You’ve often heard the expression, “follow your passion,” as the mantra that will lead you to discovering your true calling and attaining everlasting happiness. But as many who’ve done it will tell you, it isn’t easy and it doesn’t always lead to success. Our Founder Stories chronicles those who have beaten the odds and found a way to translate their “passion” into a real business. Today, we present Premal Badiani, who left a lucrative career in the corporate world to launch POSHAAC, a fashion and accessories business that has grown from a custom bridal line to include men’s wear and accessories at a record pace. In the interview below, Premal not only shares her unique journey but also incredible wisdom and insight for anyone wanting to pursue the path of entrepreneurship.
You started your career in a very different field than fashion design. Tell me about the journey that brought you to where you are today?
My flair for designing really started in childhood. As a kid, I would spend my spare time researching and playing around with various fabrics, color hues and distinctive designs, just to see how they would turn out. I remember watching my Mom dress up in the most stylish outfits. She has always been incredibly fashionable and loved accessories. She was also extremely creative — I remember her designing dresses for me in various fabrics and stitching them at home or getting them tailored. She also did a lot of embroidery and it is from her that I learnt that skill. She was also an entrepreneur, having run a successful business for over 20 years. Needless to say, it is because of my Mom’s creative and entrepreneurial genius that I was passionate about fashion and designing. Of course at that point, I had no idea what fashion designing was and no intention of starting my own clothing line. While working as a banker, I continued to design outfits for my close friends and family. I guess my inclination to design always stayed with me. The overwhelming response and support I received from my intimate circle inspired me to pursue my passion and I rewrote my destiny. I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel the world and it was during these travels that the idea for Poshaac started to take shape in my mind. I started the label “Poshaac by Prem” in 2012, and it was rebranded to “POSHAAC – Couture and Accessories,” when we added more services. In 2014, we broadened our horizons with Poshaac Men and later that year, we launched PoshMen (men’s corporate wear). Today, Poshaac has a global presence and is one of the most sought after brands for luxury bridal and occasion wear.
Was there a tipping point or event that made you realize that you needed to pursue fashion designing full time?
I do not believe there was any particular tipping point. It was more of a gradual progression for me. I have always been interested in fashion. It just crept into my blood, and here I am. It helped that my friends and family encouraged me and I listened to my heart.
What was the toughest part of leaving your corporate job to follow your passion?
Being your own boss is a lot tougher than it sounds because you need to be disciplined and self-motivated. In my corporate job, I was responsible for only my own performance and skills; I was more of a doer. Being an entrepreneur, I have had a complete change of role and now I am an enabler. As an entrepreneur, you know that your decisions not only impact the people who work for you but also contribute to the success or failure of your company. However, my corporate job taught me management skills that I apply to my business on a daily basis, and I feel it’s an advantage I have. And then there is the matter of profits. If I am putting in 10 to 12 hours daily, I have to make sure that it is making a profit at the end of the day; that the business is able to pay its overheads even during tough times. That was something I obviously never had to worry about at my corporate job. I believe, I have seen the best of both worlds really. Putting my heart into creativity and my brains into running an efficient business.
You launched your label Poshaac in 2012. What were some of the steps you needed to take before you could officially launch the label?
It took a lot of research to understand the market as well as the customer and her needs. I spent almost two years researching, visiting numerous fabric markets in different cities of India to understand the textures, varieties and quality of fabrics. I also met a lot of textile suppliers and my search took me to many workshops for the right ones that would later become part of Pohaac’s creative hub. I did that and so much more in order to build the right network and make sure we were enabled with the right resources to start our journey. Equally important was to be able to predict trends, so I studied the industry and read about its movements. The more I educated myself, the more confidence I gained to experiment. Then it was time to find the right team and support infrastructure and marketing tools to take the business to the next level. But the most important step of all was setting realistic goals for Poshaac—not becoming too ambitious and not being too vague, which allowed me to map out what my brand needs to achieve and how I would do it.
How did you come up with the name for the brand and what does it mean?
