Designing a Difference
At 21, fresh out of ONGC Polytechnique, Astha came to Purkul Stree Shakti (PSSS) carrying her portfolio to answer an advertisement that was for a designer. She was immediately taken in by Chinni Swami. Four years later, now 25, Astha says that working in Stree Shakti has been an incredible journey of growth and great learning. Astha believes that what makes working in PSSS more powerful is that her designs help in transforming lives of women. Together they create a sisterhood of growth, employment that empowers each one of them.
‘I used to be shy and tongue tied around people and I had to make the ladies work and push them to meet deadlines. They were older, more vocal –I once cried in front of Chinni Ma’am that ladies weren’t listening to me. Chinni Ma’am let me cry it all out and very calmly told me that I had to push them and be firm and they would argue but finally understand where I was coming from. That was a turning point. I never looked back. Ma’am would make me deal with visitors, many of them foreigners and clients who wanted specific designs and I began working with them on one to one basis. I am a completely different person to what I was when I joined. Now when clients ask for something I can immediately connect and come up with different design concepts that they like.’
‘When I joined I had learnt designing and making garments and at PSS we were making only quilted jackets, everything else were quilts and soft furnishings. I began doing quilt designs, creating templates for old designs and slowly taking on orders.’ In 2015 PSS got a bulk order from Lufthansa for very specific IPad covers and notebooks, which had to be completed within a month. Using dyed jute in the colour codes of Lufthansa and using an applique of the plane – they came up with striking and delightful corporate gifts that were immediately snapped up and appreciated by Lufthansa. It was also the time that Chinni was not in town so Astha along with her other designer friend Aiswarya completed the order that was meticulous in design and finish.’
More orders followed, a designer boutique and spa Shaheen Bagh, asked for soft furnishings for their rooms that had to be tailormade as per individual names of birds. So Astha began designing soft furnishings of each room – quilts, runners, cushion covers, table runners all resplendent of the birds they were named after – monal, kingfisher, peacock, barbet, crimson sun bird. They are now experimenting with the next order to make lampshades for individual rooms.
There was more individual orders that would come their way. Browsing through their online catalogue, Delhi based Vidha who had an online e-portal – lanapaws.com selling dog accessories initially asked them to do bandanas for dogs. This was followed with dog beds, cushions, rugs and coats. They are now doing soft toys for Lanapaws.
Around the same time PSS got a visitor Hatal Srivastav, a well-known designer. She used the skills of PSS and worked on garments using applique. In ten hectic days they came up with 40 different garments – skirts, kurtas, shrug, pants and stoles which were showcased much to the delight of the PSS women in the Lakme Fashion Week. Astha and Sangeeta, the sampling coordinator went to Bombay to be part of the Lakme Fashion Week. Bombay was an eye opener – they saw the works of Masaba, Manish Malhotra, saw how they worked and learnt the prevailing trends in fashion. Not only was the exposure great it also got them a new client – Sunita Shankar who had her own clothes line and a store. She contacted PSS to do her white label work. PSS women who had initially started with big appliques could now produce small intricate appliques to match new designs.
They also began getting more clients – Anna Wascot from Australia came calling for quilts. She wanted quilts using natural cotton fill instead of polyfills. Her insistence on design was minimalism a concept the women at PSS learnt. ‘I want PSS to reach new levels, our brand is now recognised. We need to now be able to balance big orders with our running work, it’s a balance we have to learn,’ says Astha.’We should now be able to make our brand international, it’s an envelope we now have to push.