Since starting Couture Rani, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the most notable names in Indian fashion like Tarun Tahiliani, JJ Valaya, Ritu Kumar and Gaurav Gupta to name a few. Each designer began as a young novice and despite the odds were able to build hugely successfull businesses. It should go without saying that launching a fashion brand is incredibly difficult and talent alone won’t help you make it. Case in point are the lack of notable successes to emerge from shows like ‘Project Runway.’ So, when I first heard about Indian American fashion designer, Amy Devan, I was amazed at how quickly she was able to create and market her first collection. Wanting to know more, I reached out to Amy to learn about her business and the steps she took to build, brand and launch her business, Naveda Couture. Here’s part one of our three part series with the designer.
What was your ambition growing up – what did you want to do?
I had always been drawn to all things art and design for long as I can remember. As a kid, I was always drawing and sketching anything that inspired me – including fashion. However, I knew that as an Indian daughter, it would be a challenge for me to express my love for fashion design so instead – because it was related to engineering and mathematics and a more “acceptable” or “stable” path – I started to become interested in architecture and believed it would be my life’s calling. However, when it came time for college, the economy unfortunately had taken a big hit, particularly the construction industry. Becoming an architect was simply not in the practical cards for me at that time and so I followed my entrepreneurial spirit and went on to study Marketing and Finance, then on to earning my MBA. I come from a family of business minded, passionate leaders and had been encouraged since childhood to understand the operational aspect of business, from sales and marketing to the financial side and I’m so very thankful I took their advice! I would not change my background and education for anything. Though, I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back, it taught me how to build the foundation for what is Naveda! As it turns out, this brand has allowed me to mesh my passion for art and design with business and is the perfect combination of the things I love most. I’m also incredibly blessed to have the support and love I have from family, friends and others in my life. Without that, achieving something so seemingly risky would have been beyond difficult.
What were you doing before you got into fashion and when did you decide that you wanted to pursue it as more than just a hobby?
After completing my MBA in 2006, I went on to work in the marketing and business development arena for several years. I loved meeting people, learning how to grow a customer base, strategizing, and coming up with creative ways of positioning a product. Though, I’m thankful for every professional path crossed, I knew I was meant to do something artistic in conjunction with business. I finally came to a point where I thought to myself, ‘it’s now or never,’ and that time came just a few short months before I was turning 30 (sort of an internal self evaluating point for me). That said, I applied to Parsons – The New School for Design in NYC without telling a soul, hoping and praying I’d get in. Thankfully, I was accepted and I couldn’t have been happier! I would be sitting in the same seats and learning from some of the same professors who taught design icons like Marc Jacobs, Narcisso Rodriguez, Alexander Wang, Donna Karen, etc. I got the acceptance letter, and within two weeks I resigned from my job (in Chicago at the time), booked a month long trip to India to study the art and craftsmanship of my roots, and packed up and moved to New York (I didn’t even have an apartment when I moved. Needless to say, this was a ‘no looking back, I’m jumping in’ decision)! I haven’t looked back since and I don’t have a regret in the world about following my passion.
Did you know that you wanted to design your own collection right away or did you think about other careers in fashion?
I knew from the start I wanted to design my own collection, and more importantly build a brand from the ground up that reflected who I am as a woman, a lover of fashion, an artist, and an American born Indian. Also, because I had already gone to business school and worked in the corporate world for some time, I felt ready. For those coming out of school and wanting to start their own business, I’d say to wait and get some work experience since it only helps to build your confidence as a business owner and ultimately as a salesperson because let’s face it – with any business, you must make a profit, otherwise it’s a hobby.
What was the first step you took when you finally decided to leave your job and launch your label?
Everything happened fast in my case! The moment I got my acceptance letter from Parsons, I took it to mean ‘here’s my ticket to giving my dream a shot.’ With that, I drafted my resignation letter, left my job, and moved to New York.
