A definitive Indian fashion label that’s broken barriers in Pakistan too!
By Fareeha Qayoom, Photographs courtesy of Satya Paul
ack in March -April 2006, before I finally slashed my plans of continuing with the print edition of tkfr issue 14, a lot of work had already gone into the stories, photo-shoots and general product development for the next print edition. However, I decided not to go ahead because the so called rewards were too little when compared to the sheer amount of hard work, the blood and sweat and hundreds of thousands of hard earned Pak Rupees involved in producing the next issue which could be better spent elsewhere; the lack of government and industrial support, (except for Lahore’s Knitwear industry who unfortunately for them were slowly going out of business because of WTO and quota free international environment and couldn’t help much by continuing to buy advertising to support Tkfr!), it was simply not worth it – besides, as the saying goes, it was like throwing pearls before swine – Pakistan’s fashion and textile industry was not ready for a ‘serious’ fashion and textile magazine back in 2005-2006.
Probably it will never be, because pursuit of excellence is not our collective goal as an industry, its pursuit of dollars at all costs, why worry about trends, research and development or look at what our competitors or betters are doing? We can continue churning out mediocre copies of traditional motifs and rip off shoddy copies of the best work done by renowned international designers from the net, TV and international fashion magazines to survive. I mean who cares if our customer is savvy and has access to the same avenues; they have no other choice but to buy from our brash crop of designers! (This arrogance and resting on our mediocre laurels will never let us advance any further than our nose as an industry but again who cares? It was like their actions were saying to me, “We are making easy money our way. So what’s your problem Fareeha? When we stop making money, we will do something else!” So I decided not to care either and started doing something else too working on the principle ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ after all, Tkfr could not continue to run as a do-good charity either, it had to make money or else! It was ‘else’ by issue 14. 🙂 It was time to throw in the towel and admit defeat. )
I decided to listen to expert advice offered to me earlier gratis – Yahsir Waheed had told me up front (at the time when I was working on Tkfr print edition 11), “The local designers (and retailers and manufacturers and customers, in short, the whole textile supply chain) do not need a fashion trade magazine for Pakistan! Why bother?” (It’s beside the point that most of the fabric mills like Gul Ahmed, Nishat etc have been forced to reinvent the wheel, that is, come up with their own fashion catalogs now because the current crop of local glossy fashion magazines do not recognize ready-to-wear as legit and prefer to feature only couture on their pages! Its also beside the point that textiles is the second largest industry after agriculture in Pakistan.) Another famous local designer, a big name in Pakistan (Rizwan Beyg), who was supposed to be an old friend of my two elder sisters refused to give us an exclusive interview for issue 13; he even threw in his expert advice for free; “close the magazine!” (however, I did see his label splashed in couple of even lower ‘low-quality’ glossy fashion magazines right after, that couldn’t even write a single decent article on fashion between them!) – we had wanted to compare and contrast his work with Tarun Tahiliani of India – unfortunately we had refused to listen then, so Tkfr print edition 13 went ahead too, all guns blazing, imagine a fashion trade magazine originating from Pakistan ending up reviewing and celebrating the whole international (and Indian) fashion (and design) scene minus Pakistan! Define irony, why don’t you? The local fashion scene missed the boat because our local ‘fashion’ walas were “too sexy” (Right said Fred, if you remember their famous single!) for Tkfr! Ha! Ha! Ha!
The following interview is Tkfr.com exclusive – this is the unedited Q&A between Tkfr and Satya Paul (April 2006). I never got around to writing the cover story on Satya Paul as I had planned since there was no point, however, since Satya Paul did open up a store in Lahore couple of years ago, (one in my neighborhood as well), I decided to at least publish the exclusive Q&A on the net, why not? You would find this interesting even if it’s a few years late…the information is relevant …especially for Pakistan since Satya Paul still has not been covered by the ‘fashion media’ of Pakistan!
Q. Tell us about Satya Paul the label, its history, evolution. How did it start?
A. The Satya Paul label was started back in 1985 by Satya Paul Nanda. In 1992, Sanjay Kapoor, teamed up with Satya Paul to manufacture ties, scarves and stoles. In 2001 Kapoor joined hands with his colleague Jyoti Narula and Puneet Nanda, Satya Paul Nanda’s son, and established Genesis Colors Pvt. Ltd. To manufacture women’s-wear under the Satya Paul label. Since 2001 the label has evolved to a level where it now has a global reach.