I wanted a name that epitomized the brand. It had to be universal. The rich and exquisite outfits that royal maharajas and maharanis wore centuries ago were called “poshak.” Centuries later, my intention is to bring the same kind of richness and elegance into every outfit that we create. It is that feeling of being a part of this rich heritage, while creating our own legacy, that gave us the idea of christening it Poshaac. For me personally, it’s about respecting the craft and a belief that the old and the new must coexist to make an extraordinary piece.
What is Poshaac best known for and how would you describe your design style?
Poshaac started out as a bridal fashion brand and now it has grown to a one-stop solution for both brides and grooms, their family and friends. We have everything they need—from bridal clothes to trousseau to jewelry. Our design style is simple —designing what’s the best for the client, what will complement them and stay with them for the rest of their lives. Every customer is different, so customization is key. Trends are an important part at Poshaac but each garment is a collaboration of the client’s preferences and our expertise to create something that is absolutely unique and timeless—it’s a perfect marriage of fashion and heartfelt desires.
How do you go about creating a new piece? What’s your design process from concept, to design, sourcing materials, etc?
It’s a lengthy process that can take anywhere from 5 – 6 weeks. It starts with a one-on-one meeting with the client. We show them designs that we have previously done and they share what their heart wants. We encourage them to bring reference magazines or any clippings that they particularly like to give us an idea. Everything from the shade of the outfit to its embroidery and cloth is discussed extensively. This doesn’t always happens in one meeting—sometimes it takes weeks of calling, emailing and meeting to decide little details. At Poshaac, we make sure that our client is at the center of all we do, that they are always aware of what’s happening on the other side. We frequently share reports and pictures of the process and keep them informed. When the outfit is ready, they get a notification from us, and then they try it on and pick it up. This process, finished in eight sentences, takes months because we don’t believe in hurrying things along— each garment, each client, and each wedding is special to us.
Although your brand is based in the US, you’ve talked about how you want to be known as a global brand. Tell us why that’s important to you?
Poshaac has had an international influence even when it was just an idea. The brand is a true reflection of myself and the cultural diversity that I have grown up with. I am an Indian born in London. During my adolescent years, my family and I moved to India but I came back to my place of birth and lived there for eight years. Now the US is the place I call home. So, I have the diversity of the thee continents where I’ve lived and Poshaac has traveled with me all along. Inspired by the rich heritage of India, Poshaac designs are an exclusive blend of luxury, opulence and the finest quality of fabrics, intricate craftsmanship, exquisite embroideries and global designs that define modern Indian couture.
Poshaac has crossed some major milestones since its inception, and we have seen success in international markets with a growing customer base is UK, India, UAE and China. Being one of the most sought after designers for brides and grooms all over the world, we are also one of the most designers for beauty pageants, including Miss India USA, Miss India New York, Mrs International USA, to name a few. I have also been nominated to be the official designer and stylist for Miss India USA winner, Pranathy Gangaraju, at the Miss India Worldwide pageant 2015. Right from its inception, Poshaac has been truly global.
You’ve been designing for quite some time. What changes or trends have you noticed in terms of what women are looking for today?
Fashion keeps evolving and it travels a lot faster today than we could have possibly imagined years ago. However, I’ve observed that today’s client has also changed with the times and are aware, well-traveled, conscious about changing trends, and most importantly, they know exactly what they want. The process of buying clothes is no longer just throwing money and walking away with something you admired at first sight. Clients are a more demanding, especially in the wake of the global economic downturn. They take their time to research their choices; they want to know how a product is made; and they appreciate the work. Thus, they also ask questions. As a couturier, it is exciting and it keeps you on your toes. I always advice my clients to be trendsetters rather than trend followers. Wear what you feel confident in, and always be fashionable but allow it to suit your personality. Some styles that work for someone else may need to be modified for you—that’s personalization. I try to create designs that they will be moved to wear more than once and always feel special, regardless to how many times they are in that garment. The product has to be evergreen—I call it the ‘constant of evolving fashion’.
