India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Verve People
February 19, 2016

What You Can Learn From Anita Dongre’s Speech At Harvard

Text by Natasha Sahjwani

From two sewing machines and a garage to a design headquarter of hundred thousand square feet, Anita Dongre’s career has been tailor-made for success…

Since the age of 12, veteran designer Anita Dongre knew she wanted to become a fashion designer. Starting out in a 300 sq. feet shop in Mumbai’s first mall, Crossroads, the designer has moved her way up with over 475 stores across the country. Supplying to high street shops with her 3 labels, ‘The Queen Of Pret’ has become a household name in Indian fashion. It’s no surprise that Anita was invited to give a speech at Harvard Business School’s India conference to talk about ‘India In Transition’. Standing on the same podium as the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Dr. Kamal Haasan, Chanda Kochhar, Karan Johar, the designer spoke about her humble beginnings, and working for the betterment of Indian society.

All you need is passion
“Armed with a fashion degree at 21, burning with passion and the desire to set up a business in design, I started out with two sewing machines in my bedroom together with my younger sister. However, as life would have it, we got thrown out of the bedroom and moved into a garage thereafter.”

Find a gap and address the need
“Eighteen years ago, I created my first brand AND, India’s first designer prêt label. I was simply addressing the need of countless Indian women who needed western wear to wear daily, as they were now taking up careers. AND was a huge success from day one.”

Your childhood could be a source of inspiration
“Influenced by my childhood years, most of which I spent in Rajasthan, there was this bohemian spirit in me, along with colourful, vibrant Indian patterns and designs that were waiting to be created. [These led to] Global Desi, the brand I have the maximum fun with. Designing precious jewellery, again using the age-old craft of jadau from Rajasthan, was a natural extension, and a must to complete the bridal line of Anita Dongre, which how PinkCity came into being.”

Travelling can change the way you think
“Travelling while researching interesting textiles in the villages of India brought me face-to-face with amazing artisans. Each one was so gifted, but they did not have enough work to sustain themselves and their families. They needed design intervention to sustain the craft, and a marketplace. I understand design and I used my skills to make their craft contemporary. And Grassroot was born, to be the marketplace”

Be the change
“And so, I finally used my design skills for betterment. We are running out of time. The crafts have to be preserved, just like so much else in this world of constant change. My belief is that it is important to hold on to the old. We are partnering with various NGOs from all across India, ensuring that the crafts are revived and sustained, and working towards their empowerment. I dream of making every village sustainable. We have to ensure the younger generation of artisans take pride in the work of their forefathers. Today, they are all abandoning the craft and seeking other avenues for employment. The craft should never die.”

Here are excerpts from Verve’s exclusive Twitter chat with the designer:

1. From a 300-sq-ft shop to 500+ stores countrywide, how has your journey been so far?
“Beautiful. Inspirational. Fulfilling. It has been a long journey, with miles to go….”

2. How has the fashion industry changed since you started out in 1998?
“The industry has become more progressive and is a far more serious business.”

3. What kind of business strategy do you follow when expanding into newer lines?
“I make sure to identify need gaps and then fuel it with my creativity and fashion.”

4. Of all of your labels, which one was challenging for you to breakthrough into?
“Grassroot has been the most challenging, as I am responsible for ensuring continuous work to artisans.”

5. How did it feel to represent India and your initiative, Grassroot at Harvard’s India Conference?
“It was awesome meeting young bright minds with their amazing energy.”

6. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome, in the running of your empire, and how did you overcome it?
“Every day is a challenge. It’s all about keeping the passion ignited and loving what you do.”

Check out Anita Dongre’s full speech at Harvard Business School’s India Conference below:

Read more about Anita Dongre’s love affair with Rajasthan here.

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