Tell me about your time in India and what you did while you were there? You mentioned cold calling and making appointments with designers, visiting factories and meeting with karigars, etc.
Before taking off for India, I did a TON of research – regarding manufacturers, suppliers, designers, production houses, karigars/embroiderers, etc. I had a jam packed schedule of meetings ahead of me by the time I landed in India. I went from meeting to meeting and even knocked on doors and made cold calls in hopes to talk to ANYONE who was willing to give me 5 minutes of their time to help me understand something (anything) about the garment industry in India – how to do business there, fabrications, regional craftsmanship, sales, etc. Thankfully, I can speak Hindi fluently and so that made things easier, but the locals could still pick up on the fact that I was a foreigner and that was one of my biggest challenges. I had to tell myself early on to mentally get over this and not let it shy me away from opportunity. So, I just jumped right in, talked to anyone and everyone I could in the industry and started making business relationships. That trip to India (prior to starting at Parsons) was pivotal in my career decisions going forward. I learned more than I can explain in words – from the structure of the garment and fashion industry there, processes, the history of various embroideries, fabrics and hand-craft, retailing, etc. I knew as a “foreigner,” doing business there would not be an easy feat, but I was up for the challenge ! Just like any country, India has its own way of doing business, with different regulations, and different processes. I learned very quickly that in everything I did for the business going forward, I’d have to allow more time as a buffer – more time to research and learn on my own, more time for delays, etc. I also recognized that here, in the US, there are many more regulations around the industry. Although, those same regulations may not exist in India, I have to constantly make my production contacts there aware of these laws and the potential penalties associated. The worst thing you can do as a business owner, and especially here, is to be naïve and not study up on various regulations – before you know it, you can be fined or even put out of business for failing to comply.
How did your time in India reaffirm that this was what you should do?
My main reason for going to India was because I knew Indian craftsmanship and fabrications would be part of my aesthetic and sourcing plan. I grew up loving the intricacies we so often see in ethnic Indian clothing (lehengas, saris, etc.) and I wanted to find a way to incorporate those details into modern silhouettes that appealed to a Western audience. I also wanted to pay tribute to those craftspeople that spend endless hours embroidering, beading, weaving or stitching by hand. I don’t think they personally know the worth of their talent. Through their skills, I learned more about India and its rich art and I am forever grateful for the lessons the craftspeople taught me, without their even knowing it.
Tell me a bit about your program at Parsons and how that prepared you to launch Naveda?
I came back from India with more inspiration than I knew what to do with! Within a week of returning from my trip, I began my program at Parsons, where I learned the technical side of design (an unbelievable experience). Simultaneously, I started Naveda. Life was hectic to say the least. I worked until the wee hours of the morning in the studios at Parsons, then came back to my apartment to switch gears and work on my business. I was also working for the legendary, design genius and my personal idol, Naeem Khan, at the time. Things were busy and I didn’t sleep much but I absolutely LOVED it! My experience at Parsons was incredible! It pushed me to think in creative ways that I hadn’t explored before. After having gone to Parsons, I can understand completely why it is known as the premiere design school in the world. The professors, the talent, the opportunities to directly take part in the industry, and the level of professional skill and craft that is taught in such a short amount of time is indescribable. I would tell anyone thinking of going into this field to get your technical training first. Many assume that if they love fashion or art, it’s an easy field to get in to and that’s not true. There is a science to design, like anything else – a deep understanding of foundation, construction, history, sales, marketing, and even the technical “lingo” one must first learn before going into the field.
What does the name ‘Naveda’ mean?
The brand was created as a reflection of who I am, a first generation, Indian American. I love the concept of subtly blending exotic and traditional elements from the “Indian” in me with modern, clean lines and structure from the “American” in me and the name is a subtle collision of two worlds. It is actually my first initial and last name spelled backwards – a true reflection.
Check back for part two of our series next week when Amy tells us how she defined her aesthetic, built her team and slowly grew her brand.
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