I studied design in school and dabbled with everything from creating textiles to furniture to lighting to fashion accessories. It was in 2012, for my capstone project in school I decided to apprentice for a handbag designer. A renowned designer whose work inspires me even today.
When you are in school, you presume you are going to hop on the bandwagon and find yourself a job. But life has ways of surprising us. As much as I enjoyed my work designing products for my mentor during the internship, I was drawn to the creative independence she had in her work. The fashion industry is infamous for having limited or lack of freedom when you are working for someone. But as an intern, I had been granted time and space to explore my creativity.
I could only imagine how much she had as a business/brand owner.
Sometime around my graduation, my friends and I visited a flea market in our city (Bangalore, India). Flea markets in the city were a relatively new concept then. As an aspiring designer about to step into the real world, there I witnessed- hundreds of small business owners, unleashing their creativity through various mediums, attempting to keep sustainable fashion thriving.
You could see how their design thinking was juxtaposed with this intention to resolve a consumer need. I engaged with them wanting to understand their joys and struggles in their self-employed journeys. On hearing their experiences, I felt something brewing within me.
One conversation lead to another, and I found myself exploring the fashion accessories market wanting to understand the distribution cycle, the customers, and their pain points. It came to my understanding that people found trends exhausting to keep up and were willing to shop consciously if quality products were made accessible to them without burning a hole in their pocket.
It started with researching, designing, and developing a small collection of handcrafted products and of course a flea market. I would say the rest was history, but this isn’t a fairy tale, is it?
Showcasing my work at the event was a good start, I could feel the warmth and excitement of the ones who bought my products knowing time and thought was spent crafting it. It deepened my want to pursue a career of unlimited possibilities and creative independence.
But starting a business with no vision is no joke; and yet, that's exactly what I did. I invested my savings and at the age of 21, I took a chance. I took a chance on myself and on my love for creating.
“Such a hopeful thing it is. To create.”
“The heart we put into creating something. To create something for ourselves and our other-selves. To keep a part of ourselves out there. Out of our body and mind. To allow it to be experienced by others.”
- Rhea Gupte
It was an uphill battle that started from my bedroom where I initially made my products to having a walk-in studio years later that my customers lovingly visited to place custom orders.
What started with one flea market, spread to over 50+ showcases across India, collaborations with boutiques, online brands, a walk-in studio, and an eCommerce store shipping products globally over a span of 7 long years.
All the while learning techniques on how to design better, create better, market better, engage better, grow better.
I learned things on the go…
About collaborating with other professionals, discovering ways to market my brand through campaigns, analyzing consumer behavior, establishing strategies to grow my business, developing the customer experience.
But most of all, I learned how to deal with failure. Time and again.
I was cheated and tricked by professionals, made SO many mistakes, talked about calling it quits a million times, missed opportunities not knowing what they were back then but I went on and on. I shoved every dampening experience as part of the growth, as a part of my journey.
And grow I sure did... As a human, a designer, and a professional. And for that I am grateful.
Now, looking back, what kept me going despite months of uncertainty where I was this close to wanting to shut down my business, were my interactions with my customers. I had slowly created a community of lovely humans who were rooting for me, for my creativity. My business was based on resolving my user’s needs and they found value in that. Their confidence in me got me problem-solving every time I got stuck.
Interacting with them, wanting to understand what drove them, what gave them joy, what else I could do to improve their experience and make fashion so much more than just something one adorns gave my work meaning.
Their smiles and conversations when they saw my products. Those moments when my clients would connect with me months later to share how much they love and draw meaning from wearing my products; happy heartfelt moments that were truly indescribable.
My work made a difference to them and that made a difference to me. And for that, I will always keep putting my heart out there.
P.S Gotta thank my awesome family and friends for supporting me through this adventurous journey. My customers and collaborators, you have my heart.
Also, I would love to write another article on my mistakes and learnings as a business owner. Stay tuned for that. :)