You recently partnered with jeweler Riddhi Fazal of Belsi’s Collection. How do the two of you collaborate and support each other’s businesses?
We make a great team. It is very hard to find like-minded people in this industry. When Riddhi and I met, there was an instant connection between us. Our business goals were the same and we had a clear vision of how to achieve them. Our skills and products are unique, and we both complement each other, which also reflects in the product we offer. For every client, we work together to provide them an elaborate customized service. I work with color hues for the outfits, including various embroidery options. Once we have identified a definite color palette, Riddhi provides her expertise on jewelry designs, stone colors, and patterns etc. So it’s a two-way street—while the outfit in getting ready, simultaneously their accessories are also been created. To be succinct, we collaboratively provide a distinctive service that is truly customized and simple. For every customized outfit, a customized piece of jewelry is made—it cannot get any better than that.
There are a lot of people out there who dream of becoming a fashion designer or wanting to pursue the entrepreneurial path. What advice do you have for them on how to get started?
There are four things that an aspiring designer should have: passion, inclination to learn, willingness to make connections, and perseverance. You have to want it bad enough. Same goes for fashion designing. If you are truly passionate about it, then you must pursue it with all your heart. Success is only possible if you dedicate yourself to your dream and work hard to achieve it. As long as you remain true to yourself and follow your own interests, values, and dreams, you will find success. That said, it cannot be done without learning the ropes and acquiring a certain skill set. Fashion is not an art; it’s an industry and an ever evolving one. By the time you finish learning something, it will already be outdated. Most successful designers are students too. One has to be willing and committed to observe and absorb for as long as they are in the industry. There are multiple ways of doing it—you can go to a fashion college, do short courses, or just be prepared to do immense research and experimentation. Keep in mind, knowledge gained is never lost. A major part of your learning and development comes from people: meeting them, making connections, and exchanging ideas. Exploit the resources you have—your colleagues, your mentors, your bosses and always be ready to engage in healthy discussions. The fashion industry, or any industry for that matter, is about who you know, so if you don’t know anyone, how will you find them? Get out of your comfort zone and spot these influencers, approach them and at the same time, be approachable. Most importantly, you have to be genuine and have fun socializing and have the confidence that even if you’re new, even if your talent is raw, you still have opinions to share and ideas that can interest the mavericks of the industry. And the last part: be ready to make mistakes, lots of them, but also always have a back-up plan. Although, being optimistic is the way forward, you do need to be prepared for the worst because things don’t always go the way you want it to. You will encounter failures but you can’t let them be the reason you give up on your dream. Rather, think outside the box; do something extraordinary; and turn those hiccups into stepping stones. Think of it this way, you will either succeed or learn something. What I believe is that if you can’t handle failure you will not be able to handle success either.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?
Entrepreneurship is a lot of work, that’s for sure. You’re not just responsible for yourself but also accountable for those who work for you. It certainly involves doing many things that you haven’t done before, especially in the beginning. Sometimes, things work better than you hope, while in other cases, they don’t. The most important lesson that I have learned from my experience is that you can never stop believing. There are going to be good days and bad days. There will be times when your morals, your knowledge, and your determination will be tested. However, you can never stop believing in yourself, your product and service. In order to provide something that is unique, you have to believe that you are unique too. That faith in yourself goes a long way. That said, it can’t be only about you. Listening is a part of being able to deliver better. You can’t shut out your clients. It sure is easy to plan one way of doing things and be completely oblivious to what the client is actually saying because it suits our end goals. However, that’s not how you run a service-oriented business; that’s not how you bring a smile to your customers’ faces and that’s not how you run a profitable enterprise. In order to figure out how to best serve your clients, you should be accepting and open to their feedback. I have learned to put the client at the center of everything and it works out really well in the end. After all, what more can we possibly want other than a happy customer, completely satisfied with our work?
Images courtesy of: Poshaac Couture & Accessories
Venk Modur sat at his table inside the ballroom of The Beverly Hilton…