INTERVIEW | Someone told me I was the first designer to start a label: Anita Dongre
Anita Dongre, renowned fashion designer, was in the city to address a session by YFLO about her
journey, experiences, and vision for sustainable fashion
HYDERABAD: Addressing the session “Conscious Conversations”, Arthi Shah, Chairperson of YFLO with ace fashion designer Anita Dongre, the guests had a wonderful opportunity to listen to the designer who has worked with the likes of Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra, Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, Hillary Clinton, and Queen Mathilde of Belgium amongst others.
Her contributions to the world economy have been recognised by The World Economic Forum and Copenhagen Fashion Summit where she has been featured as a speaker and panelist.
The seventh most googled fashion designer worldwide has also been featured on lists including BoF’s People Changing Fashion, Forbes’ 50 over 50, and Forbes India’s list of most powerful businesswomen.
Anita is a vegan activist and a member of the organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as well.
On the sidelines of the session, CE got in touch with Anita Dongre about her journey, experiences, and vision for sustainable fashion.
Tell us about your journey in the fashion industry?
I think I started a really, really long time ago, about 23 years ago. It’s been a great journey, right from getting into design school, which seems like a lifetime away now to starting with two sewing machines in my balcony, to running the business, what it is today. Someone told me I was the first designer to start a label. It’s been a very, very interesting journey and I keep learning. I keep learning even today. I think, especially with today’s changing times with so much technology coming in, all of us have to learn and update ourselves. And I find that learning very exciting.
As one of India’s leading fashion designers today, could you share the notable challenges you encountered during the early stages of your career?
There were challenges then and there are challenges today. I think anybody, when they have a goal in mind and when they want to achieve and succeed and want to live life to their fullest potential, obstacles will come in everyone’s way. I had my share of obstacles. I have told them just the way I deal with obstacles even today. I literally sometimes go to sleep over a problem. There will be a problem that will come up, and I’ll keep thinking about it, and then I tend to sleep over it, waking up at 5 am in the morning. And usually I get my answers, and I get a solution in a few days. So you have to just learn how to navigate obstacles. You can’t allow them to get you down.
What transformations have you witnessed in the fashion industry that benefits newcomers?
I think today is a great time to be a designer in the country, because today there is so much awareness of fashion in the country. Today, clients understand what a designer’s label is. They understand the look behind every designer’s creation, young girls walk in and recognise Anita Dongre, from Tarun Tahiliani to Manish Malhotra.
What do you believe sets your fashion label apart from others in the industry, particularly when it comes to Bollywood fashion?
I think the label has a very distinctive sense of style. It’s feminine, it’s comfortable. At the same time, very elegant. And it’s just a distinctive sense of style that sets us apart and high sustainability and high on trying to use crafts along with other parameters that define the label.
Sustainability and eco-conscious fashion have become increasingly important in recent years. How do you incorporate these principles into your designs and production?
For me, social sustainability is really important. So whenever we create a collection, we try to involve artisans who work in rural India, and we try to use their craft in the collection. And that’s why we make a conscious effort when creating a design.
What inspired you to embark on your journey of improving the livelihood of artisans in rural areas?
I think being a woman myself, I come from a very traditional family society where women are not allowed to work. So that was the biggest challenge I had to fight with, fighting for my rights to do what I wanted to do. So I think somewhere deep down in me, that young girl who was 16 and 17 years old stood up against her dad, grandparents and mom and fought for what she wanted to do. I see that little young girl in a lot of other women. If I can in any way give a hand to those women to achieve their dreams, I think that just makes me really happy.
Any memorable moments or collaborations that have had a significant impact on your career?
I think one of the world famous women who had a great impact on my career was Kate Middleton. I think when she came to India and wore that dress of mine which still today sells on so many resale websites till today it’s remembered. It’s called “The Kate dress” and when I met her in London she told me that the reason she chose that dress is because Rajasthan is her favourite city, and the dress has reminded her of Jaipur. And she said “I saw it on your website and this is what I want to wear” then she read up about me and she knew that I am from Jaipur. And we connected to that bond, it’s so strange how cities can connect.
What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers who hope to work with celebrities and make a mark in the industry?
I think, first of all, to any aspiring designer her first goal should be not to work with celebrities but to come and do what she believes in, in her design, in her business, and understand her customer. What are you making those clothes for? So, you can’t be making clothes only for celebrities, I think today, Indian fashionistas reached a stage where so many Indian women today want to dress well and look good. And it’s really the Indian woman that should be a customer first.
Your brand has expanded internationally. Can you discuss the challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered while taking your designs to a global audience?
I think whenever you go to different cities, like we have a store in New York, we have a store in Dubai. It’s very important you know, challenges in the business, the rules and regulations are different in different cities. The taxation is different. All that you have to first understand and then understand your consumer and what does the consumer want from you and that country. So adapting a little bit of your designs to localise is important. The design essence and philosophy always stays the same. But sometimes it needs a little bit of customisation.