Q. What role does Genesis Colors played in its evolution? The works. How did Sanjay and Puneet meet? What made them form a team and decide that they could go forward…?
A. The establishment of Genesis Colors created a management ethos which is the first of its kind in the Indian fashion industry. Sanjay Kapoor, managing director Satya Paul has established a distinct corporate structure of organizational hierarchies, for effective expansion and future growth of the company.
Each of them, (Sanjay and Puneet) brought their own special skills- set to the table. Any partnership to flourish needs the partners to act as a foil to their capabilities. Sanjay with his business acumen and Puneet with his creative abilities have made it a winning team.
Q. Who is the brain of the business?
A. With all due respect to everybody involved it is Sanjay Kapoor who is the brain behind the tremendous success of the company and the label.
Q. Who runs the actual business?
A. Sanjay Kapoor, managing director, Genesis Colors Pvt. Ltd.
Q. Just starting out what were the dreams?
A. To build a strong presence of the Satya Paul label in the apparel industry and to take the label worldwide.
Q. Did you (Sanjay or is it Puneet?) end up achieving part of or all of what you set out to achieve – in hindsight did you expect such overwhelming success and how does that make you feel?
A. Definitely we are getting there. There are always more levels to be scaled. At the moment to use a cliché…the sky is the limit. It feels great to look back and see the ground that has been covered. Apart from that we would like to just forge ahead and create new parameters.
Q. You have ended up getting international fame and recognition – was that difficult? To be able to showcase one’s talent one has to get noticed – who noticed you first ever?
A. All the progress that has been made has been a natural progression of events. You work and you present that work. Attention is showered on you and work gets noticed since the sincerity shines through. So we would like to say that things have just fallen into place.
Q. How would you describe your creations?
A. Out of the box.
Q. What defines your work?
A. Inspiration from life around me.
Q. How does your personal style factor into the equation, that is, your designs?
A. I like to tread a path that is not the usual. Maybe that translates into my designs…
Q. Why do you label your collections by colors – I noticed on your website for example, one collection is called the aqua collection…noticed you do really cool prints? Is it a conscious choice?
A. As mentioned above inspiration comes in any form, shape or size. It could be a flash of color or concept or even an event around you. Aqua happened when Tsunami had just struck and caused mayhem all around. We wanted to highlight the worth of water and its life giving qualities rather than have it viewed as a destructive force. We have also designed collections inspired by art. We have used art by European as well as renowned Asian artists too. Inspiration just happens.
Q. I also noticed that you have complete design control from weaving onwards? How do you achieve that?
A. When you work so closely with the sources in the apparel industry the transition to weaving/or custom-made fabrics happens very naturally. We also have a printing facility where you could say we create the ‘look’ of the fabric.
Q. You stock fabric, Accessories, couture, ready to wear, saris, – isn’t it tough keeping it fresh and new each season? How do you handle pressure to excel and do a better job each time? Do you ever suffer from designers block (like writers block?)
A. Satya Paul has evolved into a design studio where we have over 30 trained designers working on the various aspects of design. So there is a surfeit of ideas with so many bright and talented brains on the job.
Q. Your pieces are intricately cut, draped and precisely tailored. What techniques do you employ when constructing your designs? How do you resolve to piece together exuberant colors and a rich line every time?
A. A Design begins with a germ of an idea. Colors impact you when placed together or by themselves. Combinations evolve. There are no rules to creating. Garment construction though does follow some stringent principles. Draping on mannequins or body forms helps you nip in a tuck or two, give shape and form and come up with new ways of draping and presenting a garment.
Q. How does living and working in India impact you and your art? Considering everything and everyone seems to be living and breathing art in your country – the colors, the culture, the music, the movies, and the dance – how then do you manage to stand out?
A. We are inspired by the traditional spirit and the art forms. The idea is to create something contemporary yet not to lose touch with our roots. Satya Paul designs do not take the shape of the traditional. They are very contemporary.
Q. When you sit down to design do you go to the archives for Inspiration? How do you decide on a theme or concept? What is your design philosophy?
