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— Suman Nathwani

''Like any other teenager, I read Mills and Boon and fell in love with the entire set up. When I imagined lingerie, that's how I thought a woman should look while going to bed with her beloved. My journey as a lingerie designer begun in 1988 when it was forbidden to talk about lingerie but every bride wanted something of that sort. I designed an entire line for sister and, in no time, I was popular amongst young brides; I was selling them a dream'' Suman had once told me. Once orders began, she launched her label that has since exploded. I first saw her work a decade back in Kolkata and was drawn to it, in particular, to racy red lace nightwear and how it brought femininity to a deliciously edgy segment of Fashion. In conversation with the Kolkata- based designer on the eve of the launch of her e- commerce portal.


Being a pioneer lingerie and sleepwear designer is rewarding, but it's not easy. I respect how candidly Suman talks about maintaining her brand throughout the lockdown. ''Before lockdown, we gave our workers a week off to assess the situation and plan how to move forward. When the lockdown was announced, there wasn't anything we could do in terms of production. So I began creating patterns for masks. After multiple attempts — doing everything by myself — I took special permission to get three craftspeople to come in and produce fabric masks. In no time, these masks were appreciated; we distributed it at police stations, hospitals and NGOs that were at the frontline, fighting the war against Covid-19. We also sent designs and samples to a few companies and got our first order of ten thousand masks! The quick response to help people with quality products was the only thing running through my mind… alongside efficient delivery and affordable pricing. Today I'm confident, driven and even more passionate about making quality masks, about my e-commerce portal and about a few projects I'm working on. Another positive aspect is that while the industry was shut during the peak lockdown, we were able to provide maternity wear to mothers- to- be which gave me immense confidence in what I do. We all are in a new era of business and change is inevitable; to survive, one needs to adapt and evolve in a swift efficient manner. Since the launch of our e-commerce portal we've seen a surge in demand for lounge wear, maternity wear and kidswear so we would be focusing on these segments. And since most companies have given 'work from home' orders till the end of this year, and some till end- 2021, there is demand for lounge wear and comfortable resort wear as well so we would be tapping the need gap here. Alongside our line of nightwear, of course.''


That said, Suman foresees crucial issues cropping up in Indian fashion. ''I feel there will be a fall in demand for luxury items. Focus, right now, is to survive the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis. Another issue I'd like to address is about students who have just ventured into the industry and those who were going to enter this year; what would they be going through? The foundation of our industry is a little shaken, but at the same time, I'm confident the people who have built Indian Fashion will strive, survive and achieve success. I also believe the market is going to see a change in buying pattern. With the pandemic and environmental disasters, more and more youngsters want to associate with brands that are making a conscious effort to contribute towards the environment so the future would be all about sustainable luxury. A related topic, the industry has been talking about for years, is adopting slow and sustainable fashion. Now is the time. Limited, exclusive, quality designs made with the best materials, is our first step and the second is to use leftover fabric till its last length to reduce wastage. Our biggest strategy, however, is trying to convert our unit into a zero waste unit as we are pushing towards moving into a more sustainable model.''


Considering social distancing is the new normal and it's hard to know when customers will feel safe to shop, what is her line of action, I ask? ''If this Pandemic has taught me anything, it's to accept change and innovate. We took bold steps to shift our presence online with the launch of www.sumannathwani.com Despite the fact that I was always against going online. I felt my consumers wanted the touch and feel factor. But, the pandemic changed that. I'm grateful that luck is on our side. Though we've just started online operations, we have orders coming in without a single spend in advertising. The first thing we did was inform our clients who have been shopping with us since three generations; that worked tremendously well. Another thing that worked in our favour? Before we launched our website, we used to sell through messaging apps. By sharing pictures, getting orders and delivering them. It was a successful model. That's why our consumers are confident about shopping online with us. Yes, there are still some things that will take time to evolve. The young generation has adapted to 'no-touch payment' but my generation is struggling with the change from offline to online. It's easier for us to swipe our cards or pay in cash but the hard truth is that we need to adapt to QR codes. I've seen India and Indians change over decades; it will take time but we will get there sooner than we expect. Let's give the consumer some time to understand and absorb the new age, the new change and the new world…''

Suman Nathwani
Suman Nathwani
Suman Nathwani
Luxury lingerie and sleepwear by Suman Nathwani
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