THE SHE FACTOR: A true love affair with fashion
Women, nature and daily life inspire Aanchal Chanda and her eponymous label
Aanchal Chanda was exposed to the business of fashion during her internship at a fashion house in New York.
This provided her a clear insight into behind-the-scenes operations, including finances and product development. It also gave her a starting point to launch a capsule collection to test customer response.
"While I've always loved fashion, moving to New York to pursue higher education gave me the exposure that urged me to take my love affair with fashion seriously," says the founder of the eponymous fashion label, AC.
She had gone to the US to study finance and after completing her MBA she realised her passion and true calling was in the business of fashion. "Therefore, I decided to change course and pursue fashion full-time. As a business graduate, I began to apply my financial background in my newfound direction," she says.
During this time she was based in New York, which meant extensive travelling to India as she began setting up operations for the new brand. "For me, this was the most challenging period."
The fashion designer had some concerns when starting the business.
"We have all gone through moments of apprehension during the business setup. I also had times of doubts and reflection. It's easy to get deflected, especially when things aren't going according to plan. My parents encouraged me during those times and that allowed me to refocus, revisit areas that needed to be omitted and build on from there," she says.
For Aanchal, being a businesswoman wasn't the difficult part; being an entrepreneur and her own boss was an area that she needed to adjust to. Working across multiple roles and juggling them simultaneously proved a challenge in the beginning.
"Creative process, production calendar, delivery, marketing and everything else including staff management was managed single-handedly - and this is the toughest thing because the day starts early and ends late with nonstop tasks to be accomplished," she adds.
Aanchal's inspiration comes from women, nature and every day life, which she uses to inject into her signature prints. She says her label is all about comfort, playfulness and glamour. The focus of every piece is colours and embroidery with silhouettes.
"When I was deliberating the fashion line, I wanted to bring comfort to the dresses, therefore every design focuses on this factor. I opted to pursue designing kaftans and jalabiyas that offer comfort and style. While the brand has since evolved to include evening wear and pret collection, comfort remains the core aesthetics," she adds.
Aanchal's Indian heritage greatly influences her collections. "Colours are the main attraction with rich embroidery and craftsmanship, an attribute to the Indian heritage. Our signature kaftan designs include embroidery and patterns that appeal to Middle Eastern customers."
Aanchal chose the UAE to set up a major part of her business because it offered a perfect cosmopolitan market to test products. Its diversified demographic meant she was able to gauge consumer feedback as well as go through logistics and operational setup easily since travelling between Dubai and India was not very difficult. The UAE allowed her to fine tune the product and also adjust the business model.
And what is Aanchal's recipe for success?
"In business there are no right or wrong ways, but there are several opportunities to learn and grow from; every block is a new way to manoeuvre while shifting focus. Therefore the road ahead continues to pave itself. There were several challenges when I entered the business. I hadn't much knowledge of the back office whether it was the sourcing, manufacturing, logistics and everything else; so I was learning on the job. Even today, the lessons continue as markets change, economies shift and consumer behaviour evolves - the learning doesn't stop. The secret to success is not really a secret - it's persistence and determination," she points out.
Aanchal has spent the past few years in establishing her brand's presence across the GCC market and is happy the dream has been realised. The label has representation in Paris and New York and is now ready to expand across Europe and America with Canada being on the radar. "It's important to ensure we have the capacity to deliver, which is why we are pacing brand expansion plans," she adds.
At this stage she is not looking for independent outlets, rather the focus is on product development and exploring new markets. She says while the number of online stores continues to grow in the UAE, the shift is slow as customers are still looking for an in-store experience. "Online sales do very well in Saudi Arabia while the UAE is still developing," she adds.
Aanchal says the UAE has many designers from local and international fashion houses yet there's still room to grow. She believes that while it's critical to understand brands within the category, it's important not to consider them as competition otherwise the focus will shift from doing what is right for her label.
Passion alone is not enough for a venture
The fashion industry is not static, says Aanchal.
"It is an ever-changing sector, which means you're constantly under pressure to follow trends and produce collections season after season."
One has to be on the lookout for inspiration constantly as each collection has to deliver brand aesthetics every time. She says the fashion industry is not glamorous; it's tough with a lot of upheavals.
"Whoever wants to pursue fashion, they need to be committed because it's easy to get demotivated. As a designer you need to be aware of the consumer mindset, market trends as well as the business aspect. It is critical to develop business acumen otherwise your venture may become a major loss."
Fashion goes beyond creativity as passion alone is not enough to create a longtime venture, she adds.
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