A. As I mentioned earlier inspiration can come in from a flower, the shape of a daily object, trees, nature around you, rather daily life that we take for granted.
Q. What is your view of trends 2006/2007? And for God’s sake please tell us – are we always going to follow the west for trends – (who seem to be getting most of their inspiration from the sub-continent these days with so many Indian influences in their collections)?
A. Satya Paul always creates options. We do not follow any trends. Rather we give the women options to create their own style. Style is very individual. Trends alone do not create fashion. You could mix and match two separate outfits and create your own style statement!
Q. Who is your dream client?
A. A woman who is contemporary and not afraid to experiment and express herself through her clothes.
Q. From your personal experience about your clients – do they ever tell you what they want, or complain about things? Or just leave themselves in your capable designer hands?
A. Custom designing always involves a close interaction with the client. Each client has her own body type, personality and comfort level. Some clients leave the entire concept to us while the others like to be closely involved in the entire process of the garment construction.
Q. If you could change one aspect of the fashion industry what would you choose to alter?
A. Work ethics. We need to take pride in our work and create quality at par with anywhere in the world.
Q. What does the future have in store for you or is there anything that you are looking forward to that you feel you might have missed i.e., which is the road that you most want to take and haven’t thus far?
A. I think I have been fortunate enough to have been able to realize a lot of my dreams and desires. At the moment work takes up most of my waking hours. I look forward to reaching many more untapped markets worldwide and in the process hope to be able to keep some time for my own self too.
Q. Which era is next in line – during the last few years the western designers completely missed the 1930s? And killed the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to death…
A. We have just recently created a collection based on the 1920’s and the good life that era stood for.
Q. About your accessories – they are beautiful do you design them yourself too or do you have a design team to assist you – and if you design everything yourself how do you manage to design so many things all at the same time?
A. I think I answered this question already. I have a team of designers plus anything in my surroundings can inspire me at any given time so my ideas remain fresh.
Q. Are there certain stores that carry your clothes that you can look to and say: “it really helped to be in there, it really got me a whole new kind of customer and buyer?
A. We have been fortunate enough to begin with stand alone Satya Paul stores. At the moment we have 15 stand alone stores. I would say that maintaining our distinct identity has helped us a lot.
Q. Any advice you would like to give to the would be designers starting out –
A. Believe in yourself. Give hundred percent of yourself to your work and create quality at par with the best in the world. Never compromise with the finish of the garment-dust and grime of the fashion world is the way to go! ■
Side bar: India Fashion Week and Satya Paul
Q. Indian Fashion week – there are two fashion weeks going on – why?
A. Unfortunately there have been some differences between some important players of the Indian Fashion, which has resulted in this recent development. We do hope that the industry as a whole will be able to overcome them (differences) successfully and forge ahead united.
Q. What do you personally feel about it?
A. As I mentioned above that this has been an unfortunate development. I sincerely look forward to the time when we can overcome these differences and present a united platform for the International buyers and the world to deal with.
Q. Has the fashion week been successful in terms of bringing export orders in couture and ready to wear category?
A. Yes. It has been very successful. I would say that each year we have repeat orders and add more buyers to our lists.
Q. Is there criteria for participation?
A. Basically the designer needs to be selling under his/her own label for a few years and then clothes have to be passed through a jury.
Q. Can designers (other than Indian) show their collections over there?
A. No. Currently the participation is open to only the Indian designers.
Q. Is it an international event or is it a local event for international markets?
A. the Fashion Week is an event meant for Indian as well as International buyers.
Q. How does the manufacturing sector benefit from all that international media exposure?
A. International media exposure is extremely important as it exposes buyers sitting in some other corner of the world, who could not be physically present at the venue, to the vibrancy of Indian design and products. It encourages contact between such buyers and the designers which of course then results in more orders. The manufacturing industry thus increases production, be it in made-ups or craftsmanship.
Q. Do you also show sportswear/active wear categories?
A. Satya Paul is predominantly into Saris, fabrics, accessories, prêt a porter and couture. We do not manufacture sportswear as that is not our core area. We do ready to wear along with saris and fabrics. In menswear we manufacture ties, which we supply to most of the up market brands in India as well as retail under the Satya Paul label. ■