Shweta Kapur is a powerhouse imperative to the fashion industry in India. She has developed a unique design language that celebrates self-expression. She made her debut in 2014. And today, 14 collections and nine years later, the brand has become a regular on the Indian fashion calendar while creating a niche for itself.
What significance does 431-88 hold for you?
It's the last five digits of my phone number. The name which I originally wanted when I started was not available because of some legal issues. I was in the middle of a tantrum, and I was like "I'm just going to call it 431-88." My parents said, "What's wrong with you?" And nine years later, here we are! We are always on our phones. I wanted to have a digital plan. I wanted to be something that was easily accessible. We shop, we eat, we live through our phones. Being a number, it's also always on top of every list. So that works well for us.What inspired you to start your label?
I've been working in this industry ever since I was in university. Throughout my summers and throughout college, I was always working with someone. Once I graduated, I was working for some really great brands like Burberry and some great consultants in London. Unfortunately, everything was unpaid. Everything was an internship. It was just months of free work, which was not settling in with me. So I just decided if I have to work for free, I might as well work for myself. And it was also a great time to come back to India. The markets in New York, London, and Paris were just full of people trying to do fashion. India was an emerging market. There was so much scope and so many opportunities. I'm glad I took the call and I came back. From then to now, would you say that your aesthetic has evolved over time?
I think in terms of aesthetic, it's definitely refined a lot, but your handwriting will always remain the same. When I started, I thought I would just do luxury sportswear, because I'm really into fitness and I loved the idea of wearing leggings and sports bras. But there was no market in India at that time. People were not comfortable wearing things like that. Slowly, we kind of started thinking about a customer who's buying all her contemporary wear from us, what she would wear when she has to go for a wedding, what we could offer her, and that's where the idea of these pre-draped saris with a bit of the leg show came about. We wanted to create something which is quick, easy to wear, fuss-free, and elegant at the same time.
If you were to describe a 431-88 woman, how would you define her?
She is on the go, she's super fuss-free, she's sexy, but in a classy way. Like if she's showing a certain part of her body, she has picked one part of the body. It's not like a high slit and a really deep neck. She's very sophisticated. She loves her pockets and just loves great fabrics. She doesn't want to be in your face all the time.
How has the brand brought all the various stakeholders together, especially in the last year?
Last year was tough for everyone. But during the lockdown, we made sure that we didn't cut anyone's salary. We didn't fire anyone. They were all so free, that they were getting kind of irritated. Everyone was in that zone where they needed things to do. So we organized fabrics for them, we got them to make masks at home, and encouraged them to kind of distribute it in the neighborhood, which kept them busy. We also got them to learn new skill sets. Post lockdown, when business was still a bit slow, we didn't really want to overproduce things. We organized workshops for them. For example, we got the principal of New Era Public School to come in on Independence Day, and she gave a small workshop on the meaning of freedom and on the importance of education. Their kids are in government schools, and they didn't really have any clarity on what they were supposed to do. Not everyone has a phone where they could do their online classes. So we kept doing these things with them to encourage them to think beyond what they are just doing in terms of work. We've also covered everyone under the ESA, which is the employee state insurance.
What is your take on sustainable fashion?
I think slow fashion is a better term than sustainable fashion. If you're making anything new, it's not really sustainable. So you can make a cotton shirt and say you're a sustainable brand, but that's really not sustainable. One cotton takes a lot of water to grow. If you don't have the correct quality of cotton, after two washes it's going to look really ragged. If you're spending a lot of money on a shirt, you don't want to have it look like that. Then you'll be buying more stuff, right? It's not sustainable. So I don't agree that any brand is 100% sustainable. But yes, what can we do to reduce the burden on the planet is find better packaging solutions, encourage customers to not buy everything, and go through their wardrobe first.
How has not retailing out of a brick and mortar store and hugely operating online helped your label? Is that something you would suggest to budding designers or anyone starting out a label?
You need to be wherever you can be. With us, we have a very niche audience, because we have a niche product. So I can't expect my customers to come and find me. I have to go there and open the doors and say "Hey, I exist!" and anyone starting out now needs to do that, as well as embrace digital media. You can cut through so many postcodes and cities, just by being online. And that's great. You don't need to invest. This is a more sustainable approach than making stores and you know, wasting electricity and water. You have to find your community and be wherever the community is. I think that's the best way of looking at it, regardless of the product.Do you think that immersive technologies will also take over the apparel space?
People go online, they see what they want, they checkout the prices, the entire collection, and then they go to a physical store if they really want the touch and feel of the product. Beyond that, technology is kind of driving everything that we do, whether it's targeting your ads online or forecasting your shopping trends. Everything is aided by technology. If you had to release a five-step crucial checklist to establishing a successful label, what would you include in it?
Everything I did not do. Have a business plan. Have someone who can take care of things when you're not there. Have a great succession plan. Definitely have a great product. Without a great product, no matter how valuable or good your marketing is, it's not going to go anywhere. Find your customer, and find your voice.
Where do you think brands in the retail industry are headed? Where are more homegrown brands headed right now?
Last year, we could see a lot of homegrown brands popping up in every product range. But I think where it's headed towards is more towards customization.What is your 2021 aesthetic in three words?
Fuss free chic. Who are the three celebrities that you love styling in 43188?
Priyanka Chopra, Malaika Arora, and Anushka Sharma.What’s one tip you have for all budding designers?
Show up to work every single day except Sundays.What's a work mantra that flows through the 431-88 studio?
We termed this year as a year of growth and everything we do is towards that!
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