears a specific piece from a designer that garment sells out in minutes. So the more publicity I get the better it is for my business.
You were named as one of the ‘Rising Stars of Midwest Fashion’ – how important are these accolades to you and how do you think they have helped you in business?
Again, accolades help business. It adds to the “legitimacy” of the label. The more you are recognised the more the consumer tends to want to trust the brand.
If you could describe your brand in five words – what would they be?
Elegant, timeless, luxury, quality, exciting.
What steps does the world of fashion need to make to become more sustainable and why is there such a ‘wear it, throw it’ culture in the UK?
I don’t think it is just the UK that has this “wear it, throw it” culture. It is a mindset that is prevalent across the globe. With the rise of the affordable and fast fashion consumerism is at an all-time high. These clothes are affordable for many reasons – fabrics are not high end; construction (sewing and finishing) is basic; fit and form are not the focus of these garments; there is not complexity of design; and they are not made to last a long time. Also, with the rise of social media the consumer is bombarded with new fashions all the time being endorsed by various influencers. The need to be in vogue is raging.
To begin, the fashion industry needs to reduce it massive environmental footprint. We can begin with regenerative agriculture, organic cotton, living wages for those who work in the supply chain and reusing fibers from both used and discarded garments and scrap materials.
Along with the physical actions the industry should take to become more sustainable, there has to be a worldwide movement to gradually have all consumers care about the global impact of consumerism, and this burden does fall on influencers and all marketing in general.
What’s next for you Sujata and your fashion line?
My vision is to develop Sujata Gazder into a lifestyle brand that not only delivers high quality luxury at affordable prices, but also to begin a program to give back to the community. We are also working to lessen our environmental footprint. Over the next few years I would like to add accessories to our product line such as shoes, handbags and jewelry.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs, particularly to those wanting to launch a fashion label?
If you believe in your vision, then go for it. Don’t let anyone convince you it’s going to fail. Starting a business is not for the faint of heart- it is long, hard work, frustrating at times peppered with moments of fear (of not succeeding). But if you have a good work ethic, believe in yourself, provide a product or service that is worth the money you are charging then know that you will be successful. And to those looking to start a business I would also say “have patience”. Have the patience to set a good foundation for your business. Be patient and learn your industry. Patience enables you to execute your dream in a way that will have you making fewer mistakes and see faster successes.