WorkEntrepreneurshipSelf-Starter: Designer Gayatri Khanna On Launching GAYA, An Affordable Yet Luxurious Fashion...

Self-Starter: Designer Gayatri Khanna On Launching GAYA, An Affordable Yet Luxurious Fashion Label During The Pandemic

People are endorsing ethical, sustainable, eco-friendly brands that bring forth traditional aesthetics in both affordable and luxury fashion. During the pandemic, consumers saw the beauty in living harmoniously and mindfully. A consumer-facing fashion label that knows and delivers the best while abiding by the new age morals of the people is sure to see success.

TC46 connected with Designer and Entrepreneur Gayatri Khanna, who successfully ran a label for seven years, launched GAYA in 2020. Here, she talks about accurately identifying the gaps in the market, investing in digital shopping experiences and the need for the right visibility and brand awareness.

1. What are your educational and professional backgrounds?

I am a B.Sc. graduate in Entrepreneurial Studies and Marketing, from Babson College, Massachusetts. After graduating, I moved to New York and worked with various garment companies before getting a job at Saks Fifth Avenue as a buyer for designer wear. That is when I decided to combine my educational background in Business and my work experiences and a strong interest in fashion to set up my own venture – Milaaya Embroideries. 

2. What prompted the idea for GAYA? Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?

GAYA is a division of Milaaya Embroideries, which was launched 21 years ago. Milaaya Embroideries manufactures embroidered and beaded garments for luxury and contemporary fashion and lifestyle brands all across the world. During the pandemic, there was a global slowdown in business and ours was no different with our main markets of Europe, the UK and the USA affected badly. With our experience of 21 years in the world of luxury fashion, our infrastructure, technical know-how and knowledge, launching GAYA to make the most of our resources seemed like the next logical step. This helped us support our 450 employees during the pandemic. We did thorough market research and after identifying the gap in the market for glamorous loungewear and affordable yet luxurious RTW with a global appeal, we launched GAYA in August 2020.

3. What was the first milestone and how did you get there?

The milestones for Milaaya Embroideries were definitely opening our 4 showrooms in the four fashion capitals of the world. We launched our New York showroom, then Paris, Milan and finally London. Each of these was an important milestone, making our stronghold in these markets. These steps were taken after thorough market research, weighing out pros and cons, after building a strong foothold with our clients. For GAYA our first milestone was launching the brand itself under extremely difficult circumstances, given not only the market scenario but also our teams were all working from home in the pandemic situation. Our next Milestone for GAYA was our launch through the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) Digital Fashion Week in October 2020, where we introduced our loungewear collection. To receive an overwhelming response and acceptance of a new category like glamorous loungewear was a moment of pride for us. 

4. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?

There is nothing better than learning on the job. We are still learning at each step of the way and with the launch of each collection. The key is to not lose hope but just learn and get better with each new step. Also, the times are changing too quickly, adapt with the changing times and be quick to execute the changes as per the market scenario. There is always an opportunity at every corner, identify it and convert it. Digital platforms are the future, make sure to use technology to your advantage to the fullest!

5. What were the 3 best business/financial decisions that you made?

Taking the risk to launch GAYA during the pandemic. I could have waited for the tide to pass but we decided to swim with the tide and turned adversity into opportunity. 

Money always grows money. Taking the time to study and make the right investments. 

Investing in giving the right digital shopping experiences to the discerning consumers who have so many options accessible to them. 

6. How long did it take you to monetise the venture? What was the turning point?

Any new business takes 6 months to a year to monetise. In the case of GAYA, we launched during the pandemic. Considering the need of the hour, we launched with beaded and embellished fashion face masks which did quite well and started to pick up 5 to 6 months into the launch, once the lockdown restrictions were eased and people started moving out. Then we had an unfortunate second wave which caused another lockdown. However, currently, we can see after a year that we have started to get an overwhelming response on our RTW collection Paradise and there is considerable brand awareness. 

7. What are the challenges of being a female entrepreneur in India?

As a female entrepreneur, the bar is always set low for us assuming that we would not reach the pinnacles of success as our male counterparts. For me, I take it as a motivation to work harder and prove my worth.  Also as a woman in India, we are generally expected to take up the responsibilities of a homemaker primarily and an entrepreneur next. Fortunately for me, I had a very strong support system that only encouraged me to pursue my goals. My family, friends, and education all prepared me for the relentless journey towards my aspirations. Their unshakable faith in me gave me the strength to forge my own path ahead, however, winding and uphill! Once you silence the voices of insecurity and fear in your head, you can turn deaf ears to the naysayers. My message to other women who are starting out and dreaming big is that the only enemy is within. Our EQ as women, combined with our grit is what makes us stronger. Have full faith in yourself and continue the journey towards achieving your goal and enjoy and cherish the journey and while you are at it, support other women. You will never know until you try and there is no losing on this path, either you win or you learn!

8. Who are the key employees/vendors you need to secure to work in this space (the first 3 hires/vendor partnerships)?

It is very important to have designated roles and your core team in place. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and know-how. A designer with global design sensibilities, who understands your aesthetics, a marketing expert to help you distinguish your product in the already saturated market, create an identity and sell the products and a financial advisor to help you plan the finances and investments. 

9. How do you intend to scale up/expand your business in the next 5 years?

The 5-year plan is to go global and sell GAYA through various offline and online channels globally. For this, it is necessary to get the right visibility and brand awareness through various social media channels and media publications. We also plan to connect with retailers in key markets to help make our products available in different parts of the world. 

10. How has your business pivoted after the lockdown and in light of the pandemic?

In the case of Milaaya Embroideries, the markets have slowly but surely started opening up. After the massive vaccination drives being conducted all over the world, we are hoping to resume business as it was. Of course, we are more mindful in the way we use our resources and make short term plans that we can execute rather than long term ones in these uncertain times. The pandemic has definitely shrunk the world further, and instead of travelling to meet our clients, we now hold a lot of virtual meetings and rely heavily on technology. 

Considering GAYA was launched during the pandemic, we have carefully planned each collection keeping in mind the need of the hour. We started with embellished and beaded face masks and smart loungewear and then moved to Ready-To-Wear which is versatile in its appeal and timeless in terms of designs. We are taking the slow-fashion route, producing only a limited quantity, using our spare fabrics to make accessories and trying our best to provide a luxury digital shopping experience to our customers from the comforts of their homes. With GAYA, we are planning our resources and time in a way that we can easily adapt to the quick-changing markets. 

11. Can you tell us a little about Milaaya Embroideries?

Milaaya Embroideries was established in April 2000, to acquaint the world with the arts and crafts of India by amalgamating the traditional embroidery techniques with modern and contemporary designs of the West. Today, Milaaya Embroideries is a duly audited and compliant supplier to some of the most coveted luxury fashion brands in the world like Dolce and Gabbana, Balmain, Oscar De La Rentas, Louis Vuitton, Vera Wang and more; with showrooms in New York, Paris, Milan and London. With its 18,000 square feet up-to-date head office in Mumbai, Milaaya Embroideries specializes in hand and machine embroideries, stitched finished garments and accessories. 

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We spotlight inspiring women who are entrepreneurs or have skill-based passion projects and are willing to share knowledge, advice and tips about getting started in the space. Each Self-Starter’s story will be highlighted in a prime slot on the Homepage for a whole week, after which their story will appear under the ‘Work’ category on The Channel 